15 Responses

  1. It seems that the title of this post should indicate that the disparity in sentencing for murders involving white victims involves the death penalty specifically, and not just punishment in general (though there may well be a disparity in non-death penalty cases, neither the post nor the AI link indicates such).

    That aside, good post. I am quite bothered, though not surprised, by this. The AI link describes some additional troubling sentencing disparities involving the racial identities of the perpetrators as well.

  2. Professional predators usually stay with easy victims and usually do not get caught. They would not be pro if they get caught every time. This is sad that professional predators are finding African-Americans are easier victims.

  3. Whether we would like to admit it or not, there is a racial time bomb waiting to explode in the United States. No matter what the race of a person is, if we can’t treat others fairly today, the nation is doomed to collapse when times get really tough.

  4. There are several innocent explanations for this phenomenon.

    Firstly, jurisdictions with a high black population often are liberal in orientation and have either abolished the death penalty altogether or very sparingly impose it.

    Michigan was the first state to abolish the death penalty via its Michigan Constitution. Every attempt to revive it has failed since its prohibition in the 1800s. In the 1970s the City of Detroit had earned the nickname “The Murder City” and was identified as having the highest homicide rate in the world of any municipality with a population of over 1.5 million persons. The vast majority of the victims in Detroit during that time were black but none could face the death penalty due to the state constitutional prohibition against capital punishment. A similar logic exists in the District of Columbia which has a high percentage of black citizens, a significantly elevated murder rate and blacks being the chief victims.

    There is also no death penalty currently imposed in New York, New Jersey and Illinois – which all contain significant percentages of African-Americans. When the State of New York did have a death penalty, it was rarely imposed anyway.

    Texas and Florida have traditionally led the states in the number of annual executions and have been conservative politically – but neither have had a comparatively large percentage of citizens that are black.

    • Good post, Mark. You have added a much needed perspective to the above article and demonstrated that simply quoting raw figures alone, without providing perspective, tells us nothing at all.

    • actually sentencing disparity is seen for black on white crime in non-capital cases as well. This is true throughout the US. The reason is that attorneys use and juries respond to the argument that a white victim in more valuable than a black. Plus it is often easy to portray a cross-over element to a black on white crime. The idea here is that blacks have unspoken boundaries, like their own neighborhoods, shopping centers, etc. (not to mention a marital boundary, but thats a different subject). Juries composed of a few older whites often respond to the unspoken idea of a black being out of his place when committing a “random” crime against a white.
      My good friend was part of a program at UT Austin law school where cameras were setup in jury rooms in a mock trial setting. The jurors didnt know their deliberations were being recorded and in fact didnt know the trial was a “training session” for younger lawyers. The cases were based on real evidence from previous trials, actors were used as witnesses. The stubborness, ignorance, and racial bias displayed by these jurors was incredible to say the least.

    • Little post, small comments, great big “issue.” Bill speaks solemnly for dispassionatality, doubts are raised. The underlying assumption in much here is that the death penalty deters murder,

      Michigan was the first state to abolish the death penalty via its Michigan Constitution. Every attempt to revive it has failed since its prohibition in the 1800s. In the 1970s the City of Detroit had earned the nickname “The Murder City” and was identified as having the highest homicide rate in the world of any municipality with a population of over 1.5 million persons. The vast majority of the victims in Detroit during that time were black but none could face the death penalty due to the state constitutional prohibition against capital punishment. A similar logic exists in the District of Columbia which has a high percentage of black citizens, a significantly elevated murder rate and blacks being the chief victims.

      Did the writer say what he meant and mean what he infers — “similar logic” — and if this is going to be a “good post,” why no examination of all those places in the world that have abolished the death penalty as idiotic (if a lot of fun, for the vicious and intolerant and hypocritical among us)?

      link to nytimes.com

      And of course one might read the link the Professor extracted the graph from, link to amnestyusa.org

      Or this: link to prisonpolicy.org

      Which of the logical fallacies is it to imply that when you “take away the death penalty,” more murders occur? Speaking of context and perspective…

      • @JTMcPhee:

        The “logic” I was refering to was the fact both Detroit and D.C. had high murder rates with blacks being the primary victims, yet since no death penalty existed to punish any of the perpetrators, the apparent Amnesty International point being made was not entirely valid i.e. the death penalty less likely to be imposed where the victim is African-American.

        I was personally acquainted with at least three elected former County Prosecutors from Metro Detroit – two supported the death penalty and one opposed it. The one who opposed it was from Wayne County, which had 2 million residents – he told me that after touring Michigan’s notorious Jackson Prison – the largest walled prison in the world – the conditions were so poor, that the mandatory life in prison without parole first-degree murder statute in Michigan was, in his estimation, actually a more severe punishment than death.

        Would a constitutional amendment authorizing capital punishment in Michigan actually deter the homicide rate? No one knows.

        Every time some horrific murder event occurs in Michigan the call for reinstatement of the death penalty begins anew.

        Michigan has not had a death penalty in its court system since 1846 and was only the third jurisdiction in the world to abolish it – after the duchies of Liechtenstein and Tuscany in Europe. The ban was most previously written and adopted into the State of Michigan Constitution in 1963 during the last state constitutional convention.

        I do have concerns that if the death penalty were reinstated in Michigan there could be a potential for disparity in application depending on the racial classification of the defendant – or of the victim.

        See http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org

  5. So called, the oldest democracy in the world, established by slave owners.

    Where blacks & women have to fight for their rights, right to vote, equal pay & so many other things.

    I remember in the 70s, a black girl in Carolina was sentenced more than 20 years for shop lifting merchandise worth two dollars.

    Dr. Cole, your chart shows minorities still have to fight for equal justice.

  6. That’s more that troubling. Is it due to poor legal representation? Biased prosecution and police work? Something is not normal here that indicates structural and institutional race-bias.

    • “Is it due to poor legal representation?”

      I can recall sitting on a bench in the Michigan Court of Appeals awaiting for my case to be called and seeing a public appellate defender standing before a three-judge panel and telling them at a scheduled oral argument he had nothing to say – and left the courtroom; the taxpayers were paying an appointed defender to appear and say nothing! He could have stayed home, waived oral argument, but instead got a taxpayer-funded fee for saying zilch to the appeals judges on behalf of his client during the oral argument phase of his appeal.

      The three reasons you cite are all valid in my experience.

  7. Re: Mark Koroi
    (This is according to the 2010 US census.)
    The South still has half of all African-Americans in the US, and the states with the highest African-American population relative to the general pop. are all in the South: Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia (all three at least 30% of the population), Alabama, the Carolinas, and a few more (with maybe the exception of Maryland, which is historically part of the South but more liberal and is a very high 29.44% African-American). Florida has one of the higher AA populations at 15.91%, actually slightly higher than both New York and Michigan (15.18% and 14.92% respectively).
    A lot of these Southern states are death-penalty states, so it would be interesting to see these numbers by state. Of course two other states with lots of executions are Texas and California, and the latter has a low proportion of Af.Am. at 6.67%.

    • One interesting statistic regarding Louisiana is that it has a death penalty and judges and juries are not hesitant abut imposing it. Yet it has a very high rate of violent crimes reported in comparison to other states.

      The three U.S. states with the lowest reported rate of violent crime per FBI statistics are (1)Maine,(2)Vermont, and(3)New Hampshire. Of the three, only New Hampshire has the death penalty – but has not executed anyone since 1939. A black man is the single death row inmate in N.H. for killing a police officer.

      Minority defendants in murder cases often face black and/or Hispanic-dominated juries in New York, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles, but these juries do convict fellow minorities of violent crimes on a regular basis.

      California, while having the death penalty, does not impose it as readily as courts in Texas and Louisiana.

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