That was then, this is now. And now, lessening the sentences that were previously raised has become a crusade for “social justice” that overshadows the need to combat the crime wave itself. Because racial oppression is the main enemy, the villainy of the crack trade is transformed into yet another symbol of white unfairness.
This kind of race baiting has now intruded into the presidential contest as a means of smearing the Republican leader, George W. Bush, who is distinguished by his outreach to minority communities and by his support among blacks. Is there a vast left-wing conspiracy that sees Bush’s black support as a political threat?
Well, of course there is. It is precisely because Bush is perceived as a candidate who can break the vicious stereotyping of Republicans as anti-black that he has to be smeared. Bush was thus labeled Governor Deathin a Christopher Hitchens column.
The clear implication of Hitchens’ attack was that Bush is collusive in a racist justice system in Texas that executes blacks in disproportionate numbers. “Perhaps you wonder if capital punishment is unevenly applied, as respects race and class, in the state of Texas,” wrote Hitchens. “Wonder no longer. Just read the Amnesty report Killing With Prejudice: Race and the Death Penalty in the USA.”
Well, Christopher, I read the Amnesty report. Maybe you should, too. The Amnesty report does not even mention racial or class statistics in Texas and could not possibly be used to draw such a conclusion. Moreover, a perusal of the report reveals no self-evident truths even nationally. Rather, it is a slovenly produced, inflammatory document.
Under the heading “Racist Representation of Indigent Defendants,” for example, it offers this evidence: “Gary Burns, black, executed in Indiana on 20 November 1997, was described to the jury by his white attorney as an ‘insignificant, snivelly little street person.’” End of example.
What is this supposed to prove? That someone else must have done the dirty work because Burns was too weak to be guilty of it himself? Who can tell from this example? Most of the report consists of unsystematic and frustratingly brief snippets of cases like this, combined with a sprinkling of unanalyzed statistics that are arrayed to serve a partisan agenda.
It is true that the number of blacks executed in Texas (and nationwide) is greater than their proportion in the population. But it is also true that the proportion of black murderers far exceeds the proportion of blacks in the population at large. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics 1996 report (released May 1999), blacks commit 54 percent of the homicides in America even though they constitute only 12 percent of the population.
An individual black male is eight times more likely to commit murder than an individual white male. Thus, in the most equitable system imaginable, a black male would be eight times more likely than a white male to be executed for murder.
In fact, however, convicted white murderers are more likely to be executed for their crimes than convicted black murderers. In 1996-97, whites accounted for 62 percent of the convicted murderers executed in Texas. According to statistics provided by the Justice Department, the proportion of whites presently on death row compared to the total white population is almost four times that of the comparable proportion of blacks on death row in terms of the total black population.
Whatever these statistics prove, it is not that justice in America is systemically biased against blacks. But the desperation to prove white turpitude is so great that instead of celebrating this as a triumph of civil rights reform in the law, the race baiters merely shift their focus to the victims of capital crimes.
Thus the statistic with which Amnesty opens its case is this: “Of the 500 prisoners executed between 1977 and 1998,” according to Amnesty, “81.8 [percent] were convicted of murdering a white person, even though blacks and whites are the victims of homicide in almost equal numbers nationwide.”
No attempt is made of course to explain how the criminal justice system might systematically discriminate in favor of white victims but not against black defendants (except by this indirect method). What the report’s raw statistic fails to take into account is that the death penalty is only imposed in aggravated circumstances, which can include the violence of the crime, whether it is committed in the course of another crime or whether the perpetrator has a prior criminal record of violent crimes.