Representing Black Male Innocence
Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, Vol. 1, 1997
44 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2012
Date Written: 1997
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
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