The story of 54-year-old Roy Brown, a homeless man who couldn't afford to pay basic food and shelter expenses, is heartbreakingly cruel:
A homeless man robbed a Louisiana bank and took a $100 bill. After feeling remorseful, he surrendered to police the next day. The judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison.The day after this story appeared, prosecutors celebrated the fact that they were able to get a 40-month prison sentence for investment tycoon Paul R. Allen, who defrauded lenders of more than $3 billion.
I was outraged but not surprised; Roy Brown is black and homeless, while Paul R. Allen is white and extremely wealthy. I had seen the same dynamic play out in Mississippi, where Jamie and Gladys Scott were given double life sentences for their possible indirect involvement in an $11 robbery. Barbour has since begrudgingly allowed their conditional release, but did not pardon or commute their sentences outright--as he did for four men convicted of murdering their wives or girlfriends.
Racism and class bias are central to the way our criminal justice system operates--and the purpose of "tough on crime" rhetoric is still, more often than not, to "protect" men like Paul R. Allen from men like Roy Brown. It is less a matter of preventing crime than it is insulating lives that are valued, under the old formula, from lives that aren't.