Since the founding of our nation, Americans have always taken pride in our rule of law. In civics class we learned that this was what distinguished our country from others; that it provided protection from unreasonable search and seizures; that it guaranteed us a quick and fair hearing before a jury of our peers; that it protected individuals from power grabs by government; and that it gave our citizens a non-violent way of settling conflicts. As our nation expanded westward, communities took pride in instituting the rule of law by hiring marshalls, creating courts, ending vigilantism and restricting the carrying of guns. Such things were considered the necessities of polite society.
Now we seem determined to return to the lawless days of the Wild West.
The National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers it represents have written and pushed laws to encourage the carrying and the use of guns. It is now legal to carry guns in virtually every state. They have pushed for and passed the so-called Stand Your Ground laws that allowed George Zimmerman to go free after shooting a black teenager who was “armed” with a bag of Skittles and an angry white guy to get away with murder because he didn’t like a teen’s music. Most recently, a retired cop has invoked the Stand Your Ground defense after shooting a fellow movie-goer following an argument in which he claimed threatened after a bag of popcorn was thrown at him.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), aided by GOP legislators have written and passed laws requiring states to privatize prisons despite their increased costs. Our state legislators have passed laws requiring lengthy sentences for non-violent crimes. At the same time, our government continues to wage a war on drugs that has sentenced drug users to lengthy prison terms. The result is to turn prisoners into profits, proving that crime pays – for corporations.
ALEC and its GOP servants have passed anti-immigrant laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 requiring local law enforcement to check papers in order to fill the private prison facilities with immigrants whose only crime was to cross an invisible border in search of work to support their families. Now the GOP-controlled House of Representatives is pushing to defund the department that defends immigrants from detention or deportation to further pack corporate-owned prisons.
Misinformed conservative voters elect people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio despite his many instances of using his position to racially profile individuals, to prioritize the arrest of hard-working immigrants while ignoring cases of violent crimes, and to use his office to harrass, intimidate, bully and incarcerate those who disagree with him. And Sheriff Joe is not alone. Each year, there are hundreds of cases from across the country in which law enforcement officers have abused their power. Unfortunately, most of these cases are never pursued because the victims are minorities and lack the video evidence and money to pursue justice.
In the US today, money is often the key predictor of sentencing. White color crimes, such as those committed by the mortgage lenders and hedge fund managers who crashed our economy in 2008, are seldom prosecuted. (Not a single person has been tried and convicted from one of the biggest thefts in world history.) When they are prosecuted, teams of high-priced lawyers are often able to get their clients acquitted. But poor people, especially minorities, can’t afford such representation. Usually, they’re appointed a public defender and offered a plea bargain. Is it any wonder, then, that minorities represent 60 percent of our prisoners, while accounting for only 30 percent of our population? And, according to a survey requested by Frontline, in the 20 states that have Stand Your Ground laws, whites are 354 percent more likely to be found justified in killing a black person than a white person who kills another white person.
With such statistics, it has become increasingly apparent that justice is becoming more of an illusion in the US than reality.