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Base Law on Data, Not Unproven Allegations

In the opinion-page article ``Base Death Sentences on the Facts, Not Race,'' June 13, the authors argue that the Racial Justice Act is necessary to remedy discrimination in administration of the death penalty. Their argument is unconvincing; the evidence they present in no way justifies this presumption.

The authors say nothing about the race of those executed. Why not? Because the data blow their case out of the water. Roughly 50 percent of all murders are committed by African-Americans, yet of the 236 executions since 1976, only 38 percent were black.

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Second, the authors imply that there is something sinister to be inferred from the fact that a large majority of the victims of executed murderers were white. They forget that the death penalty is not equally likely in all murder cases; in some cases it is not even a possibility. For example, the death penalty is far more likely to be imposed if the victim is a law enforcement officer. Nearly 90 percent of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty are white. Thus, almost everyone executed for murdering a police officer will have killed a white victim.

It must be noted that most states execute fewer than one person per year. It is impossible to draw meaningful conclusions from this number - it is too easy for chance to affect the results. Because of this, the act would bring executions to a halt, making it possible for a convicted murderer to escape the death penalty by arguing that his state was executing people in a racially biased manner. It seems clear that the act is intended as a back-door approach to abolish capital punishment.

What is most disturbing about the authors' arguments is not that they oppose the death penalty (and despite their claims, their article does oppose it), but that they do so in an illogical and intellectually dishonest manner. They ignore evidence that contradicts their opinions.

By contrast, it is perfectly honest to take an absolutist position and oppose executions on moral grounds. I respect the honest conviction of those who do so, but I have no respect for attempts to abolish the death penalty by raising unproven allegations of ``racial discrimination.'' Mark Wylie, Los Angeles

Israel-PLO talks can't erase past

Your chronology ``Selected Turns in Israeli-PLO Conflict,'' July 1, distorts and omits several key incidents.

Most egregious is the omission of incidents of PLO terrorism against Israeli civilians that formed the core and defined the course of Israeli-PLO relations. The PLO's current political approach does not erase 25 years of violence and bloodshed. Also missing is the 1964 PLO charter, which called for the destruction of Israel, and PLO support for Iraq's 1989 invasion of Kuwait.

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Finally, Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 did not scuttle the rest of the Camp David accords. From the beginning, the Palestinians had consistently rejected the autonomy arrangements envisioned in the accords. Today's welcome progress in Israel-PLO relations should not serve as a pretense for rewriting history. Bluma Zuckerbot, New York Anti-Defamation League

US compass points to change

After reading the article, ``Clinton's `Workfare' Draws Fire,'' June 16, my first thought was that I'm glad we have a president who is willing to take the heat. I like his method of working, even though I don't always agree with him. I like the way he tries to find new and better ways to help people, like welfare reform. He is willing to change his ideas if someone suggests something better; or, if he cannot convince people, he will compromise, so that we can move in a new direction.

Some years ago I took flying lessons. One day, the instructor directed me to a spot over a large reservoir where there were a lot of wind currents. Then he told me to turn the plane to another compass reading. I did all that I had been taught but the plane did not budge from its original course. I turned to the instructor in panic and said, ``What am I doing wrong?'' He calmly said, ``Nothing, just hold it there.'' In a short time the plane began to turn, and all was well.

Mr. Clinton is trying to turn the country in a new direction. There are many wind currents working against him, but if he holds his course, the country will soon begin to turn. Frances Gibson, San Jose, Calif.

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