Saturday, February 27, 2010

A woman who kills: Did race play a role in the system's failure to seek justice for Amy Bishop's brother's death?

Amy Bishop, using a 12 gauge rifle fired three shots, the second of which blew out her brother (Seth Bishop, 18) chest, fatally killing him. Bishop reportedly ran from the scene and into a nearby auto repair shop, according to the Boston Globe, where she pointed the deadly rifle at two people and demanded a getaway car. CNN said Bishop, than 20 years old, was not charged with the crime, Sadly, Police Chief Paul Frazier, Braintree, Massachusetts, told reporters the records for the incident are missing and was listed in the log as an accidental shooting. What scared young lady, who accidentally shoots her brother, keep shooting and demand a get away car? Did any one in the Justice System find anything remotely unusual about this fatal crime? Did any one think Bishop needed psychological help? What was going on in her family that caused her to kill her brother? Did the system fail to intervene and seek justice for this horrific crime because of race?

There is a bit of controversy around what role, if any race played in the systems failure to prosecute Bishop in the murder of her brother. If the system had prosecuted Bishop, in the case of her brother 20 years ago, could this have prevented the murder of three faculty members of color? The question of race, class and culture in America remains a very sensitive issue, which is a complicated and uncomfortable conversation to most. However, when the very system that is designed to protect and serve engages in questionable racial practices, it generates reason for concern. Extensive literature reviews suggest race remains a significant influence in the Unites States Justice system.

For example in the study, “The Color of Justice” research suggests, “African Americans were five times more likely to be arrested for felonies, seven times more likely to be sent to prison, and thirteen times more likely to be sentenced under the States “Three Strikes” law.

In another study, “Uneven Justice” reports African Americans make-up 900,000 of the 2.2 million people incarcerated. African American’s are six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites and Hispanics and at a double rate compared to whites. The states leading in the Northeast and Midwest that have the highest disproportionate of black to white ratio for incarcerations are: Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Wisconsin. Subsequently, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, and New Jersey are the states leading in the highest disproportionate rates of Hispanic to white. According to Uneven Justice:

1. Disproportionate rates of incarceration are caused by funds dedicated to policing communities of color and prosecution initiatives that emphasize large degree of drug arrest;
2. Disproportionate rates of incarceration are influenced by the limited resources that divide race and class in the justice system and impact the unequal outcomes in the justice system;
3. Disproportionate rates of incarceration impact the reliance on public defenders that are overwhelmed and assigned to low-income defendants who lack access to treatment and options to sentencing;
4. Disproportionate rates of incarceration create an increasing number of children with incarcerated parents; and
5. Disproportionate rates of incarceration impact gender imbalances in the community.

These studies paint a bleak picture of the Justice system and their ability to seek equal, fair and unbiased justice. What is more alarming, when bias interferes with justice crimes go unpunished, people lack the needed treatment for mental illness, people are falsely accused, and criminals remain free to hurt others. Unfortunately, the system failed to seek justice for Bishop's brother and perhaps even "failed to protect" the three University faculty members who were murdered at the hands of Bishop.

Seeking tenure (like many things in life) is certainly a stressful, grueling and arduous process and most describe it as one of the worst experiences of their life. However, it is not a reason to kill and most scholars who are denied tenure don't kill. The research suggests, however that like police, firemen and other professions those seeking tenure should obtain “psychological counseling” to cope with the stressful process.

Regrettably, in the Bishop case, three faculty members were murdered because of Bishop’s seemly untreated, emotional instability. How else do we make sense of such anomalous behavior? We know that many homicides are the end result of fervent emotions and those emotions are in a social context positioned and gendered, as men kill at a much greater rate than women, regardless of race.

Research also further points out that when women kill, it is usually someone very close to them and based on a strong emotional experience. Furthermore a psychotic and/or personality disorder is diagnosed in more than 80% of women who kill. Therefore, when Bishop murdered her brother should the system have done more to understand why, seek justice and provide help to a very disturb young lady? It remains a mystery why Bishop was never prosecuted for her brother’s death or what circumstances lead her to kill him. What we do know is she killed before and subsequently, killed again. Did the system deduce her brother's murder to an accident without any further inquiry, simply because of race?

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