June 8, 2015 edition
The late Watt Espy, an eccentric Alabaman whose passion for this topic produced the most complete record ever made of executions in the U.S., documented nearly 15,000 sanctioned killings from 1608 to 1972. The racial disparity is arresting. In a mostly white America, significantly more blacks than whites were put to death. Whites were almost never executed for crimes—even murder—involving black victims. But blacks were so frequently executed for sexual assault that newspapers could report that a prisoner was hanged or electrocuted “for the usual crime” and everyone would know what that meant.
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