Georgia Democratic Senate hopeful Raphael Warnock called the death penalty the "final failsafe of white supremacy" in a 2013 speech.
"The death penalty reemerged as part of a conservative backlash in the years immediately following the civil-rights movement," he said at the launch of the Kairos Center, a social-justice organization. "In a real sense, it is the final failsafe of white supremacy, for the data clearly show that its use ensures that in the final analysis, the lives of white people are to be regarded as more valuable than the lives of black people."
White inmates, however, have made up the majority of executions conducted in the United States since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The proportion of executed black inmates (33.9 percent) also tracks with their share of the national inmate population (38.5 percent, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons).
Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, is a staunch opponent of capital punishment and drew national attention for his advocacy on behalf of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis. Davis was executed in 2011 after being convicted of murdering an off-duty Savannah police officer in 1989. Warnock called him an "innocent man," pointing to supposed recantations by eyewitnesses. A district judge who reviewed whether a jury would have reasonably acquitted him based on new statements, however, concluded only one of the seven "recantations" was legitimate and found Davis's evidence to be "smoke and mirrors."
Legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation Kent Scheidegger said Warnock's advocacy in the case reflected poorly on how he would perform as a U.S. senator.
"A candidate who pays more attention to the hype generated by the anti-death-penalty lobby's PR machine than he does to the facts as found after a full hearing before a neutral judge does not seem to me to have the potential to be a good lawmaker," he told the Washington Free Beacon.
From his pulpit at Ebenezer in 2012, Warnock also attacked Christians who support capital punishment.
Warnock's campaign had no comment.
Warnock has made other controversial remarks in politically charged sermons. He said in 2015 that police acted like thugs and gangsters who put children in danger. Last month, he invited a Texas preacher who supports defunding police and has praised bigoted Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to virtually address his congregation.
Warnock is the top Democrat in the special jungle election for Sen. Kelly Loeffler's (R., Ga.) seat, which appears headed for a January runoff in the likely event no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote. Polling shows a tight race between him, Loeffler, and Rep. Doug Collins (R., Ga.) as they try to finish in the top two and advance to the runoff. A Democrat has not won a U.S. Senate race in Georgia since 2000.
Loeffler supports the death penalty for convicted cop killers, as does Collins and President Donald Trump.