Wednesday, May 16, 2007

 

Big Steps on Capitol Hill!

Today the House Judiciary Committee, in its last meeting of the year, rolled House Bill 1099, which would have expanded the use of Tennessee's death penalty, meaning the bill will not move again until next year, if at all! Only an hour later, the Senate Delayed Bills committee passed Senator Doug Jackson's bill creating a broad study commission to examine the Tennessee death penalty system! The Delayed Bills Committee holds all study commission bills until the end of session to ensure that two or three commissions aren't created to study the same thing.

But the upshot of this passage is that, since the bill was held until late in session and has now been approved by the leadership of both parties (the committee is made up of the Lt. Governor, Majority Leader, and Minority Leader) the bill bypasses the other committees and will proceed directly to the Senate floor! This means that the Senate is only one vote away from approving legislation to finally take a full and complete look at the fairness and accuracy of death penalty system. In the House, the bill (number 2162) is headed for the Finance, Ways and Means committee. It's time we talk about the fact that the death penalty is reserved almost exclusively for the poor and that it targets people of color and the mentally ill in a disproportionate and unjust manner!

So it's time to make a phone call to your Senator and tell them to support Senate Bill 1911 to do a full study of the entire death penalty system.

Comments :
That's great news!! I needed some good news today. Just called Sen Henry's office and was told she'd add me to the list. I asked her if there was a list of supporters for this bill and she said yes, a long list. Hope that's a good sign. This is super news!!
 
How does the death penalty target people of color? Don't you have to look at breakdown of murderers by race and then look to the percentages of those who have been executed or who are on death row?
 
If you look at the break down of who gets the death penalty, we find that the death penalty is extremely skewed racially based on the race of the defendant but, even moreso, on the race of the victim. People accused of murdering whites are 4 times as likely to face the death penalty as those accused of murdering people of color. Race has been found to be more closely correlated with death sentences than smoking is with cancer
 
At first you said that it's based on the race of the defendant, but you cite nothing to show that the percentage of minorities sentenced to death is out of proportion to the percentage of murders committed by minorities. In fact, if you look at the percentage of all murders committed by non-Hispanic whites and the percentage those actually executed, you'll see that almost 60% of those executed since 1976 are non-Hispanic whites. Non-hispanic whites commit nowhere near 60% of all murders in the US, so it is entirely accurate to say that white murderers are more likely to be executed than minority murderers.

As for the so-called victim disparity, that is an exercise in sophistry. In areas where minority victims are concentrated, death tends to be less popular with the electorate and with the jury pools, which results in less chance of a death sentence on a per murder basis. Also, in jurisdictions where minority victims are concentrated, there are more murders, and therefore the chances of seeking death on a per-murder basis (without the effects of the more anti-death penalty electorate/jury pool) is less.

Before you go impugning the integrity of jurors, judges and prosecutors involved in death sentences, perhaps you should think through your "The death penalty is racist" talking points.
 
Of course, people of color are over-represented on Tennessee's and the nation's death row (40% of the death row population as compared to 17% of the state population) and we do need a quick reality check here.

Let's examine a jurisdiction, here in Tennessee, that should prove your point - Shelby County. Shelby County has a huge African-American population so we should see the death penalty be unpopular there, according to your reasoning. Yet Shelby County is responsible for almost 40% of Tennessee's death row population. And guess what? The people from Shelby County being sentenced to death are, by and large being sentenced for the murder of white victims, even though African-Americans are being murdered at a remarkable rate. What's more we've had two African-American men (of course accused of killing white victims) sentenced to death in Shelby County by all white juries. To contend that this represents a jury of one's peers in a County that is half African-American is ridiculous!

I do not believe that individual judges, jurors, or prosecutors are acting out of intentionally racist motives. Most are good citizens trying to do what is right. But the death penalty system is skewed racially. As with so many other problems with this system, even people trying to act honorably are caught up in it. That's why we need to do away with it!
 
Anecdotes and statistically irrelevant comparisons . . . . the last refuge of a losing argument.

First of all, you cannot look at the percentage of blacks in the population and then look at the percentage of blacks in the death row population. That is the wrong comparison--you have to look at the percentage of murderers in Tennessee who are black, if it's higher than 40%, then blacks are underrepresented on Tennessee's death row.

Second, I am not familiar with Shelby County's demographics or murder rate, but if Shelby County murders account for close to 40% of the murders in Tennessee, then you have your reason right there. As for the victims, once again, I was talking about death on a national scale. The victim disparity, I think, is largely due to issues that I have mentioned, rather than race. Maybe things are different in Shelby County. I don't know. But you guys need to do some thinking about how you make your arguments. Looking at the percentage of blacks in the population doesn't cut it.
 
Anecdotes? You mean the fact that 1 in 4 black men sentenced to death in Tennessee were sentenced by all white juries and the fact that every D.A. in Tennessee who makes the decisions about who to try to sentence to death is white is irrelevant?

And I'm sorry, not being familiar with the situation isn't a good enough answer either.

Statistical study has found that race is more closely correlated to death sentences than smoking is to cancer. The American Bar Association's assessment of Tennessee's capital punishment system found that serius racial disparities exist in Tennessee's capital puishment system. Over and over again people try to claim that the death penalty sin't racist, because how could we support it if it was? And yet study after study reveals grave racial disparities.

If you think it's OK to have black men in Memphis tried by white D.A.s for murdering white victims in front of all whtie juries, you are entitled to that. If you think it is OK that our death penalty system says that a white life is worth more than a black life, you are entitled to that view as well. But you cannot contend, against all evidence, that the system works perfectly. Check out the ABA's report at:
http://www.abanet.org/moratorium/assessmentproject/tennessee/executivesummary.pdf
 
A simple question--in Tennessee, of murders where the race of the perp is know, what percentage are committed by African-Americans. If it's more than 40%, then blacks are underrepresented. Q.E.D.
 
Read the assessment and look at all the issues involved with race and the death penalty. It's a little frightening.
 
I have. It doesn't have the critical comparison--namely, the percentage of murders in Tennessee committed by black people. The nation is 13% African-American--African-Americans commit, according to the Justice Dept., over 50% of all murders in the country. I believe I read that Tennessee is 17% black. If Tennessee is similar to the US, then African-Americans are likely underrepresented on Tennessee's death row.

This is a very simple point. I am surprised you cannot answer it.

The ABA's assessments are ridiculous, by the way, they buy that crapola argument about geographic disparity.
 
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