Representing Black Male Innocence

Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, Vol. 1, 1997

44 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2012

See all articles by Joan W. Howarth

Joan W. Howarth

William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV; Michigan State University College of Law

Date Written: 1997

Abstract

This Article is a case study of a California capital case. Drawing on cultural studies, the first part develops the social construction of Black male gang member, especially as that identity is understood within white imaginations. The powerful and frightening idea of a Black man who is a gang member, even gang leader, captured the imagination and moral passion of the decisionmakers in this case, recasting and reframing the evidence in furtherance of this idea. In fundamental ways, this idea or imposed identity is fundamentally inconsistent with any American concept of innocence.

The second part uses the case to investigate some of the ways in which current criminal laws and procedures enable, reinforce, and police the inconsistency between being innocent and being a Black male gang member, or just Black male. Using specific examples from this case, I discuss the relentless distancing of the neighborhood by the prosecution, seating a jury for whom innocence was raced, the climate of fear engendered in the courtroom, the use of gang evidence, and other prosecutorial tools.

Keywords: Black, race, death penalty, death row, gender, social construction, gangs, gang members, profiling, harmless error, masculine, capital punishment

Suggested Citation

Howarth, Joan W., Representing Black Male Innocence (1997). Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, Vol. 1, 1997, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2184866

Joan W. Howarth (Contact Author)

William S. Boyd School of Law, UNLV ( email )

4505 South Maryland Parkway
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV 89154
United States

Michigan State University College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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