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December 18, 2005

Glendening becomes a race hustler

I really, really didn't want to write any more about Wesley Baker (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), but when our former governor, Parris Glendening, writes a race-baiting op-ed for the Washington Post, with the inflammatory title "The Value of Black Life in Maryland," someone's got to respond.

Our ex-gov's op-ed today is fundamentally dishonest. I repeat, fundamentally dishonest. How can I say that? Because it argues that there is good reason to believe that Maryland's capital sentencing system is racially biased while slipping in a concession that he really doesn't believe that it is. In other words, Glendening, knowing that there is no race bias, throws gasoline on the racial fire.

Here's the nub of his argument:

I believed in the death penalty when I became governor and took seriously my constitutional responsibility to uphold Maryland law. I presided over two executions, those of Flint Gregory Hunt and Tyrone Gilliam. Both were black men whose victims were white. I heard from many civil rights leaders who rightly pointed out that this racial combination dominated cases on our state's death row, even though African Americans were and continue to be the victims in nearly 80 percent of homicides.

So in 1999 I commissioned a study of race and death sentencing from the University of Maryland, believing it my responsibility to ensure that justice was truly blind when applying this ultimate punishment.

* * * * *

The significant racial disparities are troubling. Cases in which the victim was white were almost twice as likely to result in the death penalty as cases in which the victim was black, and blacks who killed whites were 2 1/2 times more likely to be sentenced to death than whites who killed whites.
Glendening relies on the University of Maryland report, although the author himself said there was no intentional discrimination in capital punishment.

Paternoster, in announcing his findings, said the explanation for the disparities rested with state's attorneys, not juries, although he was careful not to impugn the prosecutors' motives. He said that his analysis "doesn't mean there is racial animus" by prosecutors but rather that "the product of their action does result in racial disparity."
We've been through this whole jurisdictional disparity nonsense over and over again. The vast majority of the disparity comes from the fact that the (white) state's attorney in Baltimore County brings death cases, while the (black) state's attorney in majority-black Baltimore City doesn't bring death cases.* Where's the racism?

There isn't any, at least not that one can divine from the information we have before us. And then Glendening himself concedes as much:
These results lead to the unfortunate conclusion that we value white life more than black life. Intentional or not -- and I believe it is not -- this is an indefensible and untenable position for the state.
But he goes on to say that we must act as if there were intentional discrimination.
Whether one supports or opposes the death penalty in principle, all reasonable people understand that before we exercise the ultimate sanction, we must be confident that the system is, at a minimum, fair and accurate.
Which is utter nonsense. Geographic discrimination isn't discrimination at all.

There's an obvious reason for Glendening's dishonest op-ed. There's an election next year for governor, and his successor Bob Ehrlich, is running for re-election. What's more, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele will be running for U.S. Senate. Steele, who is nationally one of the most prominent black elected Republicans, might be able to draw some black voters away from the Democrats, especially if they run a white candidate, as seems quite likely. So when Democrats fear a desertion, even a small desertion, by their most loyal voters, you can count on them to roil the racial waters.

Thank you, ex-governor Glendening.

* I should offer Soccer Dad's limited defense of the Baltimore City state's attorney: she couldn't possibly get Baltimore juries to convict in death cases. That may be true, but she has publicly stated that she doesn't generally believe in the death penalty.

[CLARIFICATION: Jessamy's statement was that she thinks capital punishment should be reserved for the most heinous crimes. During her nearly eleven years in office, there have been roughly 3,000 murders in Baltimore, yet as far as I can tell, only two of them were heinous enough for her to seek the death penalty. I think I have fairly interpreted her statement. And then there's this from about a year ago in the Baltimore Sun:
Two Mexican immigrants accused of killing three children in Northwest Baltimore in May will not face the death penalty, according to defense lawyers who said they were told that by prosecutors. Instead, the city state's attorney's office will seek life without parole, said James Rhodes, the lawyer for one of those accused, Adan Espinoza Canela.
If you look at the map accompanying the article, you'll see a graphic illustration of my point about geography. The location of the murders was just on the city side of the border along Park Heights Avenue. A block or two farther out would have been in Baltimore County, where capital punishment might well have been sought.]