Professor Bharat Malkani Explores the Relationship Between Slavery and Slavery-Abolition Strategies and the Modern U.S. Death Penalty

Bharat Malkani, senior lecturer in the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom and author of the 2018 book Slavery and the Death Penalty: A Study in Abolition, speaks with DPIC’s executive director Robert Dunham and Ngozi Ndulue, DPIC’s Director of Research and Special Projects, about the historical links between slavery, lynching, Jim Crow and the death penalty and the lessons modern opponents of capital punishment can learn from the strategies employed by slavery abolitionists. Malkani explores the parallels between the institutional approaches of conservative and moderate anti-slavery activists and the arguments of modern conservatives and contrasts them with the broad morality-based arguments of radical slavery abolitionists, who, he says “fought not just for the abolition of slavery, but for the recognition of the dignity of black people and the equal dignity of black people, alongside whites.” While both types of arguments, Malkani says, have a role to play in efforts to end the death penalty, treating the death penalty solely as a standalone social issue risks further entrenching the social values and racial inequities that more broadly afflict America’s criminal legal system today. “The issue here is not just the problems with the death penalty in practice,” Malkani says, “but the underlying values that lend support for the death penalty….. I think in the longer term, the morality-based arguments, based on a recognition of dignity, will have a greater social impact.”