81 Or. L. Rev. 15 (2002)
Black Man's Burden: Race and the Death Penalty in America

handle is hein.journals/orglr81 and id is 25 raw text is: CHARLES J. OGLETREE, JR.*

Black Man's Burden: Race and the
Death Penalty in America
N early 120 years ago, Frederick Douglass, the former slave
and great African American leader, described the Ameri-
can criminal justice system as follows: Justice is often painted
with bandaged eyes. She is described in forensic eloquence, as
utterly blind to wealth or poverty, high or low, white or black,
but a mask of iron, however thick, could never blind American
justice, when a black man happens to be on trial.1 Sadly, little
has changed in the century and a half since Douglass had cause
to condemn the state of the justice system in America. Nowhere
is this more true than in the application of the ultimate punish-
ment-the punishment of death.
After September 11th, America's attitudes about crime and
punishment shifted dramatically. Americans, without regard to
race, class, or religion, were all shocked by the tragic circum-
stances of the terrorist attack, and have not been reluctant to
seek vengeance. The response in the African American commu-
nity has been particularly surprising, given the history of racial
discrimination in America. As I discuss the intersection of race
and criminal justice, specifically in the context of capital punish-
ment, it is critical to reveal some facts that are frequently ignored
in this country today. African Americans are, by and large, con-
servative. They are among our nation's most patriotic citizens.
They are prepared to sacrifice their own liberty by supporting
governmental efforts to protect their security. Even though dis-
criminatory treatment by law enforcement against African
* Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, Harvard Law School.
I Frederick Douglass, The United States Cannot Remain Half-Slave and Half-
Free, Speech on the Occasion of the Twenty-First Anniversary of Emancipation in
the District of Columbia, delivered in the Congregational Church, Washington, D.C.
(April 16, 1883), in 4 THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, RECON-
STRUCTION AND AFTER 357 (Philip S. Foner ed., 1975).

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