Race and Homicide in Nineteenth-Century California.Race and Homicide homicide (hŏm`əsīd), in law, the taking of human life. Homicides that are neither justifiable nor excusable are considered crimes. A criminal homicide committed with malice is known as murder, otherwise it is called manslaughter. in Nineteenth-Century California. By Clare V. McKanna, Jr. (Reno, University of Nevada Press The University of Nevada Press is a university press that is run by the Nevada System of Higher Education. It was founded by Robert Laxalt in 1964. External link
This book raises the perennial question "How violent was the West?" through a study of 1317 homicides committed over fifty years in seven California counties. The author starts with a highly interesting concept, the idea of enclaves of violence. The author does a good job of presenting the relevant historiography historiography
Writing of history, especially that based on the critical examination of sources and the synthesis of chosen particulars from those sources into a narrative that will stand the test of critical methods. , the chronology chronology,
n the arrangement of events in a time sequence, usually from the beginning to the end of an event. is clear, and the issues are generally well explained. His descriptions of people and places are vivid. From the evidence presented, the basic paradigm for coping with the problems of homicides appears to be grounded in California's fundamentally western subculture subculture /sub·cul·ture/ (sub´kul-chur) a culture of bacteria derived from another culture.
n. of violence.
This book on California homicides is divided into four chapters each of which deals with a particular ethnic group: Native-Americans, Chinese, Hispanics and whites. The author not only pays particular attention to California social history as he makes a strong attempt at integrating his discussion of his main topic, in this case homicides, within the larger cultural context of the state. The four case studies are interesting pieces of historical synthesis and interpretation in their own right, but McKanna's central purpose is to use them to illustrate a theoretical perspective on the relationship between violence and cultural tradition. Although the author does not go so far as to link cultural causes with homicide rates, he notes that strong group solidarity among Chinese and whites differs from the absence of strong cultural norms among Indians and Hispanics. Social status and race of the victims are also described as playing an important role in the way the court and the local law enforcement officers dealt with homicides.
The first chapter, entitled en·ti·tle
tr.v. en·ti·tled, en·ti·tling, en·ti·tles
1. To give a name or title to.
2. To furnish with a right or claim to something: Red Man White Justice, not only deals with the way the criminal justice system treated the Indian defendants but also attempts to explain the level of violence among young Indians. While Spanish and Mexican authorities brought Indians into their sociopolitical so·ci·o·po·li·ti·cal
Involving both social and political factors.
of or involving political and social factors system, the whites excluded them. Confronted with white intrusion and domination, the Indians community also suffered from the racism of whites, who looked at Indians as passive and irredeemable. This brought about a dramatic cultural disruption within the Indian community. In the process, many Indian youths turned to alcohol and violence. It is therefore not surprising that physical violence was the rule rather than the exception in some regions of California where Indians represented an important minority. Moreover, the Indian defendants did not benefit from any particular support in Court. The lack of appropriate legal counsel explained the high instance of plea bargaining plea bargaining, negotiation in which a defendant agrees to plead guilty to a criminal charge in exchange for concessions by the prosecutor (representing the state). among the Indian defendants. The fact that 26% of Indian defendants received a death penalty further demonstrates that, in California at least, white justice was imposed on the Red man.
In Chapter II, McKanna examines why Chinese were less prone to resort to violence despite the fact that Chinese immigrants suffered a great deal of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of the white population. The author notes that Chinatowns were periodically the theatre of feuds among Chinese gangs competing for the control of gambling and prostitution. In particular, he demonstrates that California Chinese rarely killed outside their racial group. Professor McKanna convincingly explains this low level of violence by a strong cultural tradition within the Chinese community and the strong support that Chinese defendants received from their community. Because of this group solidarity, Chinese accused of committing crimes were well represented by legal counsel in the courts. As a result, it was possible for those Chinese who were unjustly accused to gain justice.
In Chapter III, Professor McKanna examines how justice operated in a conquered land. As the Hispanics suffered from a lack of community ties and from poverty, the Hispanic defendants, who knew almost nothing about the criminal law, had difficulty in hiring competent counsel. Furthermore, their cultural baggage The term cultural baggage refers to the tendency for one's culture to pervade thinking, speech, and behavior without one being aware of this pervasion. Cultural baggage becomes a factor when a person from one culture encounters a person from another, and unconscious proved a liability. Whites presumed that defendants were tried by an impartial Favoring neither; disinterested; treating all alike; unbiased; equitable, fair, and just. jury, which was far from the case as jurors regularly displayed racism and bigotry Bigotry
See also Anti-Semitism.
Beaumanoir, Sir Lucas de
prejudiced ascetic; Grand Master of Templars. [Br. Lit.: Ivanhoe]
middle-aged bigot in television series. . Hispanic defendants differed largely from the jurors and the court officers in cultural values, way of speaking, dress and behavior, factors that played an important role during the trial process.
In Chapter IV, Professor McKanna tries to explain why whites had a significantly lower interracial in·ter·ra·cial
Relating to, involving, or representing different races: interracial fellowship; an interracial neighborhood. homicide rate than any of the minorities except the Chinese. While the data show that whites rarely killed members of minorities, they also show that prosecutors rarely charged white defendants since the killing of an Indian, a Hispanic or a Chinese by a white man often not deemed to be a crime. For example, although whites were charged with killing 35 Indians, in only one case was a white man convicted. The phrase white justice suggests that whites had an advantage when they entered the criminal justice system. They had a better chance of acquittal The legal and formal certification of the innocence of a person who has been charged with a crime.
Acquittals in fact take place when a jury finds a verdict of not guilty. than any other group, the author argues, because they were better able to hire good counsel who knew the workings of the justice system so as to achieve that goal. This was less true in the case of lower-class whites who were more likely to be prosecuted.
The author's local statistics are useful, yet they present several shortcomings A shortcoming is a character flaw.
Shortcomings may also be:
an inquest held by a coroner to determine the cause of any violent, sudden, or mysterious death. See Coroner.
See also: Coroner Inquest . One may raise here the issue of whether or not all homicides were investigated, particularly in the more disturbed areas. The author seems to presume, without discussion, that coroner reports represent a reliable source on the actual number of homicides in California. Secondly, although the author notes the locations for violence in different counties in California The U.S. state of California is divided into fifty-eight counties. Counties are responsible for all elections, property-tax collection, maintenance of public records such as deeds, and local-level courts within their borders, as well as providing law enforcement (through the county , he does not make systematic use of this information. The author should have presented more systematically the evolution of California's political and administrative sub-divisions (number of counties, their population, their ethnic composition). Moreover, it would have been very useful, for example, to identify the violent districts on maps and trace the changing locations of violent activity over time. Such an approach would have permitted an analysis of the relationship between levels of homicides and the development of the California economy and human geography Human geography, is a branch of geography that focuses on the study of patterns and processes that shape human interaction with the environment, with particular reference to the causes and consequences of the spatial distribution of human activity on the Earth's surface. . The author makes several statements regarding the frequency of various crimes, the growth in gambling houses and brothels BROTHELS, crim. law. Bawdy-houses, the common habitations of prostitutes; such places have always been deemed common nuisances in the United States, and the keepers of them may be fined and imprisoned.
2. , and trends in violent behavior that are not supported by arrest statistics. Readers would be better able to follow the evolution of public concern about violence, if they could be made to understand how homicides and social problems intermingled within the social spaces of California. Finally, although he points out that the 1850s were characterized by a high level of homicides, he does not provide information on how the level of homicide evolved between 1850 and 1900. This information would have provided the reader with a better understanding of the evolution of California towards a more stable society.
Nevertheless, this is an important book, because it provides a vivid description of homicides among four important groups in California. In his final appraisal, the author judiciously ju·di·cious
Having or exhibiting sound judgment; prudent.
[From French judicieux, from Latin i avoids claiming too much about the relationship between cultural tradition and homicides rates. His main contribution consists in showing clearly that there existed in nineteenth-century California two standards of justice and that minorities suffered from the direct and indirect prejudices on the part of white law enforcement officers. Moreover, McKanna's book is well written as his words flow with charm, clarity, and style. Despite some deficiencies, the work has several merits. Scholars as well as general readers will find useful information not available elsewhere in print.
Universite de Sherbrooke