It's Not All About Race

by James Hunt | 3/1/04 6:00am

To the Editors:

Echo Brown '06 writes that minorities "who feel that their rights are being systematically undermined by discrimination are less likely to respect and obey the laws of the criminal justice system."

Does that explain why on October 16, 2002, a then-21-year-old African American man murdered an African American couple and their five children by setting fire to their rowhouse in Baltimore, a city where many of the principals in the criminal justice system are African American?

Of course it doesn't. Darrell Brooks said he torched the family's house (twice -- the first time the family was able to put the fire out) because the mother, Angela Dawson, "was snitching on people." That is, she was tired of the way crack and heroin dealers had taken over her neighborhood, and stood up to them.

The case went to federal court. Brooks himself expected to receive and even said he deserved the death penalty. But the prosecutor (a white man) pushed for life without parole. Brooks' mental capacity "was so impaired," the prosecutor said, that the death penalty couldn't be considered. Before making this decision, though, he discussed it with Dawson's relatives, who concurred.

Brown is cynical about the criminal justice system. That's unfortunate, but that's her right. Once one starts looking at the stories behind the statistics she carefully musters, however, the picture isn't as black and white as she argues.