executions, botched, lethal injections

Study Reveals Racial Disparities And Botched Executions Of Black People, Sparking Calls For Lethal Injection Moratorium

In Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Georgia, 75% of botched executions involved Black people, even though Black people only accounted for 33% of executions in those states

Reprieve, a nonprofit organization, analyzed the more than 1,400 lethal injections carried out in the United States since 1977 and, in its analysis, discovered that botched executions are racially biased. According to the study, the research shows that the disparities present in the criminal justice system extend to the execution of incarcerated people. 

As NPR reported, the pattern is worse in Southern states. In Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Georgia, 75% of botched executions involved Black people, even though Black people only accounted for 33% of executions in those states. Somewhat complicating things, there is no set standard for what makes an execution a botched execution. Reprieve designated executions that featured expressions of pain, an incarcerated person being conscious after a drug (or drugs in some cases) were administered, and whether execution workers struggled to find a person’s veins to administer the drugs as botched executions. 

The analysis also found that it did not matter which drugs were used in a cocktail; the result remained the same. Reprieve’s Executive Director, Maya Foa, told NPR that tinkering with the formulas is not addressing the problem.

“There are botched executions, many of them, regardless of the drug, regardless of the cocktail. Continuing to tinker with the machinery of death is not making this better,” Foa said. “The analysis shows not only are we botching these executions and causing people torture more often than with many other methods.”

Foa continued, “But we are doing that to Black prisoners far, far more frequently than we are to white prisoners.”

Jeff Hood, a spiritual advisor who has been inside the death chambers of three white individuals and three Black individuals in Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama, told NPR that he believes there are differences in how Black people are treated while strapped to the gurney. “I can definitely tell you that the restraints that I have seen on Black folk have been unquestionably tighter than the restraints that I have seen on white folk,” Hood noted. 

Hood continued, “If your assumption is that the person who is condemned is going to resist, then you are going to take much more liberties with the body than if you believe that the person was going to be perfectly peaceful. And when you begin to take liberties with someone’s body, you leave protocol, and you leave best practices. When you leave protocol, and you leave best practices, of course, you are going to have a botched execution.”

As a result of its findings, the study recommends that an immediate moratorium be placed on lethal injections at both the state and federal levels. It also recommends that, like Virginia, Ohio, and Arizona, governors in states that carry out executions should commission independent investigations into lethal injections and the problems that arise from lethal injections. It also calls for the FDA and the DEA to enforce their existing rules against those who violate their regulations in secret and take action against those actors. As Foa told NPR, “The death penalty in its application in the United States is racist. And we cannot continue to do this.”

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