Barkan featured in New York Times Letters to the Editor

New York Times



Race and the Death Penalty

A sociologist says racial prejudice is “a strong predictor” of whites’ support for capital punishment.

April 9, 2019

Since Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order placing a moratorium on capital punishment in March, Democratic candidates for president have lined up to support it. CreditRich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

To the Editor:

Re “Democratic Candidates Rethink the Death Penalty, and Its Politics” (news article, April 9):

Our political parties should not be overly swayed by public opinion on the death penalty. Many studies conclude that prejudice against blacks is a strong predictor of whites’ support for capital punishment. If so many whites were not racially prejudiced, white support for the death penalty would be much lower, and so would public support more generally.

In a country that professes “liberty and justice for all,” political leaders should keep this context in mind when they consider public opinion in formulating their stance on capital punishment.

Steven E. Barkan
Holden, Me.
The writer, a professor of sociology at the University of Maine, is the author of “Race, Crime and Justice: The Continuing American Dilemma.”

A version of this article appears in print on April 10, 2019, on Page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Race and the Death Penalty.