This morning our local NPR station, WAMU, ran a story teasing a new study on the death penalty in Maryland. It’s not out yet, but the gist is that murderers who kill white people are more likely to get the death penalty than murderers who kill black people. One reason for this is that mostly black Baltimore City doesn’t impose the death penalty much at all, but mostly white and suburban Baltimore County does. So the area where victims tend to be white skews the data. Regardless, we’re supposed to be outraged. Indeed, this is a complaint that surfaces from time to time across the country. The injustice, we’re told, is that white lives are valued more than black lives. Nevermind that black people serve on these suburban juries too and the bias may be that people in suburbs, regardless of race, are more pro-death penalty.
But whatever. Let’s assume things are as the critics say. Murderers of white folks get harsher treatment than murderers of black folks. I agree that if this were the case, that would be wrong. But, keep two things in mind. First, the way to fix that would be to execute more murderers of black people. And, second, I assume the people outraged by this discrepancy are also outraged by hate-crimes legislation which as a matter of law explicitly say that the race, gender or sexual orientation of the victims warrant more severe punishment. After all this death penalty discrepancy is the result of juries making decisions on a case by case basis. Hate crimes make this sort of bias a matter of black-letter-law. Which is the greater outrage?