Home
In this issue
April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Dec. 6, 2010 / 30 Kislev, 5771

Is capital punishment racist?

By Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby




http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | I'm not a regular reader of The New York Review of Books, but I wasn't going to miss newly-retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens's essay on capital punishment in the latest issue. Last Sunday, in a Page 1, above-the-fold story, The New York Times spotlighted the Stevens piece as a "candid" and "remarkable" piece of writing that finally settled a "legal mystery" -- namely, why Stevens had changed his original view on the death penalty, and announced in 2008 that he now considered it to be unconstitutional.

Whether Stevens's metamorphosis was in fact such a "mystery" is debatable. A moderate Republican when he was appointed by President Ford in 1976, Stevens had long since migrated to the other side of the ideological divide. By the mid-1980s he was already voting more often than not with the court's liberal bloc, and by 1994, to quote The New Yorker's legal-affairs writer Jeffrey Toobin, Stevens had "become the undisputed leader of the resistance against the conservatives on the Court." Capital punishment was just one of many issues -- racial preferences, gay rights, free speech, church/state separation -- on which Stevens came to champion staunchly liberal positions. Well before the 2008 concurrence in which he proclaimed the death penalty to be a violation of the Eighth Amendment in all cases, his growing opposition to executions was evident.

That opposition is restated in Stevens's new essay, a mostly positive review of a new book, Peculiar Institution: America's Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition by David Garland, a professor of law and sociology at New York University. Early in his study, Garland cites the view of "many commentators" who "view contemporary capital punishment as a continuation of the nation's history of racial violence and lynching" -- an inflammatory view with which Stevens appears to concur. The former justice echoes that language in writing about the 1987 case of McCleskey v. Kemp, a 5-to-4 decision in which the court upheld a murder conviction and death penalty even though academic research proved that sentences of death were more common when the murder victim was white.

"That the murder of black victims is treated as less culpable than the murder of white victims," Stevens writes bitterly, "provides a haunting reminder of once-prevalent Southern lynchings."

It is a passionately-held article of faith among death-penalty opponents that capital punishment is racially unjust. But the facts stubbornly say otherwise. Ever since the Supreme Court compelled the states to rewrite their death penalty statutes in the 1970s, white murderers have been more likely than black murderers to be sentenced to death, and more likely to actually be executed. Though blacks commit approximately half of all murders in the United States, they accounted for only 390, or 35 percent, of the 1,136 murderers executed from 1977 through 2008. (Whites made up 57 percent; the rest were Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian.)

The race-of-the-victim claim that so appalls Stevens collapses under scrutiny. The Washington Post's Charles Lane -- an admirer of Stevens, as it happens -- shows why in a new book of his own. Because the vast majority of the murderers who kill blacks are black themselves, he writes in Stay of Execution: Saving the Death Penalty from Itself, the fact that the murder of a black victim is less likely to be punished with death is another way of saying that fewer blacks are put to death by the state. That reflects not racism, but racial progress.

It isn't because prosecutors place a lower value on black life that they are more reluctant to seek the death penalty for black-on-black homicide, Lane explains. It is because prosecutors don't press for a punishment of death unless they think the jury can be convinced to support it. And in the largely black communities where most black-on-black crime is committed, "persuading a jury to sentence a defendant to death is relatively difficult." Similarly, "in jurisdictions where elected prosecutors must appeal to black voters, prosecutors are that much less likely to support capital punishment."

In short, says Lane, far from harking back to the awful era when legally powerless black Americans were murdered by lynch mobs, the race-of-the-victim disparity today shows how blacks have been empowered. Before the Civil Rights revolution, most blacks couldn't vote or serve on juries. "Now that they do, they appear to be using this power to limit capital punishment in the cases closest to them."

Reasonable people have disagreed about the death penalty for a long time, but there is nothing reasonable about smearing the modern capital-justice system as inherently racist. Stevens changed his mind on the death penalty, but most Americans continue to regard it as a legitimate tool of justice. To imply that there is a whiff of the lynch mob in their view may make a good story for the Sunday paper. It doesn't make a convincing argument.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

Jeff Jacoby Archives

© 2010, Boston Globe

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles