Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Oxford Was a Hoot!

We posted here that we were going to Oxford to debate the death penalty at the Oxford Union.

We are back, caught up on sleep and other pressing things, and finally getting around to report on the event.

First, there is no way that trans-Atlantic travel can be anything but an ordeal. One can’t sleep on the plane, and we took the bus to Chicago O’Hare, flew to Dublin, and then connected to a flight to Heathrow airport and then took a bus to Oxford. It was about 18 hours, arriving in Oxford about 1:00 p.m., with our body telling us it was 7:00 a.m. and we had not slept.

We stayed in Queens College, one of several colleges at Oxford. The building was charming and old looking on the outside, but the insides had been gutted and rebuilt as a pretty typical college dorm. But a pretty high class dorm, with oak floors.

Food was bland. We tried ordering things that would always be tasty here, like a panini or chicken pesto pasta. It seems it is possible to make both of those things in a bland style.

On the evening of the debate members of the Oxford Union, some guests and all the debaters had dinner before the debate. We toasted the Queen (your humble blogger rather likes Queen Elizabeth II, and was happy to do this) and before the meal a prayer was said in Latin.

The Debate

Our debate partner supporting the death penalty was one Peter Hitchens, a columnist for the Sunday Mail, and rather a conservative curmudgeon. He’s a charming guy, and a good debater, well-travelled and well informed on lots of things.

On the other side was Barbara Becnel, identified as “author, activist and film producer who was a close friend of Crips street gang founder Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams.” Williams, who brutally murdered four Asians with shotgun blasts a point-blank range, was executed in 2005.

The other debater on the anti-death penalty side, Lord Ken MacDonald, was unable to make it and was replaced by activist Julian Knowles.

All the debaters made pretty much the standard points. We stressed that the best, most recent studies in the U.S. show a deterrent effect of capital punishment, and that claims by death penalty opponents of a very large number of “innocent” people who have been put on death row are grossly inflated.

Knowles played the race card big time, saying that the people who are executed will always be those unpopular to society, and even compared the execution of murderers to the burning of witches!

Hitchens discussed the rising murder rate in the U.K., and countered Knowles’ playing of the race card by pointing out that Williams had killed Asians, whom he referred to as “Budda heads.”

Becnel simply insisted that he client was innocent, and gave a few anecdotal accounts of actions on the part of prosecutors that she viewed a racist.

Neither Becnel nor Knowles seemed to know that blacks are underrepresented on death row in the U.S. This is apparently the result of the fact that most murders by blacks occur in the central cities of metropolitan areas, where black juries are less likely to impose the death penalty, and where District Attorneys are likely to be heavily burdened and unwilling to expend the extra resources needed to get a sentence of death.

As Hitchens had warned would happen, our side lost the vote at the end, 97 to 54. The audience, of course, was not judging on debate points but simply saying which side they agreed with at the end. Of course, with virtually no exceptions, the side they agreed with at the end was the side they came in agreeing with.

It was a great experience, in the world’s classic debate venue.

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6 Comments:

Blogger jimspice said...

"...blacks are underrepresented on death row..."

While this may be true on a surface-level, cross-tabs-type examination, is it not true that blacks are in fact OVERrepresented once relevant factors have been controlled for? I'm thinking race of victim and degree of culpability. And what do the stats show Re: actual executions vs. simple sentencing?

12:02 PM  
Blogger Badger Catholic said...

Great stuff, thanks for sharing!

12:06 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Jimspice,

I'm not sure where you got those notions, but the following is a review of the data.

Racial Disparity and the Death Penalty

6:47 PM  
Blogger jimspice said...

"...where you got those notions..."

Um, academic literature from the past 13 years?

7:13 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Um, academic literature from the past 13 years?

Read my article. Read the numerous studies I cite.

And then come up with some studies that show a bias against black offenders. You won't be able to, at least not in the peer-reviewed academic literature.

Were you suckered by some liberal professor on this issue?

9:49 PM  
Blogger jimspice said...

Well, a document that very well could have been included in your literature review was the 1990 Government Accounting Office report which found the race of the victim significantly influenced death sentencing in about four out of five of the studies, and that the race of the defendant influenced it in about half -- http://archive.gao.gov/t2pbat11/140845.pdf

And no, I wasn't brainwashed. The Poli Sci department at UW-M in the early '90s was pretty fairly split ideology wise. I had party politics from John Bibby, who I also TAed for for 2 years.

12:31 AM  

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