The Rev. Fred Ruse holds an umbrella and a placard at the entrance to Florida State Prison before the execution of death row inmate Mark James Asay in Starke, Fla., on Aug. 24. (Phil Sears/Reuters)

On Thursday, the state of Florida executed Mark Asay, who was convicted of killing Robert Lee Booker and Robert McDowell in Jacksonville in 1988.

There are two ways in which the Asay execution was unusual. First, the state used a previously unused drug to put Asay to death. And second, it’s the first time that Florida has executed a white man for killing a black man — Booker — since the death penalty was reintroduced in 1976. In that time, it’s executed 20 black men whose victims have included white people, according to data from the Death Penalty Information Center.

Since the death penalty was reintroduced, the number of nonwhite people who’ve been executed has consistently been overrepresented. While most of those who are executed are white, they consistently make up a lower percentage of the population of those put to death than of the country on the whole.


More to the point, most white people who are executed are put to death for killing other white people. Most black people who are executed? Also executed for killing white people.


Racial disparities like this are certainly not limited to executions in the American judicial system. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that incidents in which whites kill black people are far more likely to be determined to be justified than other sorts of killings. Overall, 2 percent of killings were determined to be justified between 1980 and 2014, according to that report, citing data from the Marshall Project. When a white person killed a black person, 17 percent of the killings were said to be justified.

Florida’s imbalance in the number of black people executed for killing whites vs. the reverse is not uncommon. In 25 states, either a white person has been executed for killing a black person or vice versa. In 22 of those states, more black people have been executed for killing white victims than white people have for killing black victims.


In those states, 304 black people have been executed for killing white victims, while only 34 white people have been executed for killing black victims. The biggest imbalance is in Texas, where 117 executions fit either description, only five of which involve white killers and black victims.

Over time, the number of executions each year has declined, as the first graph in this article shows. What’s more, since the crime rate began to fall in the mid-1990s, so did public support for capital punishment. It’s possible, then, that we’re nearing the end of implementation of the death penalty in the United States.

Statistics like those above are probably one contributing reason why.