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March 31, 2014 7:09 AM   Subscribe

Shrinking Majority of Americans Support Death Penalty "According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 55% of U.S. adults say they favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. A significant minority (37%) oppose the practice. While a majority of U.S. adults still support the death penalty, public opinion in favor of capital punishment has seen a modest decline..." Jamelle Bouie at Slate notes that , "Nearly twice as many whites as blacks favor the death penalty. There is a simple, and disturbing, reason why" and blames racism.

Andrew Gelman disagrees:

"Why does our graph contradict Bouie’s claim? He’s attributing the difference in attitudes to historical racism among white southerners. But the gap in attitudes has increased during recent decades, when racism has declined. Whites have become more politically conservative, but that’s not the same as becoming more racist...

So, according to the data: yes there’s still racism but it has on balance decreased, not increased, in recent decades. Hence I don’t think it makes sense to attribute the big black-white gap in death penalty attitudes to racism.

What I do think is happening is an increase in conservatism among whites, not just in the south but in some other parts of the country as well."


Bonus: See where every execution has taken place since 1977, in one map
posted by MisantropicPainforest (145 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
The death penalty is barbaric, not a deterrent, and crudely and unfairly applied. End it - and I applaud the advocates and lawmakers in states that have banned it.
posted by entropone at 7:11 AM on March 31 [42 favorites]


My guess is that Whites are more than twice as likely to be Republican, so I think Gelman has a point that it's not so easily directly tied to racism. (Though undoubtedly a factor.)
posted by spaltavian at 7:15 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Perhaps trrying to explain the difference by looking at white Americans is coming at the thing backwards. Maybe fewer black Americans support the death penalty because they're all too familiar with how unevenly it's applied.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:18 AM on March 31 [16 favorites]


I think the racism part comes in here:

"Their findings with whites, on the other hand, were disturbing. Not only where whites immune to persuasion on the death penalty, but when researchers told them of the racial disparity—that blacks faced unfair treatment—many increased their support."
posted by schroedinger at 7:19 AM on March 31 [80 favorites]


The execution location map seems to indicate it's not just a white thing, it's a southern white thing.

It sort of makes me understand when people talk louder and slower when they hear I'm from Florida.
posted by Mooski at 7:26 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Death penalties are generally accepted to not actually serve as a deterrent, and the costs are many times higher than life without parole cases, including the cost of housing an inmate for life. That's not even getting into the issues of wrongful convictions and the current shortage of drugs utilized in lethal injections, which has resulted in some frightening results for states trying to make do with alternative mixes.

And there is an argument to be made that racism is so systematic in the United States that students as young as six years old are more harshly treated for outbursts based on race.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:31 AM on March 31 [22 favorites]


Oh, and Mexico is more progressive on this (and the meaning of "life sentence") than the United States (a blog post on the 2005 decision by Mexico's Supreme Court to allow extradition of persons who would be subject to life imprisonment; sadly the comments are all spam.)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:40 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure Gelman's racism data supports his conclusion. Wouldn't white attitudes towards the death penalty be more likely to correspond to "symbolic" racism -- which has increased -- rather than "Jim Crow" racism?

I imagine this is might be a sort of Southern Strategy style racism, where anti-black attitudes are cloaked behind a politically acceptable facade.
posted by Hume at 7:53 AM on March 31 [11 favorites]


Have southern whites become more politically conservative, or have they been lagging behind the rest of the country in becoming less conservative over time? I mean surely if you time-travelled southern whites from 50 years ago to today, the old-timey southern whites would be more conservative than today's? So is a thing where southern whites are changing more slowly than everybody else, because the existing structure gives them less incentive to liberalize their views? (Real question.)
posted by joannemerriam at 7:55 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]


Whites have become more politically conservative, but that’s not the same as becoming more racist...

Paging Zombie Lee Atwater, Zombie Lee Atwater, please pick up the white courtesy phone...
posted by Reverend John at 7:55 AM on March 31 [21 favorites]


For such a supposedly self-professed Christian nation their isn't a lot of Christianity in the justice system. Maybe this is one of the few cases where church and state don't intermingle.

The Lord preached forgiveness, to turn away from vengeance (as that was his and his ALONE) and that all were redeemable.

Meanwhile we lock people up and throw away the key only to punish those that have wronged us and write them off as human beings.

Fuck this country sometimes.
posted by Talez at 7:57 AM on March 31 [6 favorites]


So, according to the data: yes there’s still racism but it has on balance decreased, not increased, in recent decades.

That's a bit of disingenuous logic acrobatics by Gelman. The charts he puts up to show that racism isn't at the core of the divergence between Black/White attitudes towards the death penalty clearly show that, yes, blatant segregationist attitudes have declined, but symbolic and ideological racism have remained flat, or even increased slightly. This would support Bouie's hypothesis, not debunk it.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:00 AM on March 31 [13 favorites]


Stuff White People Like

I kinda wish you'd chosen a different title there.
posted by edgeways at 8:04 AM on March 31 [30 favorites]


The charts he puts up to show that racism isn't at the core of the divergence between Black/White attitudes towards the death penalty clearly show that, yes, blatant segregationist attitudes have declined, but symbolic and ideological racism have remained flat, or even increased slightly.

Since blatant segregationist attitudes are an important component of the broader category of racism, and symbolic and ideological racism hasn't increased to the extend that segregationist attitudes have declined, it would follow that racism has declined, unless there's an omitted variable.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:04 AM on March 31


Since blatant segregationist attitudes are an important component of the broader category of racism, and symbolic and ideological racism hasn't increased to the extend that segregationist attitudes have declined, it would follow that racism has declined, unless there's an omitted variable.

What happens to the charts when we factor in support for "states' rights"?
posted by Talez at 8:05 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


My guess is that Whites are more than twice as likely to be Republican, so I think Gelman has a point that it's not so easily directly tied to racism.

Unless we're thinking of different Republican parties, I'd say a group being more than twice as likely to be Republican would absolutely be tied to racism.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:07 AM on March 31 [13 favorites]


What I'd really like to see is the numbers on approval of the death penalty by race further broken down by age groups. Gallup has numbers on the latter, but not sorted by the former; younger people in general are less keen on capital punishment.

It's very easy to think that older people, who lived during legal segregation and the immediate aftermath of its abolition, would have their attitudes towards the death penalty shaped by the racist values inculcated into them as a result. Particularly with the follow-up inoculation of the "Law & Order" dog-whistles that followed.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:07 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


I wish the Pew poll broke things down by state. Maine, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin all abolished the death penalty more than a century ago and it would be interesting to see how public opinion in those states compares to other states with similar demographics. I wonder if not having the death penalty on the state level for so long makes it seem less desireable or if we see support for the death penalty in those states similar to the rest of the country.
posted by Area Man at 8:10 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


What happens to the charts when we factor in support for "states' rights"?

That would be covered under symbolic racism, I imagine:

"In their 2005 paper “Old Times There Are Not Forgotten: Race and Partisan Realignment in the Contemporary South” from the American Journal of Political Science, Nicholas Valentino and David Sears summarize their analysis of GSS racial attitudes questions as follows: “There is much evidence that Jim Crow or ‘old-fashioned’ racism has declined greatly, but we doubt that the more contemporary symbolic racism has.”"
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:10 AM on March 31


Edit: I meant Gelman, not Bouie.
posted by Hume at 8:12 AM on March 31


Whites more strongly favor the death penalty. The death penalty is used disproportionately against blacks. Racism? Well, duh.

We know this. We've known this for a while. We need to put a stop to it.
posted by theora55 at 8:14 AM on March 31 [8 favorites]


Whites have become more politically conservative, but that’s not the same as becoming more racist
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

heee hee heee hee hee

aaaahahaha

Hoo. Just had to get that out of my system. Now, let's talk some more about dogwhistle racism, institutional prejudice, the modern Republican party, and the deep south. The latter of which I'm not sure Andrew Gelman has ever visited.
posted by Mayor West at 8:15 AM on March 31 [21 favorites]


It should end. For a long time I used to temper that with the thought that it could still be retained for the most truly heinous crimes, like they do in countries like Japan. Capital punishment still exists there, but it's done very sparingly, at least compared to the U.S. Come to think of it, all countries do it sparingly compared to the U.S.

But even that is unnecessary. Of course I would want vengeance if someone murdered my loved ones, but that's the point of not having a death penalty; laws should not be vengeance-based.
posted by zardoz at 8:19 AM on March 31 [6 favorites]


Any position which favors existing power structures- anything that can be meaningfully called "conservative"- is racist so long as the society that position exists within is racist. If the status quo is racist and you support the status quo, you are supporting racism.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:20 AM on March 31 [31 favorites]


Related to the issue of execution drugs:

Last week, a state court judge in Oklahoma ruled unconstitutional the state law preventing inmates from learning the source of the drugs which will be used at their execution. LATimes, BBC, Death Penalty Info Center

Slate's Medical Examiner on lethal injection executions and how terribly managed they are.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:20 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Funny. I thought I supported the death penalty because I believe there are crimes so unforgivable as to require the forfeit of life on the part of the person who committed the crime. I'd actually like to see the death penalty extended for rapists and molesters, and people who torture animals.

I don't care what color you are, I just want you gone.
posted by gsh at 8:23 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


The justice system makes mistakes, and the death penalty unnecessarily makes those mistakes irreversible. That simple fact alone means the death penalty has no place in modern society. There are many other reasons.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:25 AM on March 31 [27 favorites]


It's very easy to think that older people, who lived during legal segregation and the immediate aftermath of its abolition, would have their attitudes towards the death penalty shaped by the racist values

As another possible reason, some people become less idealistic as they get older. I'm an example of that. When I was 20, I was actively against the death penalty in any form for any reason. Now, 20 more years down the road, I don't agree with how it is always done, I think it's unfairly applied, but I'm in favor of it in some cases. I think of someone like Jeffrey Dahmer and think that sometimes it's the correct options. And if I can think of even one example where I think capital punishment can be applied, then I'm no longer completely against it. It's not about racism, it's about no longer being so idealistic.
posted by Houstonian at 8:27 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


How fortunate that Japan never got around to executing this innocent man.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:27 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


I don't care what color you are, I just want you gone.

Prison pretty much takes care of the 'gone' part for less money, and if it turns out I didn't do it, you can always let me out of prison.

Death is pretty final.
posted by Mooski at 8:28 AM on March 31 [27 favorites]


I'm opposed to the death penalty generally, but I think the death penalty for rape would be disastrous -- it gives the perpetrator an incentive to kill their victim, because they might be less likely to get caught (at least it eliminates a witness) and, if convicted, the penalty isn't any worse.
posted by Jeanne at 8:28 AM on March 31 [26 favorites]


it would follow that racism has declined, unless there's an omitted variable.

Simply because expressing support for the institution of a formal, race-based, caste system has declined does not mean people have become less racist. It means that those internally held beliefs about racial superiority/inferiority have found other outlets of expression. The paper Gelman cites explicitly addresses this, which makes his citation of it all the more ridiculous.

From the study:
[W]e see major changes in the role of race in the South along with such continuities. In the 1950s and 1960s, white Southerners strongly supported Jim Crow or “old-fashioned” racism, focused on rigid social distance between the races, legalized segregation, formal racial discrimination, and beliefs in the inherent inferiority of blacks (Sheatsley 1966). But much of that support for formal racial inequality has disappeared in the New South (Schuman et al. 1997), and is now too skimpy to be the main foundation of the party alignment. Instead we argue that its political influence has been replaced by that of a new form of racism, variously described as “symbolic racism,” “modern racism,” or “racial resentment,” blending racial animus with perceptions that blacks violate traditional American values, such as individualism (Sears and Henry 2003). It is reflected in beliefs that blacks' continuing disadvantages reflect their own lack of work ethic rather than continuing racial discrimination and that blacks make excessive demands and get too many undeserved advantages (Kinder and Sanders 1996; Sears et al. 1997).
posted by Panjandrum at 8:31 AM on March 31 [12 favorites]


The death penalty does not function as an enhanced deterrent. Why is it so difficult to prevent people in maximum-security prison from committing suicide? Because convicts often consider death preferable to maximum-security prison.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:34 AM on March 31


A guy told me once, "The Bible says, 'An eye for an eye.....". That's your death penalty supporter demographic, in part.
posted by thelonius at 8:34 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Whites have become more politically conservative, but that’s not the same as becoming more racist...

Well bless your heart if you believe that to be true. They're just getting better at euphemisms.
posted by tommasz at 8:35 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


posted by MisantropicPainforest

...eponysterical?


For such a supposedly self-professed Christian nation their isn't a lot of Christianity in the...

One could make a career of pointing that out about pretty much everything conservative. The way the poor are treated is an obvious one.
posted by Foosnark at 8:36 AM on March 31 [5 favorites]


thelonius: "A guy told me once, "The Bible says, 'An eye for an eye.....". That's your death penalty supporter demographic, in part."

Ah yes, the New Testament Christians picking out the bits of the Old Testament they still like.
Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." Matthew 5:38-39
posted by fireoyster at 8:36 AM on March 31 [31 favorites]


it's about no longer being so idealistic.

Right, unlike those dreamy-eyed idealists I like to call "every single western democracy except the USA".
posted by Pre-Taped Call In Show at 8:38 AM on March 31 [30 favorites]


I grew up in Harris County, which is where a significant portion of the death penalty cases in Texas come from. (Houston is known as the death penalty capital of the western world for a reason. I would have liked to see a graphic that broke it out from Texas the way the last link broke out executions by state.) It was precisely because of the racism and injustice inherent in the way the death penalty is applied, both in the punishment phase and in the jury selection phase, that I stopped supporting it. In my ideal world, it would be available but extremely rare, but we're never going to live in that world because of racism. In the world we live in, the death penalty will never be applied fairly, so it needs to go.

(The bias issues with jury selection and capital murder are well known. You throw out all the people who won't vote to execute on conviction and you get yourself a hanging jury. This was Johnny Holmes' MO as Harris County DA.)
posted by immlass at 8:43 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


#cancelmetafilter
posted by crank at 8:49 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


The thing I don't understand about the whole "shortage of lethal injection drugs" thing: how is it that veterinarians seem to be able to handle euthanasia just fine and with zero apparent suffering? It's hard to not draw the conclusion that they've set up the human execution process to cause suffering on purpose.
posted by ook at 8:50 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]


immlass: "I grew up in Harris County, which is where a significant portion of the death penalty cases in Texas come from."

I grew up around Dallas County which has had 36 people exonerated from death row since the Innocence Project started using all that annoying evidence casually laying around doing nothing except proving that 36 people almost died but, instead, only lost a couple of decades of their lives.

That, right there, obliterated any last vestiges I will ever have of even thinking about supporting the death penalty. As long as humans are fallible, we should never kill other humans as "punishment."
posted by fireoyster at 8:50 AM on March 31 [45 favorites]


Interesting that the peak year for support of capital punishment was 1996, followed by a pretty steady decline. I would assume what happened is, the violent crime rate began to decline sharply in the early 90s, but the late '90s were when the trend had been ongoing long enough that Americans started to actually feel that the country was safer. And as that fear starts to wane, so does the desire for extreme punishment for criminals.

I don't want to argue that racism doesn't have a part to play on views on the death penalty. However, I do think that the biggest factor has been the overall decline in violent crime--way more than geographic location or race or age or political affiliation or whatever.

Support for the death penalty rose continually during the great 70s and 80s crime wave. The longer we get away from that time and the longer that glut looks like a historical anomaly, the more power the abolition movement gains. The moratoriums on capital punishment that we've gotten in a few states this century would have been politically impossible during the Reagan years. Things get better and people just get nicer to their fellow man. It's a general Zeitgeist thing.

Right wing Christianity is another political movement who influence grew during the crime wave but has been losing followers since. I don't like to defend those people's views because they are horrible, but I can understand the appeal of a movement that says we live in wicked times and it all has to do with women wearing pants and using birth control and gay people on TV and whatever the fuck, when the stats seem to confirm it. Things really did start to get bad right when the US became a great deal more socially liberal. Luckily, we're finding out now that we be about as safe as we were in the 1950s but without that decade's social mores. What I saying is that Fawell and Robertson built a movement on the most egregious example of "correlation does not equal causation" ever.
posted by riruro at 9:02 AM on March 31 [7 favorites]


But the gap in attitudes has increased during recent decades, when racism has declined. Whites have become more politically conservative, but that’s not the same as becoming more racist...

I disagree. Source: facebook.
posted by empath at 9:06 AM on March 31 [5 favorites]


It is reflected in beliefs that blacks' continuing disadvantages reflect their own lack of work ethic rather than continuing racial discrimination and that blacks make excessive demands and get too many undeserved advantages (Kinder and Sanders 1996; Sears et al. 1997).

Also Ryan et al. 2014.
posted by TedW at 9:06 AM on March 31 [7 favorites]


What's with the huge difference between Texas (rather many) and New Mexico (1)? Is NM really just filled with bleeding heart yankee liberal ex pats? Or short on people of color scapegoats?
posted by sammyo at 9:06 AM on March 31


so, I wonder gsh, if you have such faith in the death penalty system, if we kept it, but mandated that in order to keep it people must show faith in it by putting their own lives in proxy against wrongful conviction and execution, subject to forfeiture if it transpired someone was killed in error, just how many people would step up to sign up their lives?

We talk all the time about accountability, but that really is accountability for the powerless. In the case of the criminal justice system accountability should run both ways, but we don't really have a system for finding the truth, we have a system of adversarial practices which guarantees end-results over accuracy. There is no motivation for a defense attorney to be honest if they don't have to be, and very little for prosecutors.
posted by edgeways at 9:06 AM on March 31 [10 favorites]


I have a friend who argues seriously that the death penalty is good because it brings increased scrutiny to those cases and that he'd rather risk death to clear his name than languish in prison for something he didn't do. I tell him high school debate ruined him as a human being.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:08 AM on March 31 [19 favorites]


The thing I don't understand about the whole "shortage of lethal injection drugs" thing: how is it that veterinarians seem to be able to handle euthanasia just fine and with zero apparent suffering?

The European drug manufacturers still readily sell to veterinarians through the legal drug control channels. They no longer sell to the state governments for executions. Hence the shortage.
posted by hwyengr at 9:08 AM on March 31 [5 favorites]


The European drug manufacturers still readily sell to veterinarians through the legal drug control channels. They no longer sell to the state governments for executions. Hence the shortage.

Right, but the question was why vets are apparently capable of doing painless euthanasia, but state executioners are apparently incompetent.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:16 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


What's with the huge difference between Texas (rather many) and New Mexico (1)? Is NM really just filled with bleeding heart yankee liberal ex pats? Or short on people of color scapegoats?

Kind of. Texas was a slave state. Blacks generally have had some say in whether they moved to New Mexico or not.
posted by LionIndex at 9:25 AM on March 31


Right, but the question was why vets are apparently capable of doing painless euthanasia, but state executioners are apparently incompetent.

Usually executioners are prison staff carrying out a mechanical or computer-assisted procedure. Most states don't require that a physician be the person administering drugs in a lethal injection, just that proper procedure be carried out. Delaware even has a special law on the books to allow the drugs used in lethal injections to be dispensed without a prescription if it's for the purpose of carrying out an execution.

So in other words, when vets euthanize animals, it's medical professional carrying out a medical procedure on a patient whom they have carefully examined ahead of time; in a lot of executions, it's someone trained to use a machine in a certain way without regard for anything but a few basic weight/height inputs.
posted by kewb at 9:33 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


edgeways: "if we kept it, but mandated that in order to keep it people must show faith in it by putting their own lives in proxy against wrongful conviction and execution, subject to forfeiture if it transpired someone was killed in error"

Came in to make this very point.
As far as discussions of the death penalty go this appears to be one of the very few arguments/hypotheticals that seem to have a slightly better chance of not falling on deaf ears.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:38 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who argues seriously that the death penalty is good because it brings increased scrutiny to those cases and that he'd rather risk death to clear his name than languish in prison for something he didn't do. I tell him high school debate ruined him as a human being.

Your friend wasn't the brightest of bulbs, was he, considering how many people were railroaded onto death row?
posted by MartinWisse at 9:38 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Whites have become more politically conservative, but that’s not the same as becoming more racist

I know people are just scoffing at this, but when you actually look at what he's saying, it really is stupid. The guy supports this statement by quoting a paper, the conclusion of which is the exact opposite. Yes, expressions of overt racism ("intermarriage is wrong") have declined, but expressions of slightly less overt racist beliefs have increased in the South ("the legacy of slavery and discrimination don't hold back black people, they would be successful if they just worked harder") and are correlated with conservatism.
posted by straight at 9:40 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]


Because doctors are forbidden by professional organizations (and/or practical business considerations) from participating in executions (even to just determine dosages) and vets are not forbidden from euthanizing animals. Pharmacists are increasingly under the same pressure. No-one ever fired their vet because she euthanized a suffering dog, but people will shun a doctor who chooses to administer a lethal injection to a healthy adult, even a criminal, especially since they are barred from membership in some professional organizations.

States who require doctor participation in executions may have to re-write licensing laws to declare that it's not "practicing medicine", and they can't often find doctors who will do it. This article argues that doctors can, and will, participate in executions, but that they participate "often not in the manner necessary to ensure humane executions" Some ethicists also argue that doctors should not be banned from the process.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:41 AM on March 31 [7 favorites]


Right, but the question was why vets are apparently capable of doing painless euthanasia, but state executioners are apparently incompetent.

Huh? The answer is that vets have access to the right drugs and executioners often don't.
posted by straight at 9:42 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Everything I've read about how lethal injections are carried out de facto makes me wish that, if we can't get rid of capital punishment, we could at least have a relatively humane firing squad or guillotine.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:48 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


My one and only experience of jury duty involved being part of the pool that was being interviewed for a murder case in Texas. For whatever reason, the kid (and he was a kid), should he be convicted, was eligible only for life in prison without a possibility of parole. The vast majority of the people in the pool with me that day were thoughtful, reasonable people who genuinely wrestled with the question of whether they could commit someone to prison for the rest of their life.

There were a few, however, who wanted only for this kid to get the death penalty (not an option) and did not understand why a lot of us, myself included, were incredibly hesitant to serve on a jury when, if guilt was established, the kid would essentially be sentenced to a slow death at the hands of the Texas department of corrections. They were guys, white, and older. The defendant was an Hispanic kid.

Racism? I don't think it is that easy. I think it is a combination of conservatism and these guys not ever having the least bit of an inkling of what it is like to live on the fringes of society. They live in that Fox echo chamber of no fucking clue.

In the end, I wasn't chosen, but I followed the case in the paper. He was convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Later, the Supreme Court issued their decision the decision regarding life terms for offenders who were kids at the times of their offense. I hope he can make some use of it.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 9:51 AM on March 31 [6 favorites]


Incidently, if you really want to lose your trust in the US justice system, read about the child rapist who wasn't sent to prison because he was too rich for it.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:52 AM on March 31 [18 favorites]


I grew up in Harris County, which is where a significant portion of the death penalty cases in Texas come from. (Houston is known as the death penalty capital of the western world for a reason. I would have liked to see a graphic that broke it out from Texas the way the last link broke out executions by state.)

I've seen a graphic like this a few years ago. In The Atlantic, maybe, or a similar source?

If I recall, part of the explanation was that even in Texas with its pro-death-penalty reputation, it's still expensive to pursue a capital prosecution. A lot of smaller counties in Texas have prosecutors who might like to pursue death penalty cases, but don't have the funding or resources to do so on all of them. Harris County being larger and wealthier would have more leeway to prosecute a capital case.

Middle of the day, and this is just from memory, otherwise I'd go out and see if this is online somewhere.
posted by gimonca at 10:12 AM on March 31


The guy supports this statement by quoting a paper, the conclusion of which is the exact opposite. Yes, expressions of overt racism ("intermarriage is wrong") have declined, but expressions of slightly less overt racist beliefs have increased in the South ("the legacy of slavery and discrimination don't hold back black people, they would be successful if they just worked harder") and are correlated with conservatism.

Please reread the post. You say that 'slightly less over racist beliefs have increased in the South', but the fact is that they haven't increased nearly enough to compensate for the decrease in overt racism. Thus, overall racism has declined.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:15 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


I know people are just scoffing at this, but when you actually look at what he's saying, it really is stupid.

The idea that the current white south is just as racist as the white south of 1954 or 1964 should be pretty silly on its face. Still more racist than the rest of white America, which is itself still pretty darn racist, sure. But... really? People are seriously maintaining that the current white south, where something like 1 in 20 households are interracial*, is just as racist as it was in 1965? Really?

The big problem with Gelman's piece is that he spends a lot of time on what doesn't matter very much (all that stuff about symbolic racism versus Jim Crow) when his actual point, expressed entirely as a throwaway in the last paragraph, is that as the white south became increasingly Republican, it would also have become increasingly positive about the death penalty through the normal and reasonably well understood patterns of conflict extension (ie Carsey and Layman). Whatever is going on with racism in the white south, we'd expect the white south to become more supportive of the death penalty over time as it became more Republican.

*Which includes any mixed-race couple, not just black/white, but I'm too lazy to go beyond the Census press release for this
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:23 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


If I recall, part of the explanation was that even in Texas with its pro-death-penalty reputation, it's still expensive to pursue a capital prosecution. A lot of smaller counties in Texas have prosecutors who might like to pursue death penalty cases, but don't have the funding or resources to do so on all of them. Harris County being larger and wealthier would have more leeway to prosecute a capital case.

That's part of it, but Johnny Holmes, who was DA when I was younger, ran a very strict and aggressive prosecutor's office for two decades. Here's an article from the Houston paper from 2007 about him. It mentions that during his time in office (he retired in 2000), Harris County convictions accounted for 100 executions from his term in office. The article also mentions that his office sent more than 200 to Death Row.

According to the Washington Post article linked in the OP, Texas has performed 512 executions overall since 1977. So Holmes' office, not counting after 2000 when he left office (or any convictions from before 2000 that resulted in executions after 2007), convicted almost 20% of the people executed in Texas since the reinstatement of the death penalty. Holmes couldn't have done that without a lot of prosecutors and jurors to convict people accused of capital murder, but still, the tone he helped set is responsible for a lot of deaths.
posted by immlass at 10:26 AM on March 31


I would have liked to see a graphic that broke it out from Texas the way the last link broke out executions by state.

This PDF has a graphic that kinda does that. "Top 15 Counties by Executions Since 1976" (see page 7 -- page numbers are on the top of each page). What you don't get from that image, though, is trend. For example, see the first page of this report (PDF) -- new death sentences are really down in Texas, from 37 in 2002 to 8 or 9 each year since 2009. On the next page of that report, note that while Harris county has had the highest number of capital punishments in total, Dallas county actually had more during each of the past 3 years.
posted by Houstonian at 10:29 AM on March 31


Your friend wasn't the brightest of bulbs, was he, considering how many people were railroaded onto death row?

Oh no, he's extremely bright. He just approaches arguments more like a war than an academic publication. He'll throw a hundred points out there to see which people go after, and shore up or abandon based on effort vs return.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:32 AM on March 31 [5 favorites]


A few years from now, we'll learn that Google's recent AI and robotics drive have been towards the goal of eliminating the death penalty.

Google-Ads driven slap drones, coming to your state's penitentiary towns soon!
posted by Slackermagee at 10:34 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


People are seriously maintaining that the current white south, where something like 1 in 20 households are interracial*, is just as racist as it was in 1965? Really?

No, people are treating racism as something more complex than a kind of blob like "on balance" thing where if it decreases in total amount, then all factors related to it must also decrease in scale or else they cannot be related to racism. Because reasoning that way is the kind of thing bad statisticians and dummies would do.
posted by bleep-blop at 10:41 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]


Well, fine, but then people are just disagreeing with a straw man instead of Gelman.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:44 AM on March 31


No because that's pretty much what he says.
posted by bleep-blop at 10:46 AM on March 31


No, we're not straw-manning Gelman. He's claiming that "racism" has declined, as if opposition to intermarriage and belief that blacks are "just lazy" are the same thing and that a big decline in one outweighs a smaller increase in the other.

I think there's a pretty good case to be made that those are separate ideas and that the latter is much more important to the question of whether differences in support for the death penalty are (partly) explained by differences in beliefs about race.
posted by straight at 10:49 AM on March 31


He's claiming that racism has declined because overt racism has declined and a whole lot and symbolic racism has only increased a tiny little bit. If racism hasn't declined, has it increased? Has it stayed the same? If it increased, how come we aren't seeing any public opinion polls that show that is has increased?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:52 AM on March 31


As a reminder, there are millions of white southerners who are neither Republicanss nor racists. Just as an example, only 37.2% of Georgians are non-white, yet 45.48% of Georgia voters voted for President Obama. Still, it does sometimes seem as if 99 44/100% of the Good Ol' Boy Network is probably both.

The administration of justice here Georgia and throughout America is spotty at best, so I believe no punishment should be meted out that cannot be undone. For that reason, but mostly out of basic human decency, I support the abolition of the death penalty, reform of the practice of life imprisonment, and the humane treatment of prisoners.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:55 AM on March 31 [6 favorites]


For such a supposedly self-professed Christian nation their isn't a lot of Christianity in the justice system.

More than that, it's precisely the parts of the country that stridently self-identify as more "Christian" (which generally means evangelicals) that support the death penalty. So many people who loudly profess to follow the teachings of Jesus simultaneously enthusiastically endorse state-sponsored life-ending. That's a tremendous blind spot, and it seems like it's gradually getting harder for them to willfully ignore it.
posted by JHarris at 11:00 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


No, we're not straw-manning Gelman.

You're not reading Gelman's piece very carefully: "I agree with Bouie that racism is part of the story."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:01 AM on March 31


I kinda wish you'd chosen a different title there.

FWIW, I don't. I actually think it was kind of brilliant, and that it was appropriately sarcastic and biting for a situation this fucked up.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:08 AM on March 31 [12 favorites]


The first time I ever really thought about the death penalty was when I was a kid, and there was a bill in the Canadian parliament proposing to reinstate it.

But this was also shortly after Donald Marshall had been released from prison; he had been wrongly convicted largely because he was native. It was a couple of years earlier, but people were talking about what if he's been executed? So in my kid, and now adult, brain, the death penalty and wrongful conviction have always gone hand-in-hand.
posted by jb at 11:08 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]


Or, the actual Bouie/Gelman thing is very close to

Bouie: Just racism and nothing else.
Gelman: Racism but other stuff too.

But many folks here are reacting to it as if it were

Bouie: Racism and maybe other stuff.
Gelman: Not racism at all.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:09 AM on March 31


Er, I think it's more like this:

Bouie: The biggest reason is racism.
"if you needed a one-word answer to why whites are so supportive of the death penalty, “racism” isn’t a bad choice."

Gelman: No, the big reason can't be racism because [bullshit people are objecting to]
"yes there’s still racism but it has on balance decreased, not increased, in recent decades. Hence I don’t think it makes sense to attribute the big black-white gap in death penalty attitudes to racism."

Gelman: I actually think it's more about white people being conservative that's got nothing to do at all with racism [weakly supported thing people are just laughing at]

I'm not sure who you are talking about "many folks here", but I was specifically only talking about his bullshit reasons it couldn't be primarily racism.
posted by bleep-blop at 11:15 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


This all comes down to the question "Do we as a society make criminal laws for moral relief or as a policy of governance?"

Are the laws and punishment a means unto themselves? Or do we want to make a better world with our laws? Executing people might feel good and righteous, but figuring out how we prevent people from becoming murderers is more difficult.
posted by fontophilic at 11:16 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


What I'm objecting to in Gelman is this:

So, according to the data: yes there’s still racism but it has on balance decreased, not increased, in recent decades. Hence I don’t think it makes sense to attribute the big black-white gap in death penalty attitudes to racism.


The idea that a decline in "Jim Crow Racism" somehow implies a decline in race-based motivations for supporting the death penalty is a clumsy way of thinking about racism.
posted by straight at 11:17 AM on March 31 [9 favorites]


So if Jim Crow Racism decreased substantially, and other forms/manifestations of racism did not increase substantially, yet the net amount of racism remains the same, then WHERE DID THE RACISM GO?!?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:21 AM on March 31 [3 favorites]


Exactly. The idea that racism is fungible, like water, is what's wrong here.
posted by straight at 11:23 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]


It seems to me like the equivalent to what he's saying is, like:

Drunk driving has decreased in this span of time, but accident rates are still very high. This can't be a result of irresponsible behavior, because people are driving drunk less. (And never mind the rates of speeding.)

The thing is that there are lots of kinds of irresponsibility, and lots of kinds of racism, and if you're trying to attribute a cause for one particular phenomenon, you can't say that it's not any part of the broader category just because some parts have declined during that time period. The point isn't whether or not net racism is or is not the same, the point is that his support for the idea that racism is not involved in this particular phenomenon is based on faulty logic.
posted by Sequence at 11:23 AM on March 31 [2 favorites]


his support for the idea that racism is not involved in this particular phenomenon

Again, he actually says the exact opposite of that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:25 AM on March 31


I don't think Gelman provides good evidence against sustained symbolic racism being the cause, is the thing. If you look at the "support by race and gender" graph, yeah, the gap increases with time, but really the curves for white people look a lot like the curves for symbolic racism: invariant, and if anything increasing. If white Americans' high (in some places >70%?!) level of symbolic racism is what's preventing them from being able to see the perspectives shared by the majority of black Americans, it seems like that would be totally consistent with both trends.

The Jim Crow thing is almost certainly true, but it seems like a red herring to me because after all, the death penalty is not explicitly stated to be a policy that's meant to be applied in a racist way. The more relevant factor, it would seem, is racism that doesn't take the form of explicitly codified discrimination -- that is, symbolic racism.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:25 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


FYI, the paper Gelman cites is here.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:27 AM on March 31


please pick up the white courtesy phone...

I see what you did there. Heh heh...
posted by jonp72 at 11:27 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


I should rephrase: His support for the idea that racism is not a primary component of this particular phenomenon. Better? Either way, he's basing it on bad logic.
posted by Sequence at 11:28 AM on March 31


the curves for white people look a lot like the curves for symbolic racism: invariant, and if anything increasing

That's a strikingly terrible graph, though, showing both black and nonblack support compared to the overall mean. If he'd reported straight estimated proportions, it looks like what you'd see since the late 90s is nonblack support decreasing while black support falls even faster. I'm not sure what they wanted their point to be, but of course nonblack support for the death penalty will remain pretty close to average support for the death penalty because ~85% of the sample are nonblacks.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:32 AM on March 31


his actual point, expressed entirely as a throwaway in the last paragraph, is that as the white south became increasingly Republican, it would also have become increasingly positive about the death penalty through the normal and reasonably well understood patterns of conflict extension (ie Carsey and Layman). Whatever is going on with racism in the white south, we'd expect the white south to become more supportive of the death penalty over time as it became more Republican.

This assumes what is at question here, that support for the death penalty as practiced in the USA is somehow intrinsic to the Republican party, rather than a contingent feature of the racial attitudes of members of the Republican party.
posted by straight at 11:39 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]


Exactly. The idea that racism is fungible, like water, is what's wrong here.

If racism wasn't fungible there wouldn't be a southern strategy. For example, funding schools in majority black schools less can be mutually interchanged with tying school funding directly to property taxes raised without any sort of inter-area equalizer.
posted by Talez at 11:40 AM on March 31


Bonus: See where every execution has taken place since 1977, in one map

Wow, we are a blood thirsty lot, especially in the deep South and Texas.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:40 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


The death penalty does not function as an enhanced deterrent. Why is it so difficult to prevent people in maximum-security prison from committing suicide? Because convicts often consider death preferable to maximum-security prison.

If we give life in prison to everyone who currently gets death, and vice versa, you would think that is more of a deterrent?
posted by michaelh at 11:46 AM on March 31


Now, let's talk some more about dogwhistle racism,...

I mentally half-constructed a comedy bit in which a Republican tries to describe his black assailant using all the usual dog-whistle descriptions, you know, "urban," "inner-city," "poor," "lazy," "shiftless," "ethnic," "not quite American," etc. A confused cop repeatedly misses his meaning and in frustration, the Republican starts shouting, "He was a n*****r, dammit, a n*****r!"

Racist or not racist? Now we see the racism inherent in the system!
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:46 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Wow, we are a blood thirsty lot, especially in the deep South and Texas.

The scary thing is that you can almost see the outline of the CSA by the concentration of the dots.
posted by Talez at 11:51 AM on March 31


If racism wasn't fungible there wouldn't be a southern strategy. For example, funding schools in majority black schools less can be mutually interchanged with tying school funding directly to property taxes raised without any sort of inter-area equalizer.

No, "fungible" here means the belief that all kinds of racism are interchangeable, that measuring a rise in the acceptance for intermarriage is equivalent to measuring a drop in belief that black murderers are more dangerous and irredeemable than white murderers. You're talking about how different political acts or rhetoric can have equivalent racist effects.
posted by straight at 11:52 AM on March 31 [4 favorites]


Have southern whites become more politically conservative, or have they been lagging behind the rest of the country in becoming less conservative over time?

Oh rubbish. Here's Huey P. Long's platform (and, yes, it does say "white" in #3). Here's Bobby Jindal's (sort of). Southern Whites used to be a lot more economically and politically liberal.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 11:57 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what they wanted their point to be, but of course nonblack support for the death penalty will remain pretty close to average support for the death penalty because ~85% of the sample are nonblacks.

Sure, that's a good point, especially since the USA's racial demographics were also shifting quite a lot over those timescales. I still think, though, that the large decline in the Jim Crow factor is not really relevant to this analysis because I think death penalty supporters would be very quick to differentiate the death penalty from Jim Crow (and in modern America, it isn't de jure discriminatory - it just happens to be de facto).

Also Gelman doesn't touch Bouie's other point, which is that "when researchers told [white death penalty supporters] of the racial disparity—that blacks faced unfair treatment—many increased their support." In other words, the researchers had experimental evidence that racism mediated their support for the death penalty.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:59 AM on March 31 [1 favorite]


So if Jim Crow Racism decreased substantially, and other forms/manifestations of racism did not increase substantially, yet the net amount of racism remains the same, then WHERE DID THE RACISM GO?!?

Support for the death penalty, cutting/"reforming" welfare, the Drug War, 3 Strikes, charter schools, and any number of other laws and programs which, while not overtly aimed at maintaining formal racial segregation, disproportionately affect non-White Americans.

If Gelman wants to cite the decline of Jim Crow beliefs as evidence of decreased racism, it behooves him to not simply ignore that more interior beliefs have not decreased. He should be the one asking how those beliefs are now expressed, and his failure to do so is what I and a lot of other people are calling him on.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:01 PM on March 31 [10 favorites]


Right. People in the south are no longer in favor of lynching. They now support stand your ground laws, which is a new and totally fair method of summarily executing black people.
posted by empath at 12:07 PM on March 31 [53 favorites]


Extra point to empath, that totally nails it.
posted by JHarris at 12:08 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


> > For a long time I used to temper that with the thought that it could still be retained for the most truly heinous crimes, like they do in countries like Japan. Capital punishment still exists there, but it's done very sparingly, at least compared to the U.S. Come to think of it, all countries do it sparingly compared to the U.S.

That's not really true. The US may be fifth in terms of the raw number of executions, but it's also the third largest country by population. Saudi Arabia had the highest number of executions per capita, followed by Iran and Libya [in 2007].

Japan recorded 442 homicides in 2013 and had 8 executions (or one execution per 55.25 homicides) while the US had 14,173 recorded homicides and 39 executions (or one execution per 363.41 homicides). Japan has fewer people and a much lower homicide rate, but is more gung-ho about killing the few murderers it does have. (I'm guessing the US does have a lot more unsolved murders and unconvicted murderers, but not enough to account for that distance in the ratios.) Like the US, Japan only executes for murder and treason, so it's not like they're pumping their rate with pedophiles, drug dealers, or anything else.

The links are there if you want to do the quick math to see where the US sits in terms of executions per capita (a stat not easily google-able) or per homicide (ditto).
posted by K.P. at 12:18 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


I would have liked to see a graphic that broke it out from Texas the way the last link broke out executions by state.

Map of death sentences by county, 1976-2013. You can mouse over the counties to get stats on numbers of sentences, executions, and exonerations. From the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Bonus: See where every execution has taken place since 1977, in one map

Hey, that map looks kinda like this one.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:32 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


empath: People in the south are no longer in favor of lynching. They now support stand your ground laws, which is a new and totally fair method of summarily executing black people.

The location of states with Stand Your Ground laws isn't simply the South. In fact, that map misses a state or two, compared to the list and citations of states on currently on the Wikipedia Castle doctrine page, which includes California. In short: Stand-Your-Ground type laws are pretty prevalent in the US.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:35 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Right. People in the south are no longer in favor of lynching. They now support stand your ground laws, which is a new and totally fair method of summarily executing black people.

This isn't something just limited to the south, although it certainly seems to the most popular there. In any case, these same people also claim to be no longer be in favor of actual poll taxes, they just believe in making people pay for ID knowing that minorities will be dissuaded from doing so. They also deliberately locate the places to get ID far away (200+ miles in Texas, for example) from majority-minority areas, and eliminate all the voting options such as early voting that minorities overwhelmingly choose to make voting easier.

The attack on voting rights and capital punishment are, in my mind, part and parcel. I even hear the same horrible rationalizations: "If even one fraudulent voter/guilty criminal is stopped, then it is worth it to deprive many times that number of actual voters/innocent prisoners their ability to vote/life." And no, no matter how many times you explain both systems are often deliberately weighted against minorities and the poor, they still stick by it.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:39 PM on March 31 [7 favorites]


That's not really true. The US may be fifth in terms of the raw number of executions, but it's also the third largest country by population. Saudi Arabia had the highest number of executions per capita, followed by Iran and Libya [in 2007].

Well, good. The US is on a par with Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iran, China and several other non-democratic nations. I can't really remember which democracies allow capital punishment - maybe India? Israel? Brazil?
France, home of the guillotine and freedom fries, prefers more human approaches. Is France overrun by criminals? Obviously not.

In general, I believe Americans can have their crazy system to themselves since it is clearly what they want. But when it comes to the death penalty, we all really need to protest regularly. Why are you killing people? It makes no sense. It is cruel and unusual. You make mistakes. Stop
posted by mumimor at 1:14 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


The US may be fifth in terms of the raw number of executions,...

Yeah, but 2013 was a slow year for the US. We tend to be like Yemen and North Korea in raw numbers of executions.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:22 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


Just for data - in 2013 NM pop appears to be 2,085,538 and shrinking. Texas is 26,059,203 and has growth. Harris County is four million and change. That may have something to do with numbers. Texas may also have more money for their cops and courts. Can't effect political will without troopers and cash.

NM probably has a larger reservation population and I'd guess both have a similar percentage of undocumented folks. Adjust accordingly.

My point is, I don't think NM in general is more liberal than Texas.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:31 PM on March 31


> Funny. I thought I supported the death penalty because I believe there are crimes so unforgivable as to require the forfeit of
> life on the part of the person who committed the crime. I'd actually like to see the death penalty extended for rapists and
> molesters, and people who torture animals.

One pinprick data point--I am a deep-South-southern white guy, on the conservative side (by a hair) compared to the rest of the nation and of course a raving right-winger amongst mefi users. I am very much of the older generation (my earliest childhood memories include seeing "white only" signs over water fountains and "colored passengers seat from rear" signs in Atlanta buses.) I am exactly the right sort to agree with you. I would agree with you.

If only. If only I could be certain that every single person executed by the state was actually guilty of one of those hideous crimes. I don't just mean "convicted," I mean they-really-did-the-hideous-crime guilty.

I can't be certain of that. Only someone with a God's-eye-view of everything could be certain. Either there is only one such personage (and it ain't me) or there are none. Every news story of some prisoner being executed in spite of being almost certainly not guilty of the crime for which he was executed makes me less certain. I can't support capital punishment because for me the risk of executing an innocent person outweighs all other considerations put together.
posted by jfuller at 1:52 PM on March 31 [13 favorites]


Funny. I thought I supported the death penalty because I believe there are crimes so unforgivable as to require the forfeit of life on the part of the person who committed the crime. I'd actually like to see the death penalty extended for rapists and molesters, and people who torture animals.

I find this so awful that I don't think I can reply constructively or without anger, so I will not.
posted by Justinian at 1:54 PM on March 31 [6 favorites]


New Mexico definitely not like Texas in a number of ways, mostly because there are a few small areas of concentrated population, and most of the state is rural. Here's the 2012 Presidential Election voting-per-county color map, and population by counties (plus change in population, for good measure). Albuquerque is pretty liberal, and generally carries the state, as that metropolitan region accounts for one half of the state's population. The rural areas are more conservative, especially those south-east counties near Mexico and Texas, which might shift the state over time, but I don't know what that would do for death sentencing, because those are pretty rural counties that are struggling to keep up with their oil boom communities.

On a state-wide average, NM is probably more liberal than Texas, but I think the small population size has more to do with the state's death penalties than anything else. There are actually more homicides per capita than in Texas, per this chart (also comparing suicide rates, which is the really startling take-away).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:56 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


FWIW, I don't. I actually think it was kind of brilliant, and that it was appropriately sarcastic and biting for a situation this fucked up.

That's fine. I kind of doubt it would have stood if just about any other descriptor was used for just about any other FPP. Which is not taking a white pride stance at all, because fuck that shit, but it is pretty akin to saying crap like "it's all boomer's fault, or any version of "X social situation is all Z population's fault".

The situation isn't a white/non-white problem it's a problem of mentality combined with who holds the power. That correlates to a % of a certain ethnic/age demographic in this country but is not all inclusive by any stretch. Go somewhere else and you can slot in whatever skin tone you want depending on who holds economic control in the area. It's not a white problem, it's a power and economic problem. Change the melanin levels in all parties concerned under the system that operates and you'd have the same friggen problem. We cater, play to, and reinforce fears and insecurities to drive points home, no, not all conservatives are racist no matter how much we want to believe it. At the same time not all progressives are non-racist. Conservative and progressive are labels too big to refine out such things and it makes us look like idiots to make such broad sweeping assertions.
It remains a problem of power and economics, the reason it is a problem of a not small percentage of white population is that's who has held the power and economics. A person who is black is not more moral than a person who is white, nor the other way around. It is not hard to find horrific and fantastic examples of people of all ethnicity to show that. White is not something to be ashamed or, or revel in. The Death penalty is not "Stuff White People Like" any more than gay marriage is "Stuff Black People Hate".
But you know A-B choices in race seem to be all the rage now so I guess sarcasm carries the day. Perhaps Mr Colbert can use the same defense.
posted by edgeways at 2:24 PM on March 31


For example, see the first page of this report (PDF) -- new death sentences are really down in Texas, from 37 in 2002 to 8 or 9 each year since 2009. On the next page of that report, note that while Harris county has had the highest number of capital punishments in total, Dallas county actually had more during each of the past 3 years.

I'm not even surprised by this. The numbers in both the PDFs cited in your comment show how crazy the years of Holmes' terms as DA were in terms of sending people to Death Row. He sent more that 100 people to the death chamber and the total number in that first PDF you mention show Harris County had executed 116.

It's a reminder to get out there and vote locally and knowledgeably. One official can make make a hell of a lot of difference.
posted by immlass at 2:27 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


Which is not taking a white pride stance at all, because fuck that shit, but it is pretty akin to saying crap like "it's all boomer's fault, or any version of "X social situation is all Z population's fault".

Its exactly not and that is a pretty tendentious reading.

Stuff White People Like was a satirical blog.

One of the things that white people like is the death penalty. They like the death penalty more than black people like the death penalty. The FPP isn't about the death penalty, or how its unfair, or how its unjust, or America's unique relationship with it, or how to reform it.

Its about what people like and don't like. And the death penalty is just one of those things that white people like moreso than non-white people.

That correlates to a % of a certain ethnic/age demographic in this country but is not all inclusive by any stretch. Go somewhere else and you can slot in whatever skin tone you want depending on who holds economic control in the area. It's not a white problem, it's a power and economic problem.

This would imply that controlling for income/age would make the black/white gap on death penalty support disappear. Which may happen but fuck all if I know.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:32 PM on March 31 [1 favorite]


Funny. I thought I supported the death penalty because I believe there are crimes so unforgivable as to require the forfeit of life on the part of the person who committed the crime. I'd actually like to see the death penalty extended for rapists and molesters, and people who torture animals.

See, here's the thing. Anybody who's got into certain arguments with me on this site will tell you I'm not exactly a placid pool of Zen calm. I'm not a particularly tolerant person. Rapists? Child molesters? Animal torturers? Yeah, I hear about that, and I think "that fucker deserves to die". Shit, if we sat down and made lists of things we'd love to see people go to the gallows for, I'd bet you my list would probably be longer than yours.

But the thing is, while our emotions are powerful and meaningful, and can serve as a guide to tell us when maybe our other means of arriving at conclusions need a second look, they can't be in charge. They're too fallible, too personal, too quick to form and too slow to react to change. They've got to be only one tool in our decision-making toolkit, right next to reason and empiricism. And reason and empiricism say that the death penalty doesn't actually reduce the incidence of crimes it's imposed for, and that all too often those convicted of capital crimes were innocent all along. We can't let our anger overwhelm our rationality; nothing good comes of it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:43 PM on March 31 [5 favorites]


 to require 
You lost me at "to require." Required by whom? For what?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:52 PM on March 31


Oh no, he's extremely bright. He just approaches arguments more like a war than an academic publication. He'll throw a hundred points out there to see which people go after, and shore up or abandon based on effort vs return.

And you're sure he doesn't post here?
posted by emptythought at 3:22 PM on March 31 [8 favorites]


It's not a white problem, it's a power and economic problem. Change the melanin levels in all parties concerned under the system that operates and you'd have the same friggen problem.

White doesn't literally just mean "light skinned," it's a category informed by the last 400 years of history -- this is the main reason that the whole what-if-you-swapped-the-races thing doesn't mean anything. So yes, under a definition of white that takes into account the history of the USA since the beginning of slavery, when we can see that support for the death penalty is not only much higher among white people but appears to increase when those people are told that it is disproportionately unfair to black people, that is absolutely a problem with white Americans. If some white people are uncomfortable about that because they personally aren't racist, I'm inclined to view that as their problem. But this is getting into derail territory.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:25 PM on March 31 [14 favorites]


What I don't get is the typical (by no means universal I know) conservative point of view: the state that is patently incompetent at dispensing social welfare is somehow magically perfect when dispensing justice.

Personally my issue is not just with the number of innocents exonerated off death row and the likelihood that additional innocents were effectively murdered by the state, but that I don't trust the state not to abuse its power to execute to frame up troublesome elements eventually. I feel like this is a basic slippery slope to a trump card that essentially makes all civil rights potentially meaningless. When your right to live can be taken by the state how can we maintain our first amendment rights and ensure the state is not corrupt.

That said, I'd never argue that there aren't people out there who deserve killing. That isn't a worthwhile argument to get into anyway.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:01 PM on March 31 [7 favorites]


Some good breaking news: Michelle Byrom, who was scheduled to become the first woman put to death in Mississippi in 70 years, has just been granted a new trial. More on the Byrom case here, plus an op-ed from Sister Helen Prejean.
posted by scody at 4:08 PM on March 31 [2 favorites]


It's not a white problem, it's a power and economic problem. Change the melanin levels in all parties concerned under the system that operates and you'd have the same friggen problem.

There was an interesting story on NPR a couple of weeks ago about how people's perceived race actually changes based on known biographical facts. Not only are people who have been recently released from prison for example more likely to be described as black by others, but they are more likely to describe themselves as black.
posted by empath at 7:31 PM on March 31 [5 favorites]


"My point is, I don't think NM in general is more liberal than Texas."

Yes it is. I have spent all but two years of my five decades of life living in these two states, including most of my childhood in the conservative portion of New Mexico and a good part of my adulthood in the liberal portion of Texas. New Mexico's liberalism is absolutely not the result of "Yankee liberal expats" and, in fact, the reverse is partly the case. Albuquerque has become more conservative as its anglo-majority has increased. Santa Fe's anglo influx is notoriously liberal, but then its indigenous hispanic population was already quite liberal (though in different ways, but certainly including lowered support of the death penalty).

Also, the population of New Mexico is not shrinking. The east and southeast portions of New Mexico are culturally Texan and have a lot in common with Texas. They account for substantial minority, though nevertheless a minority, of the population. The rest of the state is not culturally Texan and is not at all comparable to Texas. There are very, very old historical reasons for this. Furthermore, the New Mexican hispanic population is not comparable to the Texan hispanic population.

Up until the latter part of the twentieth century, New Mexico was a minority-majority state. The hispanic majority were largely made up of people who were not immigrants, but people whose families have lived there for many hundreds of years. Texas alone, and then later the Confederacy, invaded New Mexico. New Mexico is about as close as you're going to get to a version of the southwest that wasn't transformed into primarily an anglo-american culture by the early twentieth century. Therefore, its politics are regionally distinct in pretty much exactly the same way that nationally hispanic politics have been distinct. In this case, for one thing, the Catholic influence means it's always been much less supportive of the death penalty.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:46 PM on March 31 [5 favorites]


He'll throw a hundred points out there to see which people go after, and shore up or abandon based on effort vs return.

Ah, the Gish Gallop. Most frustrating debate style EVAR!
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:41 AM on April 1


Any position which favors existing power structures- anything that can be meaningfully called "conservative"- is racist so long as the society that position exists within is racist.

Carried to its logical conclusion, any position which favors future power structures with people not significantly changed - anything that can meaningfully be called "progressive" is racist so long as the society which will be creating those future power structures is racist.

Or maybe we could stop using "racist" as a bludgeon to denigrate people who we disagree with.

I'd actually like to see the death penalty extended for rapists and molesters

Yeah, this is a thing I always find really frustrating - people cheer for the fact that rapes are no longer capital offenses, because in the past some of this enforcement was racist. That's throwing the baby out for the bathwater. It's possible to create a race-blind capital offense for violent rape. I wish that the violation of women(and god forbid, children)'s bodily autonomy was valued as a crime deserving of the supreme sanction. The fact that it's not is not anything to celebrate.
posted by corb at 11:26 AM on April 1


Carried to its logical conclusion, any position which favors future power structures with people not significantly changed

So - any position which favors existing power structures? Huh? Are you arguing that society can never become, or be made, less racist, and therefore its power structures can't become, or be made, less racist either? I don't follow your logic. I think "with people not significantly changed" could be a straw man's wooden spine, but I honestly can't tell. Could you clarify the point?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:41 AM on April 1


Essentially I'm saying that, should the racism of an overall society be R, then R society cannot create R/2 society by way of changing power structures, because, from position R, it cannot or would not accurately envision what R/2 society would look like or what it would need, and anything it does will be stumbling in the dark. In addition, since the racism we find in society comes generally less from power structures and more from people's conscious and unconscious racism affecting how they interpret even the most race-neutral structures, I don't think that we can determine an individuals' racism from their position on which specific power structures are destined to eventually be overwhelmed by societal racism.

Essentially, I think you can shorten the statement to "Any X is racist so long as the society that X exists within is racist", which makes it so broad as to be meaningless.
posted by corb at 12:06 PM on April 1


It's possible to create a race-blind capital offense for violent rape

Why do you think this is possible when there's basically no evidence that any punishment is metted out in a race-blind fashion? Why do you think that such a system, if it were designed, would be followed correctly?

The fact that it's not is not anything to celebrate.

Why stop with violent rape? Why not all types of assault? Stealing?

If violent rape is given the same punishment as murder why not flip it around? Maybe instead of killing murderers they should be violentlly raped. If being violently raped isn't as harsh a punishment as being given capital punishment then why do you think that the punishment must be more severe than the crime? As a deterrent? Even if it were, and I don't think it is, that wasn't even a component of your original argument. Your argument seems to be just "bad people should die and I get to decide who is bad enough to die".
posted by Green With You at 12:08 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]


I'd actually like to see the death penalty extended for rapists and molesters...

I, too, feel like we should kill more people. Not enough death and dying today.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:09 PM on April 1


It's possible to create a race-blind capital offense for violent rape...

This is an ideological, not empirical statement.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:10 PM on April 1 [8 favorites]


It's possible to create a race-blind capital offense for violent rape...

This is an ideological, not empirical statement.


Not to mention that this country has a *particular* history of killing black men over accusations of sexual violence.

I wish that the violation of women(and god forbid, children)'s bodily autonomy was valued as a crime deserving of the supreme sanction. The fact that it's not is not anything to celebrate.

What if you don't think the "supreme sanction" should extend as far as death at all? Is that not an okay thing to believe, in your opinion?
posted by atoxyl at 1:57 PM on April 1 [4 favorites]


I wish that the violation of women(and god forbid, children)'s bodily autonomy was valued as a crime deserving of the supreme sanction. The fact that it's not is not anything to celebrate.

Leaving entirely aside questions both of whether rape is "deserving" of being punished by death and of whether the state should be using its power to execute its own citizens in the first place, how about a purely practical objection?

If both rape and murder carry a death sentence what would the most rational action for someone who had committed a rape then be given that dead people can't identify you in a lineup?
posted by Justinian at 2:28 PM on April 1 [3 favorites]


When talking about the death penalty and NM a comparison to Texas doesn't really make any sense. It's not just that we've only had 1 execution since it was reinstated, it's also that in 2009 we made it illegal for future offenses. (Two people still potentially face it right now, although who knows if they will actually be executed.) Not to mention all the population and demographic reasons. Furthermore, in 2008 a judge here barred the state from seeking the death penalty because of insufficient funding from the legislature for defense counsel. The cost has long been a factor in the prosecution seldom seeking the death penalty in cases here.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:43 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]


In theory, I'm not sure what I think about the death penalty. It's possible that in a world with no false convictions, a world without racial disparities, a world that does not and cannot exist, I'd support it - though it's possible that I wouldn't. I'm not sure.

But practically, in the real world? I am absolutely 100% against it.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:04 PM on April 1 [2 favorites]


So if Jim Crow Racism decreased substantially, and other forms/manifestations of racism did not increase substantially, yet the net
amount of racism remains the same, then WHERE DID THE RACISM
GO?!?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:21 AM on March 31

Into the criminal justice and prison system, generally. After the redemption and the return of a majoritarian conservative polity in the slave states, forced labor was reconstituted via jim crow laws and convict labor.

After the reagan years, control over black people was accomplished by a boom in prisons via "tough on crime" policies and the "war on drugs." The policy wonks call the recent prison boom "mass incarceration" or the "prison industrial complex."

The US criminal justice system is racist, unfortunately. If you want to dig into the case law, or the sociology (and why legal arguments must ignore sociological arguments), I recommend Michelle Alexander s book "The New Jim Crow." Provocative title, but there s more light than heat in the book.

The hatred of black people went into a hatred of criminals, and there were, in fact, national campaigns to brand black men as dangerous "super predators" that needed to be locked up to make this socially acceptable.

Naturally, the administration of a subset of the criminal justice system, the death penalty, would be administered with a racial bias. So you can t support a non racist death penalty in the united states. It s just not an option in the current legal system.

But I think it s strange to try to measure a social force like racism with a hybrid of individualized attitudinal survey and sociological metric; so this method of measuring racism seems off to me. That kind of metric doesn t seem to be focused on solving a problem, like people hating and fearing each other, or finding an effective policy solution.
posted by eustatic at 8:21 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]


You would have to show that the the criminal justice system and prison system was LESS racist before, in order to show that racist attitudes increased.

Again, you seem to be arguing against the notion that the US criminal justice system is not racist, which is a claim that no one here or in the FPP is making.

But I think it s strange to try to measure a social force like racism with a hybrid of individualized attitudinal survey and sociological metric; so this method of measuring racism seems off to me. That kind of metric doesn t seem to be focused on solving a problem, like people hating and fearing each other, or finding an effective policy solution.


They're measuring racist attitudes, because they are scholars of American public opinion, not people trying to find effective policy solutions.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:42 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


You would have to show that the the criminal justice system and prison system was LESS racist before, in order to show that racist attitudes increased.

No. I think you could instead make the case that as other outlets for racial animus have been shut down (lynching, segregation), animosity toward African-Americans has shifted to the criminal justice system as an "acceptable" expression of those attitudes. Which would mean that increasing support for the death penalty could be caused by racial animus even while other expressions of racism appear to be declining (including reforms in the criminal justice system that have made it less racist in other ways).
posted by straight at 8:40 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


And lest anyone think I'm being inconsistent by referring to racism generically, I'll point out that it's possible to describe both A and B as racist while still thinking that it's unwarranted to claim that a significant decline in A demonstrates that B could not be a significant factor in explaining the increase in C. And so it could still be valid to claim that the increase in C is attributable to "racism" despite the decline in A.
posted by straight at 8:47 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Yes, and it's a lot easier to carry off, too. The targets of racism don't get public support because they (apparently, anyway) broke the law. However, it's pretty easy to sweep under the carpet the fact that white people who break the same laws tend to get more of a break if they get arrested.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:51 AM on April 2


I think you could instead make the case that as other outlets for racial animus have been shut down (lynching, segregation), animosity toward African-Americans has shifted to the criminal justice system as an "acceptable" expression of those attitudes.

Yeah you could make that case if you had the evidence. Its a hypothesis for sure, and one worth testing.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:52 AM on April 2


You would have to show that the the criminal justice system and prison system was LESS racist before, in order to show that racist attitudes increased.

The justice system has seen a substantial increase in a "form/manifestation of racism". From this paper (pdf):
It is well known that Blacks are much more likely to be arrested and incarcerated than Whites, and that this is a longstanding feature of the United States. What is less well known is that the Black/White disparity in the rate of imprisonment rose substantially between 1900 and 2000 despite the Civil Rights Movement and other trends toward greater racial equality. (See figure 1.) At the beginning of the 20th century, when Jim Crow segregation was at its height, national Black/White disparity ratios in imprisonment were in the range of 2 to 4. Disparity ratios were in the 4 to 6 range in the 1950s and 1960s and were about 7 in the early 1980s. At the mid-1990s, the disparity ratios in prison admission were over 10, settling back down to 7 to 9 by the end of the decade, depending on the measure. (See figure 3). Even if the disparity ratios had remained constant, the Black-White gap in incarceration rates would have grown dramatically in the imprisonment boom of the 1980s and 1990s because Blacks were starting with a higher base. But the coupling of massive overall growth in incarceration with disparity increases created a system of massive incarceration focused primarily on Black people.
posted by bleep-blop at 10:02 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]


Yeah you could make that case if you had the evidence.

I'm just refuting the claim that evidence of a decline in "Jim Crow" racism allows anyone to conclude that the large and growing gap in support for the death penalty should not be attributed to racism.
posted by straight at 12:32 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


This Man Is About to Die Because an Alcoholic Lawyer Botched His Case. What does it take for a condemned person to win a resentencing?
posted by homunculus at 1:01 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


One in 25 Inmates Sentenced to Death Are Likely Innocent
posted by homunculus at 6:29 PM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Why Oklahoma tried to execute a man with a secret, untested mix of chemicals
posted by homunculus at 5:49 PM on April 30


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