Race to Execution, a film by Rachel Lyon, is a compelling investigation of America’s death penalty system that probes how race discrimination and bias infect our capital punishment system. Following two death row inmates—Madison Hobley of Chicago, Illinois and Robert Tarver of Russell County, Alabama—the film interweaves their stories together with groundbreaking scholarship, and reveals that the race of the victim and the accused deeply influence the legal process. It examines how a crime scene is investigated, the deployment of police resources, the interrogation and arrest of major suspects, how media portrays the crime, and ultimately, jury selection and sentencing. The film suggests that beyond DNA and beyond innocence, the open secret of our capital punishment system is, indeed, a matter of race.

The number of states that have instituted moratoriums on the death penalty in recent years demonstrates that lawmakers are acknowledging that the capital punishment system is deeply flawed and is in need of assessment and reform. According to The Death Penalty Information Center’s (DPIC) 2008 fact sheet, there are currently 36 states that exercise capital punishment, and 14 that do not. It also notes a correlation between race discrimination among victims and defendants:

“Recent studies on race revealed that in 96% of the states where there have been reviews of race and the death penalty, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination, or both.”

An article in the Washington Post highlights the significance of the landmark decision New Jersey lawmakers made in December 2007 when they abolished the death penalty. And according to the Baltimore Sun, this month Maryland’s legislature established a commission to re-examine the death penalty in its state. (DPIC’s website has comprehensive listings of recent legislative activity on capital punishment nationwide.)

Juror Number Six, a short film that explores the impact of traditional and new media representations of race and crime on sentencing for minority defendants in the criminal justice system, is a continuation of the film Race to Execution. This new piece considers both the potential and the dangers of new Internet technologies in combating racism and creating a fairer justice system.

San Francisco State University’s Department of Journalism will host a screening of Race to Execution and Juror Number Six tonight:

Thursday, March 27, 2008
6:30 Reception with light refreshments
7:00pm Screening
8:15pm Discussion and Q&A with expert panelists

SF State Downtown Campus
Westfield San Francisco Centre
835 Market Street, 6th Floor, Rm 609
San Francisco, CA 94103

Guest panelists:

Claire Cooper, Bay Area freelance journalist and former Sacramento Bee Legal Affairs writer
Aundré Herron, Staff Attorney, California Appellate Project
Rachel Lyon, Director/Producer, Race to Execution

Moderated by Dori Maynard, President and CEO of the Maynard Institute

Co-sponsored by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, USC Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism, Amnesty International Western Regional Office & SFSU’s Center for Integration & Improvement of Journalism.

In partnership with DePaul University Center for Justice in Capital Cases, Lioness Media Arts, Inc., and Active Voice.