Justice in America? Color matters, doesn’t it?
I’m going to mention a few names that most of you haven’t heard of. I’ll start with Curtis Flowers, and now I roll more names your way: Marcus Wiggins, Ralph Wright Jr., Isaiah McCoy, Ricky Davis, Kwame Ajamu, Bo Cochran, Anthony Ray Hinton, Walter McMillan …
All were innocent men — Black men whom the courts had condemned to Death Row. The courts got it wrong. Their plight was justice gone blind, and no one should forget the injustice that almost cost them their lives. But these miscarriages of justice don’t just happen when Black folk are innocent; they happen when they are guilty.
I point to two peculiar sentences in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, which The Plain Dealer shined a spotlight on earlier this week. Two women — one white (Debbie Bosworth), one Black (Karla Hopkins); both guilty of stealing public money.
Bosworth embezzled $230,000; Hopkins, $40,000. Bosworth, who pled no contest, was charged with multiple felonies; Hopkins, a gambling addict who pled guilty, charged with one.
Now, who do you think got the harsher sentence?
Pick Bosworth and I know you see criminal justice as colorblind. For a quick glance at how the courts in America work would do more than hint that Bosworth got the deal of her life. And she did …
Much to the chagrin of the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, a judge sentenced her to two years of probation.
One day later, a different Common Pleas judge sent Hopkins to prison for 18 months. He did so knowing that the 53-year-old Hopkins started to pay back what she stole and had undergone counseling for her addiction.
I will never defend a person who steals from the public till. Hopkins stole, and she should get a fair sentence. Hers should be in the same league as Bosworth’s, but it wasn’t in the same universe.
Bosworth got a walk. Why? Hopkins got prison time. Why?
For the past decade, I’ve become obsessed with wrongful convictions and unfair sentencing. The faces of these courtroom wrongs are almost always Black — or disproportionately so.
The legal system is broken, and if you see fairness in these two sentences, you, too, are broken. You live in Oz, a place where wizards reign and the rule of law is at the whim of an omnipotent figure.
In Ohio, we don’t have a shortage of people in prison. Yes, punish the guilty, but ought we not look at better ways to achieve justice than to lock everybody up? The cost of incarceration doesn’t make sense.
I’m sure Bosworth and Hopkins are sorry for their crimes. Or do their sorrows come from getting caught? Think about it: Bosworth had been stealing from a county job for two decades. She was pretty good at it, I guess.
Yet she resumes our life, though as a felon it might not be the life she once enjoyed. She’s home with her family, going on with her life.
Hopkins can’t say as much. Off to prison she’s going, life in disarray. She deserves no tears for it, though.
What she does deserve is equal justice, and when her crime against the public earns a harshest sentence than Bosworth’s, we can see in Technicolor that the scales of justice are tilted again people whose skin is black.