Every four years, I am amazed that important issues are left out of presidential campaigns. Justice for instance: Nowadays the
media is all about the unfortunate opposition of Senators Cruz and McConnell to President Obama’s prerogatives to nominate a new justice. I am not denying that the issue of who is in the highest court of the land is important (and that everything should be done to avoid having another crusader of the
universal American human right to bear arms). Yet to me, this buzz about the nominee in the highest court eclipses one more important problem: the fact that the American justice system incarcerates a lot, and incarcerates the wrong guys: mostly African Americans but more generally the poor across racial lines.
I cannot recall the number of innocent men wrongly convicted I have come across since I live in this country. In this blog, I spoke of Herman Wallace, who always claimed his innocence and spent 41 years in solitary confinement. Last week, two other cases were in the same Friday March 11 issue of the New York Times: Han Tak Lee, 81 and Andre Hatchett, 49. Until 2014, Han Tak Lee was serving a life sentence for murdering his daughter in a fire; Andre Hatchett served 25 years in jail for the murder of Neda Mae Carter. Two years ago, a judge exonerated and set free Mr Lee, acknowledging his conviction was based “on theories of arson that had later been discredited” (You have to read it to believe it). On March 10 2016, a judge vacated Mr Hatchett’s conviction and dismissed his indictment. Both men spend close to 25 years in jail. Sorry, have a nice day!
The Innocence Project folks point to safeguards that could be put in place to prevent miscarriages of justice. They are certainly right. I also would argue that for the justice system, all in all, innocence does not matter much. Putting an innocent human in jail is yet a worse error than failing to put a criminal in prison. The problem is that the first type of mistake, the gravest, weigh zip in the assessment of the efficiency of the justice system. No judge and no politician is ever going to claim credit and advance his career for not having put the wrong guy in jail. Moreover, in the sad conservative era we live in, when the taxpayer is by definition robbed by the government – the source of all our problems, as a famous President taught us- a dime spent on a crucial public good such as justice is to be accounted for. And people behind bars, for the right or the wrong reasons, that’s results.
We divorced fathers experience with family justice the same breed of misdeeds that plague the criminal justice system. Family courts go for cheap and efficient. Our rights to play an equal and meaningful role in the life of our children? Man, let’s get real. Here we use an easy gender-biased marker for decision-making purpose. Male? Non-custodial parent status and child support for you. You contest it? An accusation of abuse by sweet ex-wife takes care of it. Efficiency? On the rise; Child support collection keeps making progress.
What makes me think that reforms are not around the corner is the sick of obsessive attention that the media and the public pay to the O.J. Simpson’s case. I was in this country 22 years ago when the race behind the Bronco took place and O.J. was acquitted. Like everybody else, I learnt hat a knife had recently been found in Simpson’s property. Folks that have not slept for 22 years over the possibility that a guilty man was at large are now dreaming of seeing the bastard in jail, already.
I have no clue as to whether the man is innocent or guilty. But in any case, I think the American justice system has more important problems to fry than O.J. Simpson.