Posted on August 6, 2007

Black And White

Eve Conant, Newsweek, August 1, 2007

{snip} A new study finds that blacks on death row convicted of killing whites are more likely to be executed than whites who kill minorities. It also concludes that blacks who kill other minorities are less likely to be executed than blacks who kill whites. The authors of the report say their findings raise serious doubts about claims that the U.S. criminal justice system is colorblind.

Appearing in the August issue of American Sociological Review, the report claims to be the first of its kind to study whether the race of murder victims affects the probability that a convicted killer gets the ultimate punishment. The study examined outcomes of 1,560 people sentenced to death in 16 states between 1972 and 2002. NEWSWEEK’s Eve Conant spoke to David Jacobs, coauthor of the study and a professor of sociology and political science at Ohio State University. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Why did you do this study?

David Jacobs: Because the role of race is a fundamental question about the death penalty. There was a lot of research, mostly on one or two Southern states, which found that if an African-American killed a white, that they’d be more likely to get the death penalty. But you have to remember that only about 10 percent of those who get the death sentence actually get executed. {snip}.

So what did you find?

Holding a whole bunch of stuff constant, including several political variables, we found that if a black person killed a white person they were more likely to get executed. If a Hispanic killed a white person they were also more likely, but this probability wasn’t quite as strong. There is more than a twofold greater risk that an African-American who killed a white will be executed than a white person who kills a nonwhite victim. A Hispanic is at least 1.4 times more likely to be executed if such an offender kills a white. Both findings are statistically significant. Also, the findings indicate that blacks who kill nonwhites are less likely to be executed than blacks who kill whites, which shows that the postsentencing capital-punishment process continues to place greater value on white lives.