Orenthal James Simpson (OJ): Cultural Hero Redux

by Earl Smith, PhD and Angela J. Hattery, PhD


He deceived us once.  Will he do it again?

Orenthal James “O. J. ” Simpson, nicknamed “the Juice” is a former NCAA Collegiate football hero –having won the coveted Heisman Trophy—as well as a National Football League star running back. After football, he became a broadcaster, actor, advertising spokesman, and then a convicted armed robber and kidnapper having spent a decade in a Nevada prison.

On July 20, 2017, the Nevada Parole Board granted OJ parole from a 9 to 33 year sentence he has been serving for convictions of armed robbery and kidnapping.

Using our research on Black men and mass incarceration as well as the (lack) of opportunities for Black men exiting prison with a felony record, we explore what went wrong and what didn’t in the privileged life of Simpson such that he was tried and acquitted of the charge of homicide and later convicted of armed robbery.   We discuss the life men like OJ face as convicted felons and speculate about the ways his privilege will and will not protect him as he re-enters the free world.

We have to agree with our colleague Dr. Harry Edwards when he says that the new world OJ is re-entering –unlike the world he left when he was incarcerated nine years ago—will trip him up and we can predict that he will be in trouble within a year after his release.

Whether you care about OJ or not, what is fascinating from a researchers perspective is that long after 1994 when he was on trial for the double murder of his then X-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, OJ has been a figure of some celebrity in American society. After the trial for which he was acquitted he quickly became a pariah across America split along racial lines.

It can be argued that Blacks rooted for the acquittal and whites did not.  (Were Blacks rooting for OJ because he was OJ or, just as important, were they just star struck and rooting for a TV celebrity)?

But it was made clear from the start of the hearing that the 1994 trial and decision were not a part of the July 2017 parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nevada.

(It has to be mentioned here that when judge Jackie Glass issued a sentence of 33 years for “kidnapping and armed robbery” the consensus was that this was in reality a “payback” sentence for Simpson walking free from the murder trial. In essence judge Jackie Glass issued Simpson a life sentence).

Excessive.  As stated above, whether you support OJ or not, the nine years served turns out to be overly harsh given that OJ did not arm himself when he went to that Las Vegas hotel room to get back his memorabilia.

So, where are we now?

OJ Simpson, barring an infractions, will walk out of prison on October 1, 2017 a convicted felon who has to now deal with parole officers and the rules of the Nevada parole system. At 70 plus years of age, with probably few employment options, OJ had better take his $5 million in a private pension; his NFL pension estimated at $25,000 per month or $300,000 annually. Add in his Social Security benefit that he will access for the first time since going to prison which will pay him $3,538 per month, or $42,000 annually. Finally, for all those goofy movies OJ was in he has a Screen Actors Guild pension worth an undisclosed amount.  This money will allow OJ to live a comfortable post prison life unlike MOST Black men accessing re-entry.

OJ, “the Juice”, is a wealthy man. And, having access to this type of money he should–as we were previously saying above–move on with his life, re-connect with all of his kids and family.  Enjoy retirement.

The odds of this happening are slim to none.  The type of celebrity life OJ lived was expansive–see, especially, the documentary O.J.: Made in Americaand at his age why stop now.  Remember, it has been reported that OJ had a less than harsh life while locked up in Lovelock.

In conclusion we, like so many others, will be listening and watching once OJ is set free on or about October 1, 2017.



Morrison, Toni and Claudia Lacour. 1997. Birth of a Nation Hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O. J. Simpson Case. NY: Pantheon Books.

Tobin, Jeffrey.  2015.  The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson. NY: Random House.


See more of our work:

Women, Work and Family http://bit.ly/1aEKWPI

Race, Sport and the American Dream  http://amzn.to/1gaOJrY

The Social Dynamics of Family Violence (2nd edition)   http://amzn.to/2iOIoGy

African American Families Today: Myths and Realities  http://amzn.to/145G1Tp

Prisoner Reentry and Social Capital   http://amzn.to/15xuWvt

Interracial Intimacies: An Examination of Powerful Men and Their Relationships across the Color Line   http://amzn.to/1b8Ga9L

A Formula for Eradicating Racism: Debunking White Supremacy    http://amzn.to/1jv7Z5y

Policing Black Bodies: How Black Lives are Surveilled and How to Work for Change  http://amzn.to/2fr2E0t

Male Athletes and Sexual Violence Against Women

Ray Rice poster athlete for violence against women.

by Earl Smith and Angela J. Hattery

Boys Behaving Badly? Not really.

They are simply doing what is accepted in their sport culture.

Since the late 1990s scholars have been chronicling the growing incidences of male athletes–college and professional–, across almost all sports where the common denominator is violence against women.

From Tampa Bay Rays catcher Derek Norris to the “Yankee Clipper”Joe DiMaggio who beat and abused his wife Marilyn Monroe to UFC fighter Thiago Silva to professional boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., to professional football star O.J. Simpson who severely beat his wife Nicole Brown Simpson to pro football player Greg Hardy to Sean Burke  NHL hockey player beat his wife and many, many more.

What this ip of the iceberg list shows is that many men who hone their skills in perfecting some sport are also prone to violence off their playing field.

Our analysis of this in several publications is that sport, many of which are violent (even NASCAR), produces a physical action embedded within a culture of violence that deeply impacts the participants.   That is to suggest that the male athletes that perpetrate violence against women have poo coping skills and do not possess the tools necessary for deescalating violence situations. Immediately they revert to physical violence.

It behooves intercollegiate athletics and professional sports organizations to incorporate into their programs (and not just bring in someone to give a speech) violence prevention training for their athletes.



Smith, Earl. 2014. Race, Sport and the American Dream. Carolina Academic Press.

Hattery, Angela J. 2010. Intimate Partner violence. Rowman & Littlefield.

Prisoners are Smart: But Not Smart Enough to Stay Out of Prison

Everyone knows that prisoners are smart. What everyone does not know is that they are not smart enough to remain free once released

With approximately 2.3 million in American jails and prisons –and almost all of them returning home at some point in time–and with the policies that shape American arrest and penal philosophy forever changing (Jeff Sessions op-ed) — re-entry norms must change.


Recidivism in Focus:

What does all this have to do with SMART PRISONERS?


The men and women we gawk over for their ingenuity while “inside” (escape from South Carolina prison using a cell phone & drone!) have nothing to offer on the “outside.”

With rehabilitation all but wiped from state and federal prisons those currently incarcerated just do their time. Even those inmates “lucky” enough to be working for any of the 100 or so companies that exploit their labor at .28 to .38 or .50 cents per hour (Paul, a prisoner in upstate New York told us he has to work three hours to pay for a bottle of water. The water in his cell is not drinkable!) they, too, just do their time only in a different setting.  These same companies that they work for inside will not hire these prisoners when they are released:


Victoria Secret




Honda car parts

JC Penny


Pruno (wine)

The point of the matter is that there are no (or few) real transferable skills (from inside to outside) that make re-entry seamless.  Men and women still struggle –as we noted in our 2010 book entitled PRISONER REENTRY AND SOCIAL CAPITAL: The Long Road to Reintegration.  These X-prisoners struggle on a daily basis to find a way to make the adjustment from incarceration to living freely in society.

To conclude, the point of  this blog was to point out that the little things (or big0 that prisoners do inside that attracts our attention and this to proffer the label of “brilliant” have little need on the outside and, therefore, many cannot make the adjustments needed for a happy, successful post-prison release life.


**For more of our work goto: http://www.smithandhattery.com



There is an “ordinariness” to the police murders of Black men

                  By Earl Smith, PhD and Angela J. Hattery, PhD


Philando Castile

Since August 26, 2016 when Colin  Kaepernick (who at that time was a San Francisco 49er quarterback) started taking a knee during the National Anthem, police have killed approximately more than 780 people.  Approximately 193 of those killed have been Black.

And, while the numbers may not be complete, they alone do not tell the whole story.  Here we talk about the “ordinariness” of these killings especially those that involve Black men like Philando Castile in Minnesota.  Black men have been in America since the founding of the Nation State. Some are fathers; some are professionals such as lawyers, Wall Street bankers; some are incarcerated and some play NCAA and NFL football. What binds all these men together is that across all demographics that defines them – members of these categories have been killed by the police.

Just recently (June 14, 2017) officer Jeronimo Yanezthe the Minnesota police officer who killed Mr., Castile was acquitted by a jury on all counts. While love ones and others were looking for a conviction the outcome was not surprising.  In our data we looked at the 10 highest profile killing of unarmed Black men killed by police officers and all of them–from Trevyon Martin to Michael Brown to Sean Bell to Amadou Diallo–the officers were not charged.

Looking carefully at the prior activities of some of these men we learn that they were involved in simple, ordinary activities just prior to their deaths. In the case of Mr. Castile he was out with his girlfriend, her 4-yesr old daughter shopping for groceries.        The video of the death was widely circulated first on FACEBOOK then the police officially released it June 20, 2017.

The “ordinariness” of police killings of Black men does not stop unfortunately with Mr. Castile.  Young Tamir Rice was killed in a Cleveland playground November 22, 2014.  He was twelve years old.  And, like most pre-teens he was playing some type of boy-game with a toy gun.

These ordinary activities that lead to premature deaths are incredible for their ordinariness!  White males do not face death after completing ordinary activities.

Several commentaries have railed about the silence of the National Rifle Association (NRA) on the killing of Mr. castile who had a legal license to carry a concealed handgun.  Who, even telling officer Yanezthe that he had a gun on him was killed anyway reaching for his wallet.

This violence in not new.  Under JIM CROW (the system of law commonoly know as de jure segregation and the illegal practice known as de facto segregation both mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, and public transportation, housing and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains for whites and Blacks) often resulting in violence to maintain separateness between whites and Blacks.  The practices were heavily policed.

In all of the talk about “Constitutional Rights” the NRA over the years–and especially after the Columbine school killing (1999) it maintained that Americans have 2nd Amendment rights to arm themselves.  The NRA fights to make this message clear at every turn. In commentaries after the Castile murder it is being said that this right does not extend to Black people.  That is, had Castile been white he would have never been shot.  This sentiment was strongly echoed by

“an appalled Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton who said that police wouldn’t have shot and killed Philando Castile if he’d been white and called for justice with the greatest sense of time urgency.”  

Let us not fool ourselves, with all the police killings of Black unarmed men these murders are not random.  There is something going on in 21st Century America that renders ordinary Black lives less than the lives of other racial/ethnic American citizens.

For Black men it is, to be sure, the “ordinariness.”


To read more of our work, go to:

In Black & White: The Violent Sexual Predator Crossing the Colorline

Angela J.Hattery, PhD & Earl Smith, PhD (2017)



We have a theory.  Serial sexual male predators like Bill Cosby (1) Bill O’Reilly (2) and Darren Sharper (3) play out their violent fantasies often going after innocent women of a race different from theirs.  This predatory sexual violence is not about challenging norms of interracial relationships, it is about power.


Very few things in the United States are more heavily and strictly policed than the relationship colorline, and specifically the taboo on intimate relationships between Blacks and Whites.  Fifty years after the famous Loving v. Virginia case that declared anit-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, clearing the way for Blacks and Whites to legally marry, only 9% of marriages in the United States in 2010 involved a Black and a White partner, and fewer than 1% of Whites were married to a Black spouse (Smith and Hattery 2013).


When it comes to sexual violence, less than 10% of all rapes are intraracial.


It’s interesting then, that despite the fact that the relationship color line is heavily policed and interracial sexual violence is very uncommon, a significant number of the cases of high profile cases of serial (more than one victim) interracial sexual violence have been broadcast and discussed on our television screens and through other news outlets.


How can we make sense of this?


Intersectional theory requires us to look at phenomenon critically and come to conclusions only after we have examined various iterations of that phenomenon.  For example, how is the gendered wage gap also shaped by race?


When interracial sexual violence occurs, what is the context?  Who is doing the perpetrating?  Does it look the same if the rapist is Black or White?


Cases like those of Darren Sharper, Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly reveal to us the strength of the sexual stereotypes about interracial sex.  For example, in our work (2 books on interracial relations (Smith and Hattery 2013; Smith and Hattery 2009; two papers on athlete’s violence against women (Smith 2010); (Hattery 2010) and especially in our work “Cultural Contradictions in the South” (2010) we demonstrate explicitly that predatory men–black and white–are mesmerized with “the other.” (6)


What intersectional theory allows us to do is complicate the racial and gender contours of interracial sexual violence.


White men have been sexually violating Black women’s bodies since the first slaves arrived on American soil after having been kidnapped from Africa.  Historically we have to look no further than Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, Third President of the United States, a known predator of his Black female slaves.  Was the initial encounter between Jefferson and Sally Heming rape?  (3)


How can a White man who believes that Black people are inferior, as Jefferson did, or as Bill O’Reilly might, sexually violate Black women’s bodies?  The answer is simple: because sexual violence is not about relationship built on love and respect. No!  It is violence perpetrated against the objectified female body.  In the O’Reilly’s case, it seems any woman’s body would do.  A “pussy” is a “pussy.”  O’Reilly is a serial sexual harasser, with at least a dozen victims.


In contrast, as a result of the lynching’s of tens of thousands of Black men for the mere accusation, almost always false, of raping a White women, very few Black men have any sexual relationship with White women, consensual or violent (Blackmon 2009).  The average Black man who rapes a White woman serves decades in prison for his crime.  In fact, many Black men have served decades in prison after being wrongly convicted of raping a White women .


That being said, intersectional theory allows us to explore what appears to be an exception to the rule of gender and race hierarchy.  Black men who have power—as athletes and entertainers—and who engage in sexual violence against White women are almost never held accountable.


Bill Cosby drugged and raped more than 50 women.  The majority of whom are White.

Darren Sharper (4), who was finally convicted of 16 rapes, is a serial rapist whose many victims aren’t just similar in terms of their allegations—they are also similar in appearance: white women, most of whom had long blonde hair.


Where as White men sexually violate Black women’s bodies because they can, under the rules of patriarchy and racial domination, some Black men may engage in sexual violence against White women because in this inverted race and gender hierarchy they, too, have more power.  And, the sexual violence may in fact be perpetrated precisely because it threatens the power of White men.  In these cases, White women’s bodies are selected by the serial abuser because their bodies are the object that allows Black men to express their power.


There is no better case than that of the violent thuggery of Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver is well known. (5)  He spells this all out in his book Soul On Ice (1968) telling us that his victims were White women –although he practiced his rapes on Black women first before crossing the tracks to White neighborhoods–and infamously said he was getting back at the “man” by raping his women.


Only when we examine the sexual violence perpetrated by men who at first glance seem as diverse as Bill O’Reilly, Darren Sharper and Bill Cosby through the lens of intersectional theory, with a focus on the intricacies of race and gender hierarchies, can we see that not all serial predatory sexual violence across the color line is the same.  But, one thing is always the same: it is always about POWER and it is always about treating women’s bodies, regardless of their race, as sexual objects on which to demonstrate masculine power.

Postscript: On June 20, 2017 Judge Steven T. O’Neill declared a mistrial.


To see more of Angela J. Hattery and Earl Smith work go to:  http://www.smithandhattery.com



Further Reading

  1. com Reporter, “Shattered! Bill Cosby’s legacy on The Cosby Show questioned by controversial Ebony Magazine cover.” 17 October 2015     http://dailym.ai/2pOGvwG


  1. Steel, Emily and Michael Schmidt. 2017. “Bill O’Reilly Is Forced Out at Fox News”, April 19, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/19/business/media/bill-oreilly-fox-news-allegations.html


May, Charlie. 2017. “From ‘hot chocolate’ to triumphant: Woman whose account may have been final straw for Bill O’Reilly speaks out.” Salon   http://bit.ly/2owm4U1


3, Wiencek, Henry. “The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson.”




  1. Freeman, Mike. 2014. “Who Is Darren Sharper? Date-Rape Allegations Raise Serious

Questions.” Bleacher Report,   http://ble.ac/2pnWZyT


  1. CreWisdom, “Being Anti-Black woman is NOT new. Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver admits to hating and raping Black women.”   CreWisdomDecember 7, 2015



  1. Halsell, Grace. 1999. Soul Sister. Crossroads International Publishing.


  1. Smith, Earl and Hattery, Angela. 2013. Interracial Relationships in the 21st Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.


  1. Smith, Earl (ed). 2010. “Violence in Sportsworld.” Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletes in Education, 4(2):101-108.


  1. Hattery, Angela. 2010. “SportsWorld as a site of violence against women.” Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletes in Education, 4(2):109-122.


  1. Smith, Earl and Angela J. Hattery. (2010). “Cultural Contradictions in the South.” Mississippi Quarterly Vol 63 (2): 145-166.    http://bit.ly/1mwQu34


  1. Blackmon, Douglas. 2009. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York: Anchor; Reprint edition.



The male “walk-on” in college sports, and in particular in football, has become a joke.  Announcers voraciously proclaim that Joe Blow or John Caric is or was just a walk on but now performs at a level above and beyond coaches expectations is a farce.


Whether a “recruited” walk-on or a “regular” walk-on these athletes are now enjoying a kind of notoriety as outlets like ESPN glorify their existence making it seem like this is a now coveted position to be in as an athlete. Of perhaps greater concern is that this glorification of the walk-on is critical to producing an ideology that anyone who arrives on campus, at least any man, has the opportunity if he works hard enough to join the ranks of the most elite, he may soon be wearing the jersey of the Ohio State Buckeyes and taking the field with 100,000 people screaming his name.


What is never mentioned in this glorification is that this spot is only reserved almost exclusively for white men who can punt or kick a football.

From our perspective, the true meaning of the term “walk on” is exemplified best in the movie RUDY.


In this fictional account of Notre Dame football Daniel Rudy Ruettiger (played by Sean Astin in the movie) so wants to play football at Notre Dame that he does what it takes to be a member of the team, including washing uniforms and taking care of the grounds, and painting the famous Fighting Irish! helmets the night before the tame.  Thoug Rudy Ruettiger is real, his characters has ceased to exist in real life. Walk-ons today don’t wash uniforms or paint helmets.  Instead, the walk on of today can often hold down a first string (starting position) on the team – even though he is a walk on.


How can we can explain this phenomenon?  On the face of it, this does not make sense.  Football and basketball programs at Division 1 colleges and universities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each on recruiting, not to mention the salary of recruiting coordinators, and the time spent watching tapes, taking in high school games and visiting mom and grandma in the living room.  (Dad’s are rarely the focus of recruiting visits.  For an interesting perspective on this check out Oscar Robinson’s auto-biography: The Big ‘O’: My Life, My Time, My game).  Why then would a coach invest any energy into developing a walk-on or extend playing time to a player that simply “walked on” instead of in the players he has spent nearly a decade trying to recruit?


Perhaps the answer lies in the way that financial aid and scholarships are doled out to high profile football and basketball programs.


Division 1 football programs provide a minimum of 85 full scholarships.  Yet their rosters typically list an additional 15-20 players, non-scholarship athletes or “walk-ons.”  Football programs “coordinate” with financial aid and scholarship offices such that the “walk on” receives financial support that is equivalent to at least a partial athletic scholarship.


This seems find on the surface, how nice that a football team can bring an additional 15-20 players to campus to earn an education.  And, yet, these 15-20 players are more often than not receiving aid that otherwise would have gone to non-athlete students.  Artists, musicians, smart kids who have financial need and no athletic ability.


So, why are most of the walk-ons we see on Saturday afternoon football games white?  Is it simply because most punters and kickers happen to be white?  Or is there something else at work here?  That is, you don’t see Black players who are “walk-ons.”


As I argue in Race, Sport and the American Dream, stereotypes about the genetics of athletic ability result in coaches rarely if ever recruiting mediocre Black players.  Black players, in college and in the professional ranks, must be “Blue Chip” athletes if they are going to be recruited or drafted.  The data on starters bears this out.


So, what?  Well, for starters, it means that an under-developed Black player is unlikely to be afforded the opportunity to “walk on” in the same way that an under-developed white player will be.  Second, and this is likely to be more controversial, for all the concern that many white students have about under-prepared Black students being given financial support—vis-à-vis—the athletic scholarship—to attend college, it is actually white student athletes who, as walk-ons, are dipping into the financial support once reserved for non-athlete students.  Third, if the walk-on is not receiving anywhere near a full scholarhip but is playing regularly, this furthers the already deep exploitation of athlete labor; in this case the athlete may be receiving little by way of “payment” for his services while contributing to the revenues generated by his team http://amzn.to/1gaOJrY.


Finally, it begs the question, what does it mean for a university to provide an additional 15-20 scholarship to a football team that already has 85 scholarships of its own, and plays, on average, no more than 30-40 players in a given season?  Along with many other things, the walk-on is yet another example of athletic departments hi-jacking the system of higher education in America.


To read more see: Race, Sport and the American Dream [http://amzn.to/1gaOJrY]


THEY ALL COME HOME: Returning Home From Jail or Prison

When Lamar M. exited the bus arriving at the New York City Port Authority from the Clinton Correctional Facility in the Village of Dannemora, upstate New York, he was lost.



The last time he was in the city was 15 years, 3 months and 27 days ago. He was sent to prison for selling crack cocaine.

Having spent the last 15 years incarcerated, Lamar did not have a reliable place to stay, few friends or family and no job.

Although clean, he knew the temptations pulling at him—even while incarcerated—would kick in and he really wanted help.

This story, true, happens every day in almost every major city and small town across America. And, while the total numbers vary—depending on who is counting and who is counted—the challenges for these cities and towns is how to systematically incorporate the flow of mostly men (but some women) into society as newly functioning productive citizens.

It is, after all, harder than it sounds as movies and folklore have it “you committed the crime, you did your time now resettle and become a productive citizen.” It is not that easy!

But, since these newly released prisoners are less likely to have participated in rehabilitation programs than prisoners in the past, they come back with few if any skills. This is a black mark that does not help the re-entry process.

Then, there is the issue of meeting the requirements of parole. Far more prisoners return to their respective communities on parole than on unconditional release. This means the urgency for a job (and housing) is imminent.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that, as sociologist Devah Pager showed in her experiment {Pager, Devah. 2003. “The Mark of a Criminal Record.” American Journal of Sociology 108(5): 937-975} society treats Blacks and Whites looking for work differently. That is, race matters. But, so does felony status. Black men returning from prison find they have at least two strikes against them.

And, as we show in our research so does access to friends, family, business associates ALL who can help establish the connections and networking needed to be successful.

Also, very important is that public housing restrictions work against securing a place to live; in some states felons are banned from living with friends and / or relatives in public housing while trying to get settled.

At last check, Lamar did not make it. The temptations mentioned above pulled him back to drug dealing and in one deal that went wrong he accidentally (according to him) shot a women who later died in the hospital.


As a three-time offender, Lamar M. is now serving a life sentence.

Hence, as a society we need more expansive and effective, user-friendly ways to make re-entry doable for those men and women who have completed their punishment and want to move on with their lives.


For more, see: Angela J. Hattery and Earl Smith, Prisoner Reentry and Social Capital: The Long Road to Reintegration.


MISSING BLACK MEN (part 2): Homicide

homicide police line


This post is not about the politically charged term “Black-On-Black-Crime.”

Rather, it is about the early life death –or YEARS OF LIFE LOST (ILL)–of young black men between the ages of 15 and 34.  Most of whom are killed by other black men. The mortality risk for young black men is increasingly high as more and more guns are finding their way into the culture of the American inner city, space where hundreds of thousands of black Americans live.

What We know

We know that homicide is an intra-gender & intra-race crime.

Epidemiologists (Wintemute 2015) have long noted the public health epidemic of firearm violence in the US, noting:

During the ten years from 2003 to 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, 313,045 persons died from firearm-related injuries in the United States. These deaths outnumber US combat fatalities in World War II; they outnumber the combined count of combat fatalities in all other wars in the nation’s history. The total societal costs of firearm injuries were estimated to be $174.1 billion in 2010.

Epidemiologists have also noted this trend among young black males, beginning most notably directly after the end of the Vietnam war up through the present. We learn that firearm violence (homicide) is among the leading cause of death for young black men ages 15–34 in 2012.

The concentration of mortality from firearm homicide is highest among young black males–moreso than among black females and / or white males–solely because this group is highest for engaging in risky behavior. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta tracks these risky behaviors and notes that for the age group being killed there are six.  These are:

  1. Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence
    2. Sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection
    3. Alcohol and other drug use
    4. Tobacco use
    5. Unhealthy dietary behaviors
    6. Inadequate physical activity

While not conclusive this list of six risky behaviors gives us an indicator to rely on especially indicator #1 and helps us to understand the following CDC table;

causes of death

To illustrate, I have chosen the cities of Chicago and Baltimore where the number of homicides have escalated in recent years.

Since homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men–they are approximately 10 times more likely to die of murder than whites of the same age group–it stands to reason that we should know why these early deaths are happening?

A recent headline suggested that in the city of Chicago 75% of those persons murdered are Black and that 71% of the known murderers are Black (http://bit.ly/20yQ90w). One chart from the same newspaper shows the homicide victims by their age and we can see that for age cohorts between 17 and 35 is where most of the deaths take place.


The following chart shows the homicide victims by their race.  This is interesting in that the only double digit percentages are for both Hispanics and blacks.


In the news across 2015 and 2016 there was constant reminder of how dangerous it is for young black men in the city of Baltimore, home of the Netflix TV series The Wire. In Baltimore there was for 2015 a homicide rate of 47 per 100,000 people. In 2015 Baltimore had over 340 homicides with Freddie Gray being #88 after a fatal ride in the back of a police van in April.

Out of a tally of the 100 most recent homicides for 2015-2016 – 89 of the 100 were black victims. And, with 90% of the homicides being black young men we also know that the perpetrators are also young black men.

When looking for the reasons why this is happening we get the usual answers: geography; poverty; lack of schooling; single family home; no fathers involved in parenting etc.  Yet, this can’t be all there is to the story?

What We Don’t Know

One thing is definite: we don’t know why these young men are killing each other (Hattery and Smith 2012).  Sociologically, then, the question becomes why do young black men kill one another at such alarming rates?

As stated above I don’t think it is all about concentrated poverty or concentrated geography or fatherlessness. One good starting point–never  mentioned in this research topic–is alienation.  Alienation has been defined by a lot of theologians and scholars and the term carries a lot of different meanings.  Here we go with the work of Emile Durkheim who saw alienation as having at minimum five features: (1) powerlessness, (2) meaninglessness, (3) normlessness, (4) isolation and (5) self-estrangement.

According to Durkheim, normlessness or what he calls ANOMIE takes place when acceptable social norms are no longer accessible. That is, when individuals become cut off from society (friends, family, social relationships) and have no real grounding they lose touch socially, psychologically, economically etc.  This detachment or alienation or anomie can and often does bring the individual to decision making that is irrational.

Irrational decision making with gun in hand can and often does lead to the violence of homicide.  As demonstrated here in Chicago and in Baltimore and many, many other major urban centers for 2015 and 2016 this means hundreds of thousands of young black men are dead.  For young black men this means for the above mentioned dates approximately 5000 young black males have been killed by another black male.




“If it’s not a public health problem, then why are all those people dying from it?”

–Dr. David Satcher, Centers for Disease Control


Knowing that young black men are killing other young black men is a conundrum. For the real question is what is to be done? How can interventions, predicting when/where this lethal violence will take place so that it can be thwarted?  I am not sure. I do know that the literature on the topic spells out (a) jobs, (b) better schooling opportunities, (c) m0re hands on parenting etc.  Yet, we do know by the time these young men are adults it is too late.  Whatever the strategies are they have to start early on and become a systematic part of the acculturation process.



  1.   It would be interesting to follow up on the research of Frank Sulloway in his massive book Born To Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, an Creative Lives to see where young black males who commit homicide are located in their family birth order. He says that it is typical for the youngest of siblings to follow a path of violence.




Durkheim, Emile. 1933. The Division of Labor in Society. NY: MacMillan Co.

Hattery, Angela and Earl Smith. 2012. {New edition 2016} The Social Dynamics of Family Violence.

Mydans, Seth. 1980. “Homicide Rate Up for Young Blacks.” New York Times  http://nyti.ms/244LV5j

Ollman, Bertell. 1977. Alienation. London: Cambridge University Press.

Sulloway, Frank. 1996. Born To Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, an Creative Lives. New York: Pantheon Books.

Wintemute, Garen. 2015. “The Epidemiology of Firearm Violence in the Twenty-First Century United States.”  Annual Review of Public Health 36:5-19.





Several news stories are asking the question: “where have all the Black men gone?”  In fact the phenomenon has become known as the “missing-Black men phenomenon.”

This post is interested in looking at three seemingly unrelated yet interconnected occurrences in the lives of Black men since about 1960.  These are:

  • Vietnam
  • Drugs
  • Incarceration

And, while this post is not definitive, here we see the interrelatedness of these three “moments” and how all three work to remove Black men from their communities, from the probability of building a life of marriage & family and absence from the labor market — hence, not building  financial, human, or social capital.

It is important to remind the readers that America up through 1955 was a segregated society.  It was not until 1948 under President Harry S. Truman that the armed services were officially desegregated and not yet fully desegregated when Blacks were being sent to Vietnam.

Two hundred fifty years of slavery; Ninety years of Jim Crow; Sixty years of separate but (un-equal); Thirty-five years of racist housing policies, racism in the labor force (& US military), separate & un-equal -schooling, etc.,  yet, these Black soldiers went to Vietnam to fight for freedom.

Black soldiers, living in a segregated United States fought long and hard in Vietnam.



Black in vietnam

The Vietnam war (1964-1972) was American’s first integrated war. At least officially. There were all-white units in Vietnam and all-Black units as well (Terry 1984). American soldiers, Black and white, did fight side by side. Yet the issues for this blog are the disproportionate numbers of Blacks sent to Vietnam in terms of these young men’s representation in the general population. Few women soldiers were sent to Vietnam.

Four million Americans served in Vietnam from the early beginnings of the war in 1955 until it was officially ended April 30, 1975. Of that number approximately 58,151American soldiers were killed (Karnow 1997). Anyone who has payed attention to the “nightly news during the era of the war know full well that the “official” count of soldiers killed is an undercount (Sheehan 1989).

Just as the official numbers of those soldiers killed is low is it close to impossible to acturately know the number of young Black men who were sent to Vietnam and who came home from the war.  Black soldiers were drafted in huge numbers to fight in Vietnam from states with all-white draft boards, including: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Having all white draft boards especially in the south creates situations where disproportionate to their numbers in the age group of potential draftees, Blacks were sent to Vietnam at twice  the rate as their white counterparts.  That is to say, Black soldiers were recruited to fight in a war when at home they were discriminated against, living in states still operating under the last vestiges of Jim Crow.

That recruitment got a boost from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s Project 100,000. Project 100,000 began in 1966 intended to recruit Black and low income whites from the south. Especially important to understand in this movement to recruit Black soldiers for Vietnam is how disproportionate the numbers were.

Blacks were 45% of the 100,000 troops recruited mainly into the Army and Marines, those the most likely to see combat.

Considering the number of young black men eligible for the draft, their numbers in the age cohort 18-25, and the number of them sent to both the Army and the Marines, then it is conceivable to note they were overrepresented in frontline combat units which resulted in their being also overrepresented in total causality counts – however skewed these may have been.

Some would argue deliberately so!

According to Wallace Terry (author of Bloods: An Oral History of The Vietman War By Black Veterans) over 60 percent of the men on the front lines, dubbed “Soulville,” were black and they accounted for more than 23% of American fatalities even though blacks comprised only 10% of America’s overall population.

While the numbers vary, depending on the source, the argument here is that of the 47,356 battle deaths in Vietnam –wherein 23% of those deaths were Black soldiers– one black soldier killed in Vietnam is one soldier too many.

The argument here is that Vietnam is the first chapter in the “where are the Black men” story that has been a running commentary since the 1980’s.

A second chapter is drugs.

Some would argue that the returning soldiers from Vietnam were so traumatized that they took to drugs to ease the pain. This may be the case but it is not entirely so. Many black soldiers took up drugs while in Vietnam.

In the popular movie American Gangster the “Black Mafia” kingpin Frank Lucas is supposed to have had business dealings with the Vietcong to import heroin and marijuana into the US via dead soldiers coffins.


soldier snorting crack

American soldiers in general stationed in Vietnam and black soldiers specifically used readily available drugs including–but not limited to–heroin, marijuana, morphine, barbiturates and opium and brought these habits back home with them.

Many returned stateside addicted to some type of illicit drug.

Add to this the growing tensions around the embattled civil rights movement especially in the south and the murder of Dr. Rev Martin Luther King in April 1968, joblessness, despair and a lack of hope all pulled together to join with the inner city crisis of drug use and abuse, many Vietnam veterans got pulled along.

Perhaps in response to the high rate of drug use in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the early 1980s heralded in the War on Drugs. This war, rather than providing treatment for addicts and those traumatized by their experiences in Vietnam, criminalized many of the drugs that returning veterans, especially Black men, who returned not as heroes but as baby killers, used to ease the pain.  Lost in the War on Drugs were Black men who died of drug-related illnesses, including HIV, overdoses, untreated addiction, and those lost to the system of mass incarceration.

One way to gauge the destructiveness of drugs in the black community is to look no further than the controversial book by Michael Javen Fortner entitled “Black Silent Majority.”   According to the author the drug epidemic in Harlem New York, residents began to feel the ancillary impact of the drug epidemic, not just the crime, but also the rise of gangs, and in parts of New York, Baltimore, and Chicago, gangs control entire neighborhoods and are responsible for the skyrocketing rates of black on black homicide.  Much of this violence is related to the drug trade.


black men in prison

Drug using and drug dealing can (and often does) lead to prison time.  Between 1973 and 1988 the nations drug laws became more harsh. In New York State, under the moniker of the “ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS” prison sentences became longer with the 15-years to life sentence for selling two ounces, or possessing four ounces of cocaine or heroin (http://www.prdi.org/rocklawfact.html).

These stringent new rules for drug use and abuse and the sale of illicit substances are centrally important to the story of mass incarceration.  In fact it can be argued that drugs cements prison population increase to the proliferation we see today.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates there are some 2.3 million people in the US incarcerated.  These data become more illuminating when you break them out to areas like probation, parole, home arrest etc.  Suffice to say that the US remains the world leading “jailer” far surpassing every other nation around the globe.  Furthermore, the majority of people, including Black men, under the control of the criminal justice system, were convicted of non-violent drug offenses.  As we have noted elsewhere, prison becomes a place to warehouse undesirable populations.


This post links the three interrelated phenomena of (1) Vietnam, (2) Drugs and (3) Prison in order to respond to the questions surrounding issues of “where have all the Black men gone?”

By looking carefully at these three items it become easy to see that death abroad and hopelessness at home as well as the L O N G stretches of prison time can account for some–if not most–of the missing Black men.

Starting with Vietnam these black men went to war against a foreign enemy who were not nearly as close to intruding on their citizenship rights as White Supremacy groups were doing at home. They were caught in a system of war and oppression that were designed to ensure that they would never gain any sort of freedom.

Secondly, the drug epidemic hit the inner cities hard bringing with it violent assaults and gun violence.

Finally, all of this violence comes full circle and you can see why some are asking where are the missing black men? Taking stock of these three items and their intersections contributes to the debate about missing black men.



This post is part 1 on this topic.  Part // will address the issue of homicide among Black males.


Fortner, Michael Javen. 2015.  Black Silent Majority. Cambridge, MA:. Harvard University Press.

Hattery, Angela J. and Earl Smith. 2010. Prisoner Reentry & Social Capital. Maryland: Lexington Books.

Karnow, Stanley. 1997. Vietnam: A History (2nd Edition). New York: Penguin Books.

Sheehan, Neil. 1989. A Bright Shining Lie. New York: Random House.

Robbins, Lee. 1993. “Vietnam Veterans’ Rapid Recovery From Heroin Addiction: A Fluke or Normal Expectation?” Addiction, 88: 1041-1054.

Terry, Wallace. 1984. Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans. New York: Random House.

The Death Penalty: “But I am Not Guilty”

Death Bed room

More than any other nation, the US still imposes death for capital crimes. In fact, these three very scary words—DEATH ROW EXONERATION– are enough to make you upchuck.

Consider what it must be like if you have been convicted for a crime you did not commit and are now being sentenced to death.

This blog is concerned with the relationship between the growing number of exonerations and the death penalty.

In 1972 the US Supreme Court in a vote of 5 to 4 invalidated all death penalty laws in the country saying they were being arbitrarily applied.  Justice Potter Stewart concurred saying: the Constitution could not “permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and freakishly imposed.”

The arbitrary nature of applying the death penalty and especially the issue of the race and class status of the majority of the defendants eventually sentenced to death warns that caution definitely needs to be practiced.

Add to this the David Baldus’ findings on the lop-sided application of the state mandated execution of non-Whites and especially Blacks, which also warns that caution needs to be practiced. Baldus (June 23, 1935 – June 13, 2011) ushered in new ways to study social phenomena.   His pioneering research on the death penalty nearly convinced the US Supreme Court in the 1987 Supreme Court decision McCleskey v. Kemp. The Supreme Court decided, though, that statistics did not matter!

Regardless, the Baldus research uncovered a major finding that demonstrated that Blacks were significantly and most importantly disproportionately more likely to be sentenced to death than whites. In addition, regardless of the race of the defendant, those who killed white victims were four times more likely to be sentenced to death than those accused of killing Black victims.

The gist of the Baldus research is this: a death sentence is more likely to be based on the race of the victim, not the offender.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, spoke to this issue in a New York Review of Books column. He put it thus:

That the murder of black victims is treated as less culpable than the murder of white victims provides a haunting reminder of once-prevalent southern lynchings.

This becomes all the more important in that most capital murder defendants are poor and unable to mount a legal defense.  And, when court appointed attorneys are representing them they are more likely than not to receive inferior counseling.  Or, a defense that suffers from the ability to harness the resources—-private investigators, scientific experts, independent DNA analysis—that are often critical to successfully establishing one’s innocence.

The systemic nature of injustice is everywhere, leaving this writer to draw the hypothesis that YES, there must be innocent people who have been executed in the United States of America.

Executing the Innocent

The death penalty clearinghouse currently has listed on its web site 11 executions of individuals who may have been innocent.  These are:

Carlos DeLuna          Texas Conviction: 1983                   Executed: 1989

Ruben Cantu             Texas Convicted: 1985                   Executed: 1993

Larry Griffin                 Missouri Conviction: 1981         Executed: 1995

Joseph O’Dell           Virginia Conviction: 1986              Executed: 1997

David Spence           Texas Conviction: 1984                   Executed: 1997

Leo Jones                 Florida Convicted: 1981                  Executed: 1998

Gary Graham             Texas Convicted: 1981                   Executed: 2000

Claude Jones            Texas Convicted 1989                    Executed 2000

Cameron Willingham Texas Convicted: 1992               Executed: 2004

Troy Davis                 Georgia Convicted: 1991                Executed 2011

Lester Bower            Texas Conviction: 1984                   Executed: 2015


Many of these executions have drawn considerable attention, some none. The Cameron Willingham case in the Texas arson probe has again gathered considerable attention.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in the US in 1976, there have been 1,425 executions. Snapshot of the last six years:

Executions in 2016 = 3

Executions in 2015 = 28

Executions in 2014 = 35

Executions in 2013 = 39

Executions in 2012 = 43

Executions in 2011 = 43


Kirk Bloodsworth would have been one of those executed, had it not been for DNA evidence. Bloodsworth, a jolly White male, is one of many young men sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit; he was convicted in March of 1985 for the brutal killing and sexual assault of a nine year-old girl.  Bloodsworth was exonerated 8 years later.  And, according to Bloodsworth he is the first inmate released from death row based on post-conviction DNA evidence (Junkin 2004).

Prosecutors who take capital cases know that the possibility of executing an innocent person (most likely a male) is a very real possibility.  In the Missouri case of Larry Griffin prosecutor Jennifer Joyce, St Louis circuit attorney, understood this when she said:

Every prosecutor conceptually has the notion that someone innocent can be convicted.

There is strong evidence that the US Justice System has executed innocent men and women.  But we don’t talk about such atrocities.  In a society where only six or seven states have halted “state mandated executions” the execution of men and women still remains a part of the normal processes of everyday life.

Fewer than 20 states have either abolished outright or have placed a moratorium on the death penalty.  This leaves over 50% of states still in the business of executing men and women.

And, up until recently the US executed youth under the age of 18, with most states following recent Supreme Court decisions no longer doing so (Scott 2005).

With nearly 400 exonerations coupled with the long history of carrying out the death penalty it stands to reason that innocent people have been executed.  Because death by state sanction is irreversible, it makes sense to be absolutely certain –“beyond a reasonable doubt”—that the person being executed is guilty.

Yet, there is not even agreement on the US Supreme Court about the level of certainty required to substantiate the imposition of the death penalty.



In 2006 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:

It should be noted at the outset that the dissent does not discuss a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby. The dissent makes much of the new-found capacity of DNA testing to establish innocence. But in every case of an executed defendant of which I am aware, that technology has confirmed guilt.

Despite Justice Scalia’s assurances that we have never executed an innocent person, exonerations are like the canary in the mine.  They raise serious concerns that we have in fact executed innocent people.

What Justice Scalia fails to address or be concerned with the fact that the appellate process is very narrow in what it allows to be considered in capital cases.  He overlooks, in his assessment that new data—including DNA—is not usually allowed to bring forth a new examination of the case.  Rather he suggests that the original trial by jury that resulted in a conviction based on evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” and the appeals process that takes place in all death penalty convictions is sufficient to ensure that innocent people are not executed.

Even for those who support the death penalty I argue that “beyond a reasonable doubt” while it plays out in movies and TV programs, assuring the viewer that all evidence has been considered, it is too low a standard for something that is irreversible as an execution.




DNA testing [has] established conclusively that numerous

persons who had been convicted of capital crimes (by

‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’) were, beyond any

doubt, innocent.

–Judge Jed Rakoff, United States District Court

Southern District of New York United States v. Quinones (2002)   (in Gross, 2013)


There are so many cases of faulty justice in death sentences that books could be written about them.  Unfortunately few have been published to date.  One such case is that of Earl Washington.

On January 20, 1984, Earl Washington, a Black man—defended for all of forty minutes by a lawyer who had never tried a death penalty case—was found guilty of rape and murder in the state of Virginia and sentenced to death. After nine years (9) on death row, DNA testing cast doubt on his conviction and saved his life. However, he spent another eight years (8) in prison before more sophisticated DNA technology proved his innocence and convicted the guilty man.

Because of this and so many other cases there should be a 50 state moratorium on the death penalty until we put in place policies and procedures that allow one to be 100% certain that the person being executed did the crime.




Tim Junkin, 2005. Bloodsworth: The True Story of One Man’s Triumph over Injustice. A Shannon Ravenel Book. http://amzn.to/11kXIMZ


Garrett, Brandon, 2012. Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


David Grann, 2009, “TRIAL BY FIRE: Did Texas execute an innocent man? SEPTEMBER 7, 2009  http://bit.ly/1Ukabdi


Gross, Samuel R., 2013. “How Many False Convictions are There? How Many Exonerations are There”?  Pp. 45-60 in C. R. Huff & M. Killias eds., Wrongful Convictions and Miscarriages of Justice: Causes and Remedies in North American and European Criminal Justice Systems. New York: Routledge,


Gross, Samuel R. 2012 “David Baldus and the Legacy of McCleskey v. Kemp.” Iowa Law Review, Vol. 97, No. 6.


Scott, Charles, MD, 2005,  “Roper v. Simmons: Can Juvenile Offenders be Executed?” Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and Law 33:4:547-552.



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