Group makes up more than half
of all exonerations
Black people in the U.S. are seven times more likely to be falsely convicted of serious crimes like murder, rape, and drug offenses than White people, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
Less than 14% of the U.S. population is Black, but they account for 53% of exonerations, Yahoo News reported Sept. 27.
“The report really shows the depth of the belief that race is a proxy for criminality in the criminal legal system,” said Christina Swarns, executive director of the Innocence Project, a non-profit committed to exonerating individuals who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes.
Innocent Black people spent a significantly longer time in prison before exoneration, the report noted. Many have spent 20, 30, or 40 years in prison for crimes that they did not commit.
Lead author of the report is Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor. He noted that the report does not tell just one story, but instead tells three separate stories that altogether paint a clearer picture of the challenges of the criminal justice system.
Studies show that Black and White people use drugs at a similar rate, but 69% of drug convictions exonerated are Black compared to 16% who are White. This equates to innocent Blacks being 19 times more likely to be convicted of drugs, said the report.
The report attributes this disparity to racial profiling — police choosing to stop, search, and arrest Black people at rates several times higher than Whites.
Black people are nearly eight times more likely to be convicted of rape, mainly due to higher misidentification of Black suspects by White victims, the report maintains.
Murder convictions that ultimately led to exoneration of Black defendants were 50% more likely to include misconduct by police officers than murder exonerations of White defendants, the report noted.
Swarns believes the link between race and criminality is hardwired in the U.S. She cites the case of one of her clients, Duane Buck, who was described as being prone to violence because he was Black. This received no objections in court.
“People were prepared to have him executed, because we lost in every court before the United States Supreme Court,” said Swarns.
In granting relief to Buck, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “the law punishes people for what they do and not who they are. Dispensing punishment on the basis of an immutable characteristic flatly contravenes this guiding principle.”
In the last 12 months, the Innocence Project has successfully worked to exonerate at least 10 people from false convictions, the majority of them Black men, according to Swarns.