Friday, July 17, 2009

The lessons from "How to Kill a Mockingbird".

I was at my mother's and she insisted on watching one of the classic movies (as well book), How to kill a mockingbird. This ranks as one of my all time favorite movies because it was short, simple, and powerful. To judge facts and people by their character and not by the content of their skin color. A message that would be immortalized by MLK two years after the movie came out. Seems that the country has learned its lesson. Too bad, it seems, it was the wrong lesson. There has been improvement and laws passed to make such injustices unlikely, but the practice has had a lot to be desired.

There's a lot in the African American community and their culture and attitudes I'm completely in disagreement and conflict with. Affirmative Action, hate crimes, multiculturalism, Rap, Gangsta Culture, reparations, etc. On some occasion, I can see why they often think in the pattern that they do. However, when it comes to one of their crusades, I often find myself in their trench. That battle is their distrust of the justice system. Don't get me wrong, I think the justice system is by far the most superior on the planet created by man. However, that system works only as well as it's applied evenly. Seem in too many cases, bias proves to be an all too abundant contaminate.

In the story, an African American is accused of raping one of the white residences of the town. He's defended by, at that time, a liberal lawyer who's white. The judge is a white male, the jury consists of 12 while males, the police are white males. Heck, all the prosecution's witnesses but the accuser are white males. The evidence clearly show that the man is innocent of the charges of raping and beating the woman. The attacker who did the beating was left handed which two of the witnesses, her father and boyfriend, were. The defendant's left arm was made useless from a cotton gin accident (remember, the story was written during the 30's) so couldn't had caused the bruises that was done to this woman. She claimed he attacked and beat her from behind and knocked her out (hence why she never screamed since she lived so close to other residences), but got a good look at him. It was clear that she seduced him and used that he couldn't use his left arm to have her fun with him. When the father and boyfriend found out, one of them gave her a lesson and pinned it on him. None the less, the verdict was never in doubt. The defendant was found guilty.

This lead me to think over something that's coming out in our justice system as learned from the lawyers for the Innocence Project that uses DNA testing to prove the innocence of many falsely convicted now ex-prisoners. When it comes to eye witnesses testimony that proved to be the only piece of evidence that convicted a person (in cases of rape, murder, or attempted murder), it turns out 25% of the time the witnesses were completely wrong. When African Americans are the defendant, it's even worse at around 40%. Proving that witnesses often get it wrong in their identifications. With percentages like these, statistically speaking, there's something wrong with the procedures. Turns out, when it comes to identifying defendants, witnesses have been making determinations based on a false premise: that the man who done the crime is actually in the line up or photo ID. A segment of 60 minutes did a sneakily demonstration of it by showing a clip of a man robbing a house and we get to see the crime through a window and get a look at the crook. We're then shown a lineup and the interviewer picked, as well as my mother and her boyfriend, #5. I said I don't find ANY OF THEM to look like the guy and they looked at me weird. I got the last laugh when it turned out I was right. It was none of them. 89% of those that did this demonstration picked a person in the line up demonstrating that fallacy of how witnesses will always assume that the guilty culprit must be in the line up.

Give that when African Americans are in the line up, 40% of the time (that we know of), the witness picks the wrong person. Having some education in Statistic and Statistical Analysis, I can tell you that getting it wrong at that much higher of a rate with just honest mistaken Identification the odds are about 3 billion to 1. Statisticians reject anything 5% or under which is 20 to 1 or higher. Long shots at 40 to 1. This is way too skied and means something else is creating more bias. So to be African American and in a line up, one can start to see why one would be antagonistic even if they're innocent.

The other has to do with the death penalty and another bias most people aren't even aware, or perhaps do, but not to such a smaller level. When my history professor asked the question what's the biggest factor involved in determining if someone gets the death penalty or not, most people said race. Since his master thesis was based on this question, he did extensive research and his findings took us in the class by surprise. No, race isn't the mitigating factor that will determine for an equal crime, who gets the death penalty or not. The factor is what is the value of the victim to the value of the killer. If the killer is a tramp and that defendant murders a banker, he's value is zero while the victim's is in the millions. That defendant is going to get the death penalty. Compared that to say when OJ murdered his wife. The man didn't even get convicted, much less saw the death penalty. Seems that justice isn't color blind. It has a bias towards green. When applied to race, which ones are the ones that are poor and which ones are not. Turns out white women had the highest value and are the ones you're most like to get the sentence for. The lowest valued? Black women. Actually I did some on my own and looked at one other and found one that's even less likely to get a death sentence for: children. Seems children have the lowest value in our society, but I will note that the murder is predominately the mothers and predominately white women, the highest valued.

So it seems since the 30's, there really haven't been much progress in making justice more blind and equable. The same bias are still there, just not so egregiously or so easily manipulated. Cases such as the one mentioned and written in the book aren't so easy to railroad, but the percentages are still too high. 40%! I wouldn't be trustful either. I still believe most people in jail are where they belong. I still believe most of those that are convicted are guilty of the trespasses they're there for. However, I used to believe it was a fraction of 1%. Now, I'm not so sure it better than a crap shoot since it can be 40% for one group and that's rely on the honestly of those that do the DNA testing. Instead of a fluke less than 1% which clearly that's an overly optimistic appraisal. The leader of the Innocent Project, who I think is a snake, but I can't argue the numbers, thinks 1/3 of people in prison are wrongly convicted. I tend to think now he could be right. We, as a society, haven't seemed to learned to clear our bias's in the justice system. Rely too much on witnesses that can and do make mistakes without collaborating evidence, and will place the value of a person over equable under the law or just plain justice. Who knows what other flaws or false premises are out there. I've learned of two and it changed quite a bit of how I look at evidences and weigh them a lot different than I did before. Til then, I will say that we really haven't learned much and that, frankly, is scary.

No comments: