This crazy week at the Leg has yielded a lot of strange fruit, but the Senate’s Racial Justice Act, as amended, might be the strangest. The act would offer death row defendants the opportunity to challenge their sentences based on racial bias. Although North Carolina has not executed anyone in more than two years, this is pretty important to the 163 people currently on death row. The strange part is that the Senate accepted an amendment to the bill that will clear the way for the state to restart executions. Because they’re just so excited to see how this racial bias defense will work out, they need to see it in action ASAP.
I forgot that along with flowers, Mother’s Day, and graduations, May is the time when we pretend that race isn’t an issue in our infallible justice system. That really reflects the world as we know it, doesn’t it? A world where 36 children of color are murdered in less than one school year, in one city, and when a columnist points out that the national press hasn’t been interested, his column is punctuated by links to three stories about the same single white victim. And, when that shockingly horrific statistic does make the news in another national paper, it’s illustrated with a picture of the president’s children. They, of course, were once Chicago schoolkids of color, so, you know, why not? That’s how we do, we pretend we value the lives of every person equally, but (wink, wink) we really don’t.
This is the season where we pretend that poverty and race and educational outcomes don’t factor into who gets the death penalty. This is the part where we say, oh so ingenuously, that:
For instance, blacks make up 22 percent of North Carolina’s population, but they make up 53 percent of the inmates on North Carolina’s death row. That statistic implies that blacks are vastly overrepresented on death row.
On the other hand, blacks make up 62 percent of all convicted murderers in the state’s prison system, according to statistics from the N.C. Department of Correction. Because the percentage of convicted murderers who are black is higher than the percentage of blacks who got the death penalty, those numbers could imply that blacks are underrepresented on death row.”
It couldn’t possibly imply that African Americans are hugely overrepresented in terms of murder convictions, could it? It couldn’t imply that prosecutors are less likely to make deals for defendants of color than they are for whites, could it? How about what it might say about what penalties are involved for which victims? This is the part where we pretend that while murderers are likely to have murdered member of their own race, they’re not far more likely to get the death penalty if they’ve murdered a white person. That couldn’t possibly account for any of the “underrepresentation” of African Americans on North Carolina’s death row, could it?
Oh, goodness, no. Allowing a defendant to raise these complicated issues about either the death sentence itself or the prosecution’s decision to seek the death penalty makes it all fair. It’s time to sharpen our needles, we got us some justice down here! This is the season where I remember that I live in one of the illustrious countries that allows capital punishment. This is the part that makes me sick.