Those wrongly convicted of murder suffer great harm. They may spend years in prison under threat of execution; they may even lose their lives. Far from being perpetrators, they are additional victims of the perpetrators.
A report published last year, based on exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations, focuses on the racial disparity which leads African Americans to suffer such harm disproportionately. Shockingly, it finds that black Americans are “about 50% more likely to be innocent of the murder than other convicted murderers.”
Police misconduct helps to drive the discrimination: witness tampering by police occurred nearly twice as often in cases with black defendants as it did in those with white defendants. (Prosecutor misconduct, on the other hand, is aimed at white as much as black defendants).
Unconscious racial bias probably also plays a part:
“Police and prosecutors may habitually assume that any black murder suspect they deal with is a killer.”
Such routine, institutional racism is “more common than intentional racism, and probably harder to detect and correct.”
And African Americans imprisoned for murder are more likely to be innocent if they were convicted of killing white victims (as Willie Manning was in his remaining case). As the report notes,
“[I]t is no news that inter-racial violence by African Americans is punished more harshly than intra-racial violence. It would not be surprising to learn that it is also pursued with greater ferocity, and less accuracy.”
The discrimination extends to greater delays before exoneration for African Americans. The report speculates that authorities may resist exoneration more forcefully in cases where there was official misconduct, which is more common when the exoneree is black.
The report’s findings help to explain why Willie Manning was convicted in two unrelated cases of murder despite huge anomalies in both; it also helps to account for the struggles he has undergone to overturn his convictions.
We hope that 2018 will finally bring Willie good news about his case. And we wish him a happy and peaceful New Year.