John Derbyshire On “Black Privilege”—A Ticket Off Death Row
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We’ve been hearing a lot about “White Privilege” recently. My question: what about “Black Privilege”?

“White Privilege” is not as new an idea as you’d think: Ngram tracks it back to the 1950s, though the frequency curve didn’t turn sharply upwards until the end of the 1980s. Possibly the concept of White Privilege escaped from the old U.S.S.R. as the Iron Curtain disintegrated. (Don’t laugh; there probably is some connection there.)

I don’t actually recall hearing about White Privilege much in the 1990s and 2000s. My impression is that it’s only been pressed on us with real insistence the past year or two as the currently approved explanation for the persistently different statistical profiles of blacks versus nonblacks on measures of crime, scholastic attainment, poverty, bastardy, and so on. Ngram only goes to 2010, so I can’t check.

These social-science explanations have a shelf life. They go stale—get dried-out and discolored, begin to curl at the edges. Fresh ones have to be brought in. So: out with “legacy of Jim Crow,” in with “institutional racism.” Then out with that and in with “White Privilege.”

When the music stops, take the nearest chair.

It’s tiresome, but we have to put up with it until, a decade or three from now, the social scientists are chased from the field by real scientists, and we actually understand the biological springs of human behavior, intelligence, and personality.

(If you have 12m19s to spare, Jared Taylor addresses the topic of white privilege with his usual eloquence and wit in this video.)

But here is a different thing that happened in the late 1980s, the subsequent course of which can I think fairly be placed under a different heading—“black privilege.”

On the chilly morning of Jan. 13, 1987, 67-year old Dr. William Chiapella and his 66-year old wife, Katherine, were found bound and gagged in their Downing Avenue home by their son. The couple had been stabbed multiple times and tortured before their death.

[Crittenden's Verdict in 1987 Chiapella Murders Overturned, Action News Now (Chico), October 5, 2013]

That’s Chico, California, a modestly prosperous little Whitopiatwo percent black—eighty miles north of Sacramento, home to a campus of the state university.

(The TV people in that quote have the date wrong: the Chiapellas were murdered on the afternoon of the 13th, but their bodies were not found by their son until the 17th. They also have the Chiapellas’ ages wrong: they were 68 and 67, according to the court transcripts. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find news reports whose details agree with official records. This one misspells the county D.A.’s name: it’s Ramsey, not Ramsay. Way to go, journo schools!)

Steven Edward Crittenden, a 19-year-old “student-athlete” at the Chico campus, was arrested for the crime on January 21st 1987 and subsequently brought to trial. Evidence presented to the court included:

  • Crittenden had done yard work for the Chiapellas the previous fall after responding to an advertisement they placed on the college job board.
  • He had money problems and was behind with the rent for his off-campus apartment. On January 11th, two days before the murder, he assured his landlord he’d be able to pay what he owed by the 14th.
  • On the morning of the 13th Crittenden’s roommate noticed that a knife he owned was missing. Crittenden said he had borrowed it to fix his stereo and would return it.
  • A neighbor identified the unusually tall (6 ft. 4 in.) Crittenden as a man he had seen on the Chiapellas’ property the afternoon of the murder.
  • On January 14th Crittenden cashed a check for $3,000 made out to him by Mrs. Chiapella and dated the previous day.
  • Both the Chiapellas were badly beaten before being stabbed to death. Mr. Chiapella had been tortured.
  • One of Mrs. Chiapella’s stab wounds was consistent with the roommate’s missing knife (which Crittenden returned on the 14th).
  • The cloth used to bind and gag the Chiapellas had the same pattern as that of sheets and matching pillowcases belonging to Crittenden’s apartment when he moved in. When police searched the apartment they found the sheets but not the pillowcases.
  • Also in Crittenden’s apartment, police found a pair of tennis shoes matching a bloody print found in the Chiapellas’ house.
  • Crittenden’s thumbprint was found on an ATM slip in the Chiapellas’ study.
  • Asked about his movements on the afternoon of the 13th, Crittenden first told police he had been “partying.” Then he changed his story, saying he had gone to his gym where he had met a basketball coach and two other persons. But the coach and one of the other persons testified they had not seen Crittenden since January 7th.
  • Crittenden claimed that Mrs. Chiapella had been paying him for sex since the previous August. The $3,000 January 13th check was, he said, in payment for a sex act performed in Room 96 of a local motel on January 9th. There is no record of either Crittenden or Mrs. Chiapella being at the motel that day, and it has no Room 96.

Crittenden was found guilty in April 1989 on two counts of first-degree murder. After the following penalty phase of the trial, the jury deliberated for 17 hours over four days, then handed down a death sentence.

Both the conviction and the penalty were upheld by the California Supreme Court in 1994. Crittenden has spent the last 24 years on San Quentin’s Death Row.

But he may soon be out. On September 30th U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, an Obama appointee, threw out Crittenden’s conviction. She gave state law enforcement authorities 60 days to either release Crittenden from prison or file new charges against him preparatory to a retrial.

Obviously, trying Crittenden again 26 years after the event is going to present serious evidentiary problems. There is an excellent chance that Crittenden is off the hook.

Steven Edward CrittendenWhy did Judge Mueller overturn his conviction? Well, Crittenden is black. In the 50-person jury pool, there was only one black. The trial prosecutor, Gerald E. Flanagan, used one of his 26 peremptory strikes to dismiss that person because she had negative feelings about the death penalty.

No, no, wrote Judge Mueller, that was not the true reason that Flanagan dismissed the lady. She wrote:

At the time of Flanagan’s rating of jurors after voir dire and the time of his actually striking [the juror], Flanagan was motivated, consciously or unconsciously, in substantial part by race.

[Judge overturns former prep gridiron star’s death-penalty conviction, Fairfield-Suisun (Calif.) Daily Republic, October 9, 2013]

In evidence of Prosecutor Flanagan’s conscious-or-unconscious racism, Judge Mueller adduced the following:

  • On the jury selection checklist, Flanagan gave the black juror a low score while giving another death penalty opponent a higher score.
  • Flanagan used the term “gas chamber” almost only with the black potential juror. Mueller described the term as a “charged descriptor.” (I haven’t been able to discover what “almost only” means in this report.)
  • Flanagan had dismissed a black person during jury selection in a previous trial.

Now, it is possible that this kind of exquisite punctiliousness, this judicial divining of a prosecutor’s inner motivations 24 years after the event on dust motes of circumstantial evidence, it is possible that somewhere in the legal annals of our republic similar efforts have been put forth on behalf of a nonblack defendant whose conviction is suspected, on equally microscopic grounds, to have been marred by some bias other than hostility to blacks.

It may be that a nonblack person has been the recipient of judicial largesse on this extravagant scale. I don’t know; I have no access to the nation’s legal databases. Perhaps someone who does, can point out a case to me.

Until they do, I am going to call this “black privilege.”

And I am then going to predict that if we get many more judges like Kimberly J. Mueller on the federal bench, conviction of any black person for anything at all will soon be impossible.


John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His most recent book, published by com is  FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle).His writings are archived at

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