Tracing the racist history of the death penalty in Georgia

R.J. Maratea argues that lynching declined when white people began to realize that the courtroom would work just as well.

Of the nearly 1,500 executions in the United States since 1976, over 70 percent have occurred in the 11 southern states of the former Con­federacy. Sociologist R. J. Maratea posits a direct line of racialist social control in these states extending from slavery to the modern criminal justice system.

Maratea focuses on the case of War­ren McCleskey, who was executed by Georgia in 1991 for killing a white police officer during an armed robbery. McCleskey’s crime “hit squarely in the face of expected racial etiquette in the Deep South and singled out Warren McCleskey as a black man in need of killing.”

To support this claim, Maratea surveys Georgia’s history, observing that prior to the Civil War, Georgia’s criminal statutes expressly subjected black men to death for a wider array of crimes than white men. For years after the Civil War, mobs of white men lynched black men for violating unwritten racial codes.