It should not be a surprise to anyone, but the criminal justice system, like so much else in our society, is designed to benefit the wealthy and privileged… not only by the way in which laws are put on the books, but by the way they are carried out. In short, criminals belonging to society’s upper crust, are mainly saddled with a fine. Real serious crimes by the aristocrats might also include probation (unsupervised, naturally) and possibly community service (arbitrary and vague). Now for the rest of the people, which is mostly comprised of those living in poverty and those on the verge of living in poverty, if they commit a crime you can bet he/she will serve time behind bars. And, of course the penalty for crimes committed by the poor, disenfranchised, and people of color is disproportionately more severe than it is for crimes committed by those in high places.
Wealthy people in positions of prominence, for example, are often not even charged when they go afoul of the law, much less prosecuted. Look no further than what happened when North Carolina senator R. C. Soles shot an unarmed man who was walking away from him and posed no immediate threat. The police report, if one was taken, was never released. Mr. Soles was not arrested. He was not charged. The whole incident was swept under the carpet and the media was muzzled. For the average citizen who carried out such action, you better believe that he/she would be charged with “assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury” at the minimum. Factors such as Class and Color of the victim would determine the amount of bail, and the way in which the prosecution moved forward.
Although Mr. Soles acted criminally and exhibited extremely poor judgment in the shooting incident, the North Carolina State Bar refused to act on a complaint filed against Mr. Soles. Again, not surprising since the Bar is an unregulated agency that is drunk with power… so much that it disbarred former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong on baseless trumped up “ethics” charges; charges which were initiated by some anonymous person in the Bar for the sole purpose of removing Mr. Nifong from the Duke Lacrosse case.
But businessmen are revered in our capitalistic society, and great pains are taken to look the other way when they commit crimes. Although most of the mainstream media has ignored the crimes of Somerhill Gallery President Joe Rowand, the weekly entertainment tabloid, The Independent Weekly, did expose his criminal activities. In short, Rowand defrauded artists out of at least $270,000 worth of commissions for artwork on consignment at the Durham gallery. And, according to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, he owed $200,000 in unpaid rent, and owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to other creditors. He managed to amass this debt for the business while paying himself a salary of $15,000 per month (roughly $180,000 annually). Now Mr. Rowand is not even charged with a crime. Why? Because he is a businessman.
Heather Holley was not a businesswoman. So when she went on her identity theft spree, during which she tried to obtain some health insurance, and spent $1,800 at Best Buy, police and prosecutors and the courts were ready to throw the book at her. After her arrest, bail was set at $5 million. What made Ms. Holley’s crime so unforgivable was that she victimized a wealthy respectable lady. Had she targeted riff-raff in her crimes, she might have been released without bond, especially considering it was her first run-in with the law. When Ms. Holley had the audacity to ask the judge about her bail being excessive considering the charges against her, he retaliated by raising it an additional million. Of course, there was no outrage at her treatment in court by the media. No editorials in newspapers… in other words, this selective and unjust treatment is as acceptable to the media as the unjust disbarment and persecution of Mike Nifong. The media is well aware of which side its bread is buttered on, and who’s doing the buttering. To champion "equal justice for all" would undoubtedly garner consternation amongst the bigwigs who help support the media by paying for advertising and other contributions.
Recently Rusty Carter, a businessman and owner of Atlantic Corporation, was fined $100,000 by the State Board of Elections because he illegally funneled money to the campaigns of Governor Bev Perdue and two state senators. His company gave $266,900 to state and federal candidates during the 2008 election cycle, according to a sworn affidavit. According to The News & Observer the three recipients of the businessman’s largess “agreed to forfeit the donations.” What does that mean? Are they going to return it to Atlantic? Give the money to charity? And, who’s going to see that these politicians follow up on their promises? Is there going to be a public accounting? (I doubt it.)
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina asked the State Board of Elections to hand out a $200,000 fine to Carter, suggesting that a hefty fine “sends a signal that these kids of violations deserve to be punished.” Sure, these types of violations deserve punishment, but because he is a businessman, jail time is out of the question… not even a consideration. Regarding the amount of the fine, the Board, under Chairman Larry Leake couldn’t bear to issue a fine greater than $100,000. Hall considers the fine imposed, although half of what he sought, to be “some serious money.” Who does he think he is fooling? $100 grand is serious money to common folk (or “little people”), but to the owner and CEO of a large corporation, that amount probably is barely enough to cover his monthly bar tab. But the media, Mr. Hall, and the courts want the people to believe that Mr. Carter has been severely wounded fiscally. That amount is nothing more than pocket change to a businessman of Mr. Carter’s means.
The General Assembly, which is basically a reactionary body, responded to the Carter case by passing a law making it a felony if a donor gives more than $10,000 in illegal campaign donations, not a misdemeanor like Mr. Carter faced. From what I read from the newly passed law, a donor can make illegal donations up to the $10,000 limit and still be considered to have committed a misdemeanor crime. Why the big cushion? Keep in mind that laws are made by the wealthy and privileged, and they are going to have a definite slant towards benefiting the upper echelon.
Not long ago, I was nearly arrested on the Duke campus because I am a supporter of Mike Nifong. Duke, of course, denied this, with Michael Schoenfeld, a vice president, accusing me of repeatedly violating the school’s regulation against solicitation. What is their definition of solicitation? According to Mr. Schoenfeld it is passing out business cards (I passed out about a half dozen to people with whom I had had a conversation) and asking someone to visit your website. That is unbelievable, but it was the only excuse the university could come up with for kicking me off of its campus when I went to attend an event which was advertised as open to the public. Even if it was the reason behind my near-arrest… to arrest me for passing out business cards? This unjust and malicious behavior against me on Duke’s part is acceptable to the media, and subsequently, the masses because I do not matter when the issue is scrutinized through the lens of the state’s tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.” Laws, and the way they are applied are adjustable to the individuals involved, their standing in society, and the color of their skin.
With the media helping to direct public opinion, it will always be acceptable to the mindless masses for the well-heeled to pay for their crimes with their wallets, while the disenfranchised, poor, people of color, and the majority of common folk will be expected to pay for their crimes by languishing behind bars at taxpayer expense (and at the benefit of corporations in the correctional institution business).