After a seven-week freeze following Clayton Lockett's botched execution in Oklahoma, three states executed three death-row inmates in less than 24 hours last week. Georgia, Missouri, and Florida had tangled with defense lawyers for months over the secrecy surrounding their lethal-injection cocktails and where they were obtained, a key issue in Lockett's death. Florida also addressed concerns about its inmate's mental capacity; his lawyers claimed he had an IQ of 78. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected all appeals, however, and the three inmates—Marcus Wellons, John Winfield, and John Henry, respectively—were successively executed without apparent mishap.
In addition to their fates, Wellons, Winfield, and Henry have something else in common: They are among the disproportionate number of black Americans to have been executed since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
In the three states where they were executed, blacks constitute a disproportionate share of the death-row population relative to the state population. In Oklahoma and Missouri, black Americans are overrepresented on death row by nearly a factor of four.
These states aren't isolated examples. The national death-row population is roughly 42 percent black, while the U.S. population overall is only 13.6 percent black, according to the latest census. (The national prison population overall is roughly 39 percent black, according to the latest Bureau of Justice Statistics data.) Some individual states are worse. In Louisiana, the most carceral state in the Union, blacks are roughly one-third of the population but more than two-thirds of the state's death-row inmates.