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February 19, 2013

Grey Lady has lots of sentencing stories fit to print today

Seemingly just conincidentally, the New York Times has these three notable sentencing-related pieces in its print edition today.  Here are the headlines and the start of the stories in the order they appear in the paper:

  • On the editorial page here, "Unjust Mandatory Minimums":

    Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. recently said that his top priority is to improve the criminal justice system. He can start by pushing Congress and the United States Sentencing Commission to fix the unfair problem of excessive mandatory minimum sentences.
  • On the B section coverpage here, "Prosecutors, Shifting Strategy, Build New Wall Street Cases":

    Criticized for letting Wall Street off the hook after the financial crisis, the Justice Department is building a new model for prosecuting big banks. In a recent round of actions that shook the financial industry, the government pushed for guilty pleas, rather than just the usual fines and reforms. Prosecutors now aim to apply the approach broadly to financial fraud cases, according to officials involved in the investigations.
  • On the D section coverpage here, "Prison and the Poverty Trap":

    Why are so many American families trapped in poverty?  Of all the explanations offered by Washington’s politicians and economists, one seems particularly obvious in the low-income neighborhoods near the Capitol: because there are so many parents like Carl Harris and Charlene Hamilton.

    For most of their daughters’ childhood, Mr. Harris didn’t come close to making the minimum wage.  His most lucrative job, as a crack dealer, ended at the age of 24, when he left Washington to serve two decades in prison, leaving his wife to raise their two young girls while trying to hold their long-distance marriage together.

February 19, 2013 at 08:58 AM | Permalink

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I found this passage from "Prison and the Poverty Trap" quite instructive:

"“I’m watching the way he [a drug dealer] carries himself, and I’m standing there looking like Raggedy Ann. My girl’s looking like Raggedy Ann. I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ ”

Within two years, he [the defendant, Carl Harris] was convicted of illegal gun possession, an occupational hazard of his street business selling PCP and cocaine. He went to Lorton, the local prison, in 1985, shortly after he and Ms. Hamilton had their first daughter. He kept up his drug dealing while in prison — “It was just as easy to sell inside as outside” — and returned to the streets for the heyday of the crack market in the late 1980s.

The Washington police never managed to catch him with the cocaine he was importing by the kilo from New York, but they arrested him for assaulting people at a crack den. He says he went into the apartment, in the Shaw neighborhood, to retrieve $4,000 worth of crack stolen by one of his customers, and discovered it was already being smoked by a dozen people in the room.

“I just lost my cool,” he said. “I grabbed a lamp and chair lying around there and started smacking people. Nobody was hospitalized, but I broke someone’s arm and cut another one in the leg.” ###

All this, mind you, is the DEFENDANT'S VERSION ONLY, told to a friendly reporter. Anyone think there might be a different version?

But I digress. Let's just take this sure-to-have-been-sanitized edition at face value. What does it show?

It shows a guy who had a legal job but walked away from it because he wanted gold jewelry (I mean, how could anyone do without gold jewelry?).

He takes up selling, not sweet and wonderful pot, but two dangerous drugs, PCP and cocaine.

He does this while packin' heat. Now you know, that's a really good, wholesome combination. Selling PCP with a revolver in your waistband.

He gets sent to the local prison, fortunately before he shoots anyone, where he keeps right on keepin' on. Still, he didn't get that much of a sentence, so gets back out on the street.

In other words -- and let's be clear about this -- he had a chance to learn a lesson, got an unmistakeable warning shot across his bow, and ignored it because he STILL wanted gold jewelry more than to earn an honest living (like the great majority of people, including black men, do).

So he goes back into the drug business, again armed.

He finds that his customers are -- guess what! -- a bunch of hoodlums who don't pay their debts, so he sues them. Oh, wait. He doesn't sue them, he beats the crap out of them (but of course this was unintentional -- he just "lost his cool." Right!!!).

So this time he gets a hefty sentence for armed burglary.

OK so who's to blame for this?

A. The System, because it is indeed a Poverty Trap, just like the headline says.

B. Nazi prosecutors, because only a Nazi would go after a sweet guy like this. I mean, hey, look, he has a cute kid! Look at the picture!!! What's the matter with you people?

C. The cops. They made it all up. As anyone knows who reads the comment section here, that's basically what they do.

D. His high school. Oh, wait, he dropped out of high school. Wasn't that much fun. Party time is better!

E. Mr. Harris, who chose an illegal, violent life, peddling poison to make fast money and posing exactly the kind of threat a sane society is going to contain as it, not the New York Times, sees fit.

Somehow I think I know what the answers will be from the Left, but I'll be eager to see.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 19, 2013 1:00:12 PM

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