Base Law on Data, Not Unproven Allegations

In the opinion-page article ``Base Death Sentences on the Facts, Not Race,'' June 13, the authors argue that the Racial Justice Act is necessary to remedy discrimination in administration of the death penalty. Their argument is unconvincing; the evidence they present in no way justifies this presumption.

The authors say nothing about the race of those executed. Why not? Because the data blow their case out of the water. Roughly 50 percent of all murders are committed by African-Americans, yet of the 236 executions since 1976, only 38 percent were black.

Second, the authors imply that there is something sinister to be inferred from the fact that a large majority of the victims of executed murderers were white. They forget that the death penalty is not equally likely in all murder cases; in some cases it is not even a possibility. For example, the death penalty is far more likely to be imposed if the victim is a law enforcement officer. Nearly 90 percent of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty are white. Thus, almost everyone executed for murdering a police officer will have killed a white victim.

It must be noted that most states execute fewer than one person per year. It is impossible to draw meaningful conclusions from this number - it is too easy for chance to affect the results. Because of this, the act would bring executions to a halt, making it possible for a convicted murderer to escape the death penalty by arguing that his state was executing people in a racially biased manner. It seems clear that the act is intended as a back-door approach to abolish capital punishment.

What is most disturbing about the authors' arguments is not that they oppose the death penalty (and despite their claims, their article does oppose it), but that they do so in an illogical and intellectually dishonest manner. They ignore evidence that contradicts their opinions.

By contrast, it is perfectly honest to take an absolutist position and oppose executions on moral grounds. I respect the honest conviction of those who do so, but I have no respect for attempts to abolish the death penalty by raising unproven allegations of ``racial discrimination.'' Mark Wylie, Los Angeles

Your letters are welcome. For publication they must be signed and include your address and telephone number. Only a selection can be published, and none acknowledged. Letters should be addressed to ``Readers Write,'' and can be sent by Internet E-mail (200 word maximum) to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM, by fax to 617-450-2317, or by mail to One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115

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