Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Race Matters

Last night at the University of the South in Sewanee, TN, a large group of students, professors, and other folks gathered to watch the documentary "Race to Execution." Rachel Lyon's film is a powerful documentary that "explores the deep and disturbing link between race and the death penalty in America." It focuses on two specific cases, Madison Hobley of Chicago and Robert Tarver of Russell County, Alabama and "interweaves their compelling personal stories together with groundbreaking scholarship." Tarver received the death penalty due to an Alabama statute which allowed the presiding judge to overrule the jury's decision for life in prison without parole.

There are many out there that would like to believe that race has nothing to do with the death penalty. I'm sorry, but those people need to remove themselves from LaLa land and enter the city limits of Realityville. Race is an issue not solely with the death penalty, but an underlying issue with our justice system as a whole.

Consider the following facts:
-Since 1977, the overwhelming majority of death row defendants (80%) have been executed for killing white victims, although whites make up 50% percent of homicide victims.
-98% of District Attorneys nationwide are white. These are the people who decide whether or not to seek the death penalty by their power of discretion.
-In Tennessee, 25% of African-Americans sentenced to death were condemned by all-white juries.
-African Americans make up 40% of Tennessee's death row population but only 17% of its total population.
-The US Supreme Court has even admitted that racial discrimination in the death penalty system is a
-You are 3 times more likely to receive the death penalty if the victim is white

DISCLAIMER: I am not proclaiming that the folks involved in the process, e.g., lawyers, DAs, judges, juries, are racist. Again, I am not stating/insinuating that these folks are racist. However, these facts show disturbing correlations that there is more value (value as in a death sentence) placed on a victim that is white. Furthermore, one is at a much higher risk if they are black and the victim is white. Facts are facts.

Those present at the documentary showing in Sewanee were affected, some were moved to tears. After the film, I took part in a three person panel discussion including a Constitutional law Professor and Leslie Lytle, Board Member of TCASK and Executive Director of the Cumberland Center for Justice and Peace. We fielded some excellent questions from bright students. The event was a major success. TCASK Student Board Member Jelena Milojevic did an outstanding job putting together this successful event.

I have come across a powerful and somewhat controversial statement that some black Civil Rights leaders are contending. Some have said that "prisons are the new plantations." I won't put forth how I feel about that statement. However, I will continue to vehemently contend that in regards to the death penalty, race matters; the race of the perpetrator and the race of the victim have a massive play in the initial trial; but more importantly, the utilization of a sentence of death.
Comments :
Blacks are 17% of Tennessee's population, yet 40% of its death row. But blacks commit murder at a much higher rate than whites. So, in terms of murderers anyway, it seems that whites are overrepresented on Tennessee's death row. How do you explain that?

Also, the race of the victim disparity is usually explained by geography. Black murder victims tend to be concentrated in areas less friendly to the death penalty, in areas where case clearance is lesser and where, on a per murder basis, there are less resources to seek death.
Black murder victims tend to be concentrated in areas less friendly to the death penalty
Where'd that come from?
The disparity in the victim race to conviction rate is the one that really seems important here.
"Less resources to seek death"

So you admit right there that the death penalty is applied disproportionately. Interesting.
I don't see how that's much of an admission. If one county has a higher murder rate, it's likely to have less resources per murder to investigate and proscute. So what? Some jurisdictions are less into the death penalty than others. So what? I don't know if I'd call this discrimination--it skews the numbers. So what?

With respect to black victims, they tend to be concentrated jurisdictions with high numbers of minorities and there are lots of minority murders in places where there is no death penalty from a practical standpoint, e.g., Chicago, NYC, Washington DC.

So when are you guys going to admit that, as a percentage of murderers in Tennessee, whites are overrepresented on Tennessee's death row?
You only mention less resources for investigation and prosecution. What about the other half, mitigation and defense?

Where did "discrimination" come from? You pull these things out of thin air. I don't believe I ever used that word.

Thank you for agreeing that race does matter. If whites are overrepresented on death row, then that is an issue to be concerned about.

Not that this matters at all, nor do you have any obligation to answer it, but anonymous, are you white? Just curious.
What are you talking about? I didn't agree that race matters (in the sense of statistics). I am not troubled by the overrepresentation of white killers on death row, other than the fact that it means that the killers of African-Americans aren't getting death often enough--remember I support more executions.

I am white. My bad on discriminatory--you said disproportionately.

Whites are overrepresented because whites tend to commit murder in jurisdictions more likely, on a per murder basis, to seek death.

There are disparities in race in the death penalty. These disparities, in my view, result from non-racist factors.
So, Ike, now that you've said that the possible overrepresentation of white killers on Tennessee would be a problem, are you going to admit that the naked comparison of the racial composition of death row inmates to the population at large is not illuminating?

You call me a coward for posting anonymously. I can point to your abject refusal to deal with the obvious issues resulting from your citation of the 17%/40% comparison. Do you have the courage to back up your "facts"?
It is a fact, 17% of the state of TN is black, and 40% of death row is black.

That is a fact.
Ike, are you really that obtuse? The whole thrust of your post is that race matters and blacks get screwed by the death penalty. So you cite a stat comparing the racial composition of TN's general population with the racial composition of death row. Well, that's comparing apples to oranges. The better comparison would be to the racial composition of TN's murderers to the racial composition of TN's death row. But that wouldn't fit into your argument that blacks get screwed by the death penalty, so you cite a misleading statistic.

That, Ike, is fundamentally dishonest. And that's my point, and you don't have the courage to deal with it. And that's fine, it's your blog, and you can ignore posts all you want. But remember you saw fit to respond to some of my post, but you fail to engage the fundamental point, rather, you tried a little "gotcha". Moreover, you are a bit schizophrenic here--you noted the possibility that white killers in TN are more likely to get death and that's something to be concerned about.

So which is it? Either the 17%/40% comparison is worthless or it shows that blacks are being screwed. What's your position Ike? Shouldn't we be comparing the racial composition of TN's killers with the racial composition of TN's death row instead of raw population figures? And if the killer vs death row comparison is more apt and it shows white killers are overrepresented, are you going to admit that you were wrong to cite the raw population comparisons?

Ike, if you'd pay attention to what the national people are saying about the death penalty, you wouldn't be harping on the race of the killer. Abolitionists focus on the race of the victim. You just make it too easy.
Yes, you are winning. Well done.
Cute, Ike. You cannot address with the arguments, so you resort to naked sarcasm.

Who's the coward now?
So Ike, is the 17%/40% stat a valid one to show that the death penalty is biased against black killers? That's a simple question, Ike. I find it hard to believe that you and your enlightened buddies cannot answer it.

This reticence is really funny, given your comments that people need to remove themselves from "LaLa land" and "enter the world of Realityville". When you make bombastic statements like that, you should be able to answer simple questions.
I have never said that the 17/40 indicates that TN's dp is bias against black killers. Again, those are the statistics.

I find it intriguing that this particular issue is what seems to annoy you the most. Aside from the affect that race (namely the victims) has on the death penalty, do you believe that race/racial discrimination affects other public policies?

You are not a coward and neither am I. I just think that there is plenty of real estate here to be able to post with your actual identity.

My reticence, heh, been busy dude.
Your reticence is evidenced by prior posts which didn't address the 17/40 issue, so the busy comment isn't really responsive. In any event, what significance does the 17/40 comparison have, if it doesn't "indicate[] that TN's dp bias[ed] against black killers"? Why cite the statistic, if you're not trying to prove something.

I think I have explained why the citation of the 17/40 annoys me. Look at your post here. You rant on about how "race matters" and that people need to get out of "LaLa Land", and you cite a statistic (which one would assume is supposed to bolster the idea that blacks get screwed by the TN death penalty, but I guess not, given your "it's just a statistic" response) that compares apples (i.e., the percentage of blacks in the population) to oranges (i.e., the percentage of blacks on TN's death row). It's fundamentally dishonest.

And now you disclaim any meaning from your citation of that stat. You say, gee it's just a statistic. Well, Ike, usually people cite statistics to prove something. Here you talk about how race matters, you cite stats that clearly imply that blacks are treated unfairly and then you say that the 17/40 comparison is just a stat and is not designed to bolster the argument that "race matters". Come on. Do you really think that your position is at all credible? Face it, the 17/40 comparison is bogus because of the different murder rate. And lame-o disclaimers that it's just a statistic really make you look silly to an objective observer. We know what you meant to prove, and youre getting your bogus stat shoved down your throat.

I love this quote: "Aside from the affect [sic] that race (namely the victims_ has on the death penalty, do you believe that race/racial discrimination affects other public policies?"

First of all, does the victim have an effect on the death penalty, or is the race of the victim disparity the result of non-racial factors? I would argue, and there's a lot of support for my view, that geography accounts for the disparity on a macro level. I won't reiterate what I've said earlier on the issue. As for race/racial discrimination affecting other "public policies", I have no idea what that's supposed to mean.
Ok, I'll ask a different question. Do you think racism exists in today's society?

By the way, nice usage of sic. Unless I edit, I swear I will always mess up affect/effect. My highs school freshman English teacher would be unhappy.
Of course, racism exists in today's society. One need only look at the case of Cheryl Green to figure that out.

We can also look to the senior thesis of one of the first lady wannabes. Michelle Obama wrote that whites in America are "ineradicably racist". If that statement doesn't show racism, I don't know what does.

So, I'll ask you a question. Do you admit defeat on the 17/40 comparison? You might as well. Anyone reading the comments to the blog knows I have won this point--even the true believers.

You can, of course, find instances where racial bias has affected certain death penalty cases. Take a look at James Burmeister. A racist murderer of a black couple. Burmeister escaped death because one white juror, who barely agreed to convict, decided not to give him death, when all the other jurors wanted to. But hey, abolitionists don't want to get rid of the silly rule about unanimity with respect to the death sentence.
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