06/17/11 — Fairness: Racial Justice Act is a surface solution that ignores real concern

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Fairness: Racial Justice Act is a surface solution that ignores real concern

It is still possible, but 50/50, that the repeal of the Racial Justice Act will prevail in this session of the General Assembly.

The idea behind the measure is simple. The assumption is that there are people right now on death row who might be there because someone judged them not just on the facts of their cases, but might have rushed to judgment because of the color of their skin.

And, just as most people would have predicted, rather than simply being a chance to infuse a little more fairness into the system, a chance to make sure that the minorities on death row are there because they deserve to be there, the act has been the impetus for a flurry of lawsuits challenging convictions.

Maybe among those who are calling for their cases to be reheard, there are some people who truly are innocent. It is not beyond the scope of possibility that there is another wrongful conviction waiting to be discovered.

But the problem with this law is simple, too -- the vast majority of the time, the system really is, fair.

We as a society, and some in the minority community, do not want to acknowledge the fact that there is a larger number of minorities involved in crime for whatever reason -- circumstance, poverty, lack of opportunities.

Someone is always looking for a reason, an excuse, an analysis that there is a lack of fairness in the system that sends so many young black men to jail, not that there are more young black men committing crimes.

Passing a Racial Justice Act might make us feel better, but it does not stop the underlying problem or address the reality that there are innocent people of all colors and backgrounds who might have slipped through the system.

Instead of creating a law that opens the door for wasting taxpayers' time and money, invest instead in more programs to stop crime in the first place and stricter laws and penalties for those who are habitual offenders. Get the real criminals off the street faster.

We also should continue to watch for evidence of unfairness and facilitate legitimate challenges, while demanding better testing and stricter regulations of those who check and collect evidence. If investigations and lab work are better, the system is fairer for all.

If we take those steps, we might actually prevent more crime and wrongful convictions in the first place, which is really the goal we should be pursuing.

Published in Editorials on June 17, 2011 11:52 AM