SENTINEL 8-30-2012
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The Court: Supreme in the Extreme

The implied power of prejudice

The Firpo Files

(Sentinel, August 30, 2012)

Even with centuries of cumulative knowledge between them, the justices seated on the highest court in the land are no match for systemic racism.

Indeed, too many, including the media, are indiscriminately bitten by the ugly bug of bias.

Bias Opinion Shapers: The media have been as culpable as ever insofar as demonizing Black males (and females) is concerned.

"In fact," chronicles Alexander in The New Jim Crow (2012), "for nearly three decades, news stories regarding virtually all street crime have disproportionately featured African American offenders."

She points out that a study titled "Prime Suspects: The Influence of Local Television News on the Viewing Public," appearing in the American Journal of Political Science (2000), "suggests that the standard crime news ‘script' is so prevalent and so thoroughly racialized that viewers imagine a black perpetrator even when none exists.

"In that study, 60 percent of viewers who saw a story with no image falsely recalled seeing one, and 70 percent of those viewers believed the perpetrator to be African American."

In the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Abuse (1995) the authors of the article "Drug Use and African Americans: Myth Versus Reality," asked participants, "Would you close your eyes for a second, envision a drug user, and describe that person to me?"

The results were startling. "Ninety-five percent of respondents pictured a Black drug user," writes Alexander, "while only 5 percent imagined other racial groups."

You're Prejudiced: Irrespective of the fact that you may see yourself as an accepting White liberal, studies show that in reality, you're probably still prejudiced.

"In other words," reveals Alexander, "the fact that you may honestly believe that you are not biased against African Americans, and that you may even have black friends or relatives, does not mean that you are free from unconscious bias.

"Implicit bias tests may still show that you hold negative attitudes and stereotypes about blacks, even though you do not believe you do and do not want to."

Your psyche has been seduced.  Socialized biased perceptions have settled in the warp and woof of your genetic fabric.

With regard to police officers, Alexander also revealed--discouragingly I might add--that "Much racial bias, though, would operate unconsciously and automatically--even among law enforcement officials genuinely committed to equal treatment under the law." But what about the highest judicial officials?

Supreme Prejudice: When emotion collides with and wins out over reason, the results can be devastating. Just ask Warren McCleskey.

McCleskey v. Kemp: McCleskey was a Black man who killed a White police officer during an armed robbery in Georgia.

It would be an understatement to say that McCleskey was obviously wrong on several fronts, and my heart goes out to the friends and family of the brave officer who lost his life in the line of duty.

McCleskey was sentenced to death. But here's where things take an ominous turn.

Through the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, McCleskey charged that Blacks who killed Whites were disproportionately sentenced to death, whereas Whites who killed Blacks essentially got off with a slap on the wrist.

Consequently, Georgia's death penalty scheme violated the Fourteenth and Eighth Amendments. As proof of this, the results of a highly sophisticated analysis of two thousand murder cases in Georgia were ultimately presented to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The study was led by Professor David Baldus, and "found that defendants charged with killing white victims received the death penalty eleven times more often than defendants charged with killing black victims," reports Alexander.

"Georgia prosecutors seemed largely to blame for the disparity; they sought the death penalty in 70 percent of cases involving black defendants and white victims, but only 19 percent of cases involving white defendants and black victims."

How did the Supreme Court respond to the scientifically proven overwhelming racial bias in Georgia's death-sentencing legal apparatus?

"The Court accepted the statistical evidence as valid but insisted that evidence of conscious, racial bias in McCleskey's individual case was necessary to prove unlawful discrimination," recounts Alexander.

"Patterns of discrimination--even patterns as shocking as demonstrated by the Baldus study--did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment."

The Court went on to state, in plain English, that McCleskey would have to prove that Georgia prosecutors and judges were consciously entertaining--and thereafter willing to confess to--racist thinking when he was charged and sentenced to death.

Justice Brennan said the Court's opinion "seems to suggest a fear of too much justice." Supreme in the extreme.

More to come.