Ashcroft Sweeps Racism Under The Rug

Just five days before Timothy McVeigh’s execution, Attorney General John Ashcroft released a report claiming that the Department of Justice study of racism and the federal death penalty showed that there was no evidence of bias.

"The proportion of minority defendants in federal capital cases exceeds the proportion of minority individuals in the general population," Ashcroft declared. "The information gathered by the Department indicates that the cause of this disproportion is not racial or ethnic bias, but the representation of minorities in the pool of potential federal capital cases."

Or as former prosecutor Andrew McBride more bluntly put it, "The sad fact is that nonwhites are statistically much more likely to commit certain crimes of violence."

This outrageous claim was supposed to explain away the racial imbalance on federal death row as the Bush administration was getting ready to restart the federal death machine. Essentially, the report claims that minorities simply commit more crimes, particularly drug-related crimes. But the real issue is who gets prosecuted.

An initial Department of Justice report showed that, from 1995 to 2000, 80 percent of all the federal cases submitted by U.S. attorneys involved minority defendants. It also found that white defendants were almost twice as likely to be given plea agreements than minority defendants -- and that U.S. attorneys were almost twice as likely to recommend the death penalty for black defendants when the victim was white.

When this report was first released, then-Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder said, "[N]o one reading this report can help but be disturbed, troubled, by this disparity."

But Ashcroft disregarded the facts. He used the same racism that pervades the war on drugs to justify the federal death penalty. The Department of Justice report is nothing more than an attempt to sweep concerns about racism and the death penalty under the rug. But if we do our job, they won’t be able to get away with it.