OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A brand new report is diving into the history of the death penalty in Oklahoma.
The report states that while “systemic issues” in the state’s use of the death penalty affect all defendants, the impact is skewed based on the race of defendant and victim.
Experts said the data looks different based on the race of the defendant and the victim, while the impact is particularly harsh on defendants of color.
“Oklahoma County and Tulsa County actually are fourth and sixth in the nation in number in terms of numbers and executions,” said Ngozi Ndule, Deputy Director for the Death Penalty Information Center, also adding that the state ranks second only to Texas in the number of total executions in the state.
Concurrently, while the Black population in Oklahoma makes up a little more than 40% of the current death row population, according the Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections, recent U.S. Census data shows they only make up about 7% of the total state population.
The full report, entitled, “Deeply Rooted: How Racial History Informs Oklahoma’s Death Penalty,” is available here.
“There is a history and legacy of racial violence, lynching, Jim Crow segregation; the stakes are serious here” added Ndule, while noting the demographics of prisoners typically on death row.
“To move towards true justice, Oklahoma must reckon with the harm that has already been inflicted by a criminal legal system in which race can determine who lives or dies,” Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, Founder and Executive Director of the Terence Crutcher Foundation, said in a statement related to the report’s release.
“To understand this history, we must recognize the generational trauma inflicted on so many in Black communities, those who have been victims of racialized violence, those who have lost family members to murder with no redress, and those who have had to stand by as the legal system takes the lives of their loved ones.”
The report notes that death sentences and executions are in decline nationally, the trend is going up in Oklahoma, as the state plows forward with 25 planned executions; the second one is happening later this month.
Otherwise, Oklahoma has executed a total of 197 men and three women between 1915 and 2022 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
Justice Advocate and Justice for Julius Director Cece Jones-Davis said available data clearly points to racial disparities in executions.
“This report really shows is that there has been an issue of racial disparities in the death penalty in Oklahoma,” she said in an interview with KFOR.
“If I’m not mistaken, the report says that the first recorded execution was 1841 but the first white person wasn’t executed until 1899. That means that African-Americans and indigenous people were suffering from from this disparity for years and years, literally decades, before anyone else,” she continued.
“I think we have to look back to the history of what the death penalty has looked like in Oklahoma to understand where we are now.”
Jones-Davis said the path to a more humane and equitable system begins with acknowledging how the past affects the present.
“Statistics show studies prove not just in Oklahoma, but across this country that black people, particularly black men, are many times more likely to receive a death sentence for a similar crime as a white defendent; I think we just have to catch up with the statistics and get honest and real about where we are.” said Jones-Davis.
“Race plays a part and we’ve always known this. We want more people to understand it,” she added.