street smarts - NEW LEAD

Perhaps more than anyone I wish things were as fair as we hope them to be. We are supposed to be in the throes of a post-racial society. We’ve elected a black president, there’s more social diversity, more interracial marriages and an acceptance of gay marriages.

We’d like to believe everyone gets treated fairly regardless of race. Racism is so 20th century — right? That is until you watch the news and see cop beatings, church killings and a clamor over the right to display the Confederate flag.

People can interpret those things any way they choose. But facts will always be facts regardless of how someone chooses to spin them. And numbers don’t lie.

Last week, results of a research study showed racial bias on the administration of Missouri’s death penalty.

In a news release issued by the Missouri State Public Defender System (MSPD), University of North Carolina Professor Frank Baumgartner said that “disparities are so great that they call into question the equity of the application of the harshest penalty, adding to growing concerns that the death penalty is applied in an unfair, capricious and arbitrary manner.”

MSPD is a government agency that provides legal representation to indigent clients in the state involved in criminal cases.

The report also revealed that those convicted of killing whites were seven times more likely to be executed than those involving black victims. Even though 63 percent of all homicide victims in Missouri are black, more than 80 percent of the executions were in cases involving white victims.

Michael Barrett, director and public information officer for the MSPD, said he agreed that criminal laws in the state are applied in a biased way. Now there is proof, he said.

“Now in addition to evidence showing that states without the death penalty are safer, and that death penalty costs are dramatically higher, we have substantial evidence that Missouri administers this irreversible punishment in a racially biased manner,” Mr. Barrett said.

“It has been said that justice is blind; unfortunately, it appears that justice can see quite well,” he added.

Mr. Barrett said he was calling for an immediate moratorium until there is sufficient evidence that capital punishment is applied equally. It is clear our justice system values the lives of one race over another.

“It should also be clear that the state is not up to the task of deciding who lives and who dies,” Mr. Barrett said.

Time magazine recently published a feature on capital punishment. One part of the article said capital punishment was a tool in the antebellum South to control slaves.

Early Virginia law, according to the article, made it a capital offense for slaves to give medicine for fear it was poison. If a slave struck his master, it was enough to receive the death penalty, according to a Georgia statute at the time.

Watt Espy, a researcher and expert on capital punishment in the United States, documented more than 15,000 sanctioned killings from 1608 to 1972. He too found that more blacks than whites were put to death during that time span.

According to information from a recent Gallup Poll, support for capital punishments is around 60 percent today — lower than at any time since 1972.

Since 2014 all but two of the nation’s 49 executions have been carried out by only five states: Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia and good old Missouri.

Before we take anyone’s life, we need to be 100 percent accurate the person actually committed said crime. Too many people have been put to death to later be found through DNA and other measures they were innocent.

If we must take and eye for an eye, be sure color doesn’t blind your judgment.

Alonzo Weston can be reached at alonzo.weston@newspressnow.com.Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.