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Disproportionate to What?

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In last night's Republican presidential debate, transcript here, Juan Williams asked Ron Paul a question about race and drug offenses.  Paul chose to go off the rails and talk about the death penalty, demonstrating once again that he is both erratic and misinformed.

"Yes. Definitely. There is a disparity. It's not that it is my opinion, it is very clear. Blacks and minorities who are involved with drugs, are arrested disproportionately. They are tried and imprisoned disproportionately. They suffer the consequence of the death penalty disproportionately. Rich white people don't get the death penalty very often."

Disproportionate to what?  The graph on this page shows the racial composition of murderers in America (in cases where the race of the perpetrator is known) and the racial composition of death row.  White murderers make up a significantly larger proportion of death row than they do of murderers in general.

Paul gets his "disproportionate" number, apparently, by committing the common Fallacy of the Irrelevant Denominator.  The percentage on the right pair of bars would be "disproportionate" if compared to the racial composition of the general population.  But that is irrelevant.  Death row is not for the general population; death row is for murderers.  It's discouraging I even have to say that, given how simple and obvious it is, but we see this same fallacy over and over.

Rich people rarely get the death penalty because rich people rarely commit capital murder.  It does happen, though.  Thomas Capano got the death penalty.  Robert Marshall got the death penalty.  Scott Peterson wasn't rich, but he did get the lawyer to the stars; he is on death row.  If O.J. Simpson had been white, he would certainly be in a California prison for his double murder and probably on death row.

This isn't the first time Ron Paul has demonstrated his ignorance on the death penalty.  CJLF's press release from last August is here.

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Don't forget millionaire, James Fayed.

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