“A certain degree of bias is inevitable”

The ongoing contentious debate over the constitutionality of the death penalty clearly misses the key issues at hand. Focus is often placed on a loftily held sense of ethics with complete disregard to the actual corporeal bodies that are subject to capital punishment. The recent outcry over Troy Davis’s execution is evidence of this. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “The state of Georgia executed Troy Davis in September 2011, despite serious concerns that he was wrongly convicted of killing a police officer in 1989” (http://www.aclu.org/maps/we-are-all-troy-davis-end-death-penalty). It is a sad twist of irony when one notes that in the following YouTube video with a speech given by Bryan Stevenson, he mentions how it was data from Georgia itself that initially demonstrated in the 1970s how

“race was the greatest predictor for who got the death penalty”.

Racial biases in the application of capital punishment is clearly all to present today, as seen in another recent case in which, “The United States Supreme Court, over a forceful dissent, this week refused to review the case of Texas death row prisoner Duane Buck, leaving intact a death sentence marred by racial overtones and undermined by the misleading statements of Texas prosecutors. At Mr. Buck’s capital sentencing trial, an expert psychologist testified that because Mr. Buck is an African American, he is more likely to commit acts of violence in the future” (http://eji.org/eji/node/580).

What I still can’t grasp is why after the Supreme Court had initially struck down the death penalty in 1972, upon recognizing that it was applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner as evident by how 87% of people executed for the crime of rape were black men accused of raping white women, it would shortly after argue that “evidence” of such racial biases need to be provided before it would revoke the “modern death penalty” that was being reinstated by various states across the country. So are they basically saying that we should wait until a significant number of innocent lives are taken in an unjust manner before they would even consider reverting to their initial decision of ending capital punishment?! What really got my blood boiling was when Stevenson discussed how although the Supreme Court never denied the validity of Georgia’s data, it nevertheless held a 5-4 decision declaring Georgia’s death penalty as constitution. Why? Apparently,

“a certain degree of bias is inevitable”.

Granted, Psychology 101 teaches us that humans all participate in heuristics by relying on generalizing schemas of ideas, including perceptions of certain groups of people. Yet, does that automatically render people completely bereft of culpability for their actions in which they actively construct and perpetuate such generalizations that adversely impact people’s lives? Rather than weakly conceding that such is a sad reality of life, why not assert that one has the responsibility for going even more out of the way to ensure that he or she is formulating judgments based on facts and evidence rather than capricious personal perceptions?

Racial biases in how capital punishment is given out is apparently present not only in the numbers of people who are ultimately executed, but also the jurors who are selected for such trials.

Stemming from larger inequities in the criminal justice system is the phenomenon of rising rates of incarceration of women. A vast majority of women in prisons are survivors of sexual assault or domestic abuse and “women of color are significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system” (http://www.aclu.org/womens-rights/facts-about-over-incarceration-women-united-states). In fact, according to The Sentencing Project, “In 2005, black women were more than three times as likely as white women to be incarcerated in prison or jail, and Hispanic women 69% more likely” (http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/womenincj_total.pdf). A significant portion of female prisoners were convicted of drugs-related offenses. There is much evidence indicating that these women of color are certainly not doing drugs at such higher rates than their white counterparts, but rather, they are more subject to policing precisely due to their minority status.


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