Monday, September 24, 2007

Justice, Served Cold

Once upon a time, a young man of fourteen took it into his head to mug someone. She saw he had a fake gun; the police caught him. One day, he went to a courtroom for his trial.

He got 35 years.

The young man was charged with something like 'assault with a deadly weapon and intent to kill'. As if it had been a real gun, capable of causing real harm. Not 'brandishing a weapon' (which applies even to fake weapons) or 'assault' or even 'robbery'.

In this state, fake guns are treated as real, in crimes. This young man, who may have said 'Give me your money or I'll shoot you', and who wanted a few dollars for a pack of smokes (or whatever) is going to jail to become a hardened criminal. Because we all know how well American jails 'rehabilitate' criminals.

Why is a kid going to jail for an unsuccessful holdup with a fake gun? I'd say, because this law about fake guns is well-intentioned but misguided. Surely there is a sharp difference between breaking the law to acquire a gun* and then threatening someone with the possibility of real bodily harm, and breaking the law by pretending to threaten someone. If you hold up a gas station with a fake gun, you can be charged with battery etc. so you'll go to jail for longer. It should be sufficient to charge people with crimes they did commit: robbery, criminal threatening, and whatever else.

Why is the kid going to jail? Because he probably got a public defender. Public defenders are notoriously overburdened in this country, typically having 400-600 cases/clients per year. This kid went to jail because he got the best defense anyone could come up with in an hour, which wasn't any good. And the white people in this city are afraid of the people who keep stealing things and mugging us, and many of the poorest people in this city are black or Hispanic. He went to jail because he committed a crime that fires up fear in the better-off muggees. He went to jail because he's poor and black, and he didn't get justice. He got revenge.

*Most guns used in crimes are not licensed by their users, and also licensing requirements are very strict in this state. So now you all know I'm not in Texas. Or Arizona.