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Oklahoma is set to continue its spree of executions when Donald Grant is killed by lethal injection on January 27. Besides Texas, which is an extreme outlier at 573, no other state has killed more inmates than Oklahoma (114) since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Donald Grant has been on death row for two decades for the 2001 killing of Brenda McElyea and Suzette Smith. He admits to the murders. Yet, Grant’s lawyers claim he is severely mentally ill, suffering from schizophrenia, and should not be killed.
Of Oklahoma’s last three executions, Grant is the second Black man that has been sentenced to die. In fact, Oklahoma’s population is only 7.8% Black. Yet, since 1977, 31.5% of people executed in the state have been Black men. Which points to a similar national discrepancy. During that same time period, roughly 14% of the U.S. population was Black, yet 34% of those executed were Black men.
Lynchings morph into state-sanctioned executions
The information from DPIC is a history lesson in how lynchings and executions have been used in the U.S. It also shows how discrimination bleeds into the entire criminal justice system.
A line can be traced from lynchings of old to the death penalty today. Killings outside the law were perpetrated against Black people in an effort to assert social control during slavery and Jim Crow. The practice eventually translated into state-sanctioned executions.
“I think what the data tells us and what history tells us is that they’re all part of the same phenomenon. The death penalty is inextricably linked to our history of slavery, of lynching, and Jim Crow segregation, and we wanted to put what is happening today in its appropriate context,” said Robert Dunham, who leads the Death Penalty Information Center.
For years, a lawsuit claiming Oklahoma’s execution protocols are unconstitutional has been pending in the courts. On February 28th, a trial will begin on the legality of the state’s death penalty.
If the court decides that Oklahoma’s execution protocols are constitutional, around two dozen inmates could immediately get execution dates.