Competing pressures and complex choices: African Americans and the death penalty

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4 Scopus citations


African Americans often live in crime-ridden communities, where the need to deter crime is high. They are also likely to be unjustly stopped by law enforcement authorities, arrested, incarcerated, and sentenced to death by the criminal justice system. This research argues that these competing pressures increase the complexity of choices African Americans must make when forming their preferences toward the death penalty. African Americans who are cross-pressured by insecurity (i.e., fear of victimization) and discrimination (i.e., fear of racial biases within the criminal justice system) exhibit more variation in the range of death penalty laws they find acceptable. Support for this claim is provided by cross-sectional survey data (N = 514) of African Americans within the United States. A heteroscedastic item response theory model using these data shows that cross-pressured African Americans demonstrate high response variability (i.e., inconsistencies) in their acceptance of death penalty laws. Subsequently, the unique experience that African Americans have with the criminal justice system contributes to complex policy opinions that are rarely reflected in public policy or opinion polls.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-97
Number of pages23
JournalRace and Justice
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Bias in the criminal justice system
  • Death penalty treatment by the police
  • Race and death penalty
  • Race and public opinion
  • Victimization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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