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Today, I want to talk about a deeply troubling issue: the execution of intellectually disabled Black individuals in the United States. This practice highlights the profound racial biases embedded in our legal system. Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Atkins v. Virginia (2002) that executing intellectually disabled individuals violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, several states have found ways to circumvent this ruling, disproportionately affecting Black people.

The Supreme Court’s Decision and Its Aftermath

In Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that states cannot execute individuals deemed intellectually disabled, as it violates the Eighth Amendment. This decision posed significant challenges for states with death penalty statutes, especially given the racial disparities in death sentencing. Black individuals, who make up about 14% of the U.S. population, represent over 40% of those on death row.

To navigate this ruling, some states have implemented controversial standards that effectively allow the execution of intellectually disabled Black individuals. An IQ score of 70 or lower typically classifies someone as intellectually disabled. However, prosecutors in at least seven states have argued for an “ethnic adjustment” to IQ scores, asserting that Black individuals do not test as well as their white counterparts and therefore should have an additional 10 to 15 points added to their scores. This adjustment conveniently raises their IQ scores above the threshold, making them eligible for execution.

The Hypocrisy of Ethnic Adjustment

This practice of ethnic adjustment starkly contrasts with arguments against affirmative action. Opponents of affirmative action claim that Black individuals should not receive special treatment in college admissions, arguing that everyone has the same opportunity to perform well on standardized tests. They assert that no additional points should be given based on race. However, when it comes to the death penalty, these same individuals acknowledge the biases in testing, arguing that Black people should receive extra points on their IQ scores to justify execution.

For instance, a court in Missouri stated that IQ tests are culturally biased against Black individuals, acknowledging this bias only in the context of capital punishment. This selective recognition of bias underscores the systemic racism inherent in our legal system. When it comes to job placement and education, tests are deemed fair, but for executions, the inherent biases suddenly become relevant.

The Legal System’s Bias Against Black People

This issue highlights a broader theme: the legal system’s persistent bias against Black individuals. The law has long been skewed to disadvantage Black people, and this bias manifests in various ways, from racial profiling and harsher sentencing to biased jury selection and, as seen here, manipulative legal standards. The case of ethnic adjustment in IQ scores is a stark example of how laws and legal interpretations are twisted to maintain systemic injustice against Black people.

The Atkins decision was intended to protect intellectually disabled individuals from the death penalty. Yet, states have subverted this protection through practices that disproportionately target Black people. This is a clear demonstration of how the legal system adapts to perpetuate racial injustice.

Conclusion and Call to Action

The practice of adjusting IQ scores to execute intellectually disabled Black individuals is a gross miscarriage of justice. It highlights the lengths to which the legal system will go to maintain racial disparities and underscores the need for systemic reform.

It’s crucial to recognize and challenge these biases within the legal system. The Supreme Court’s decisions and state practices must be scrutinized to ensure that they do not perpetuate racial injustice. As a society, we must advocate for fairness and equality in the application of the law.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Have you encountered or heard of similar injustices? Share your experiences and perspectives in the comments below. Your voice is essential in the fight against systemic racism and for a more just legal system.


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