Over the past year, there have outbursts of sporadic violence as a result of police actions regarded as excessive by American blacks, many of which have indeed proved to have been excessive. These outbursts have been followed by at least some political efforts to improve police behavior and tactics in a number of locales, but they have also resulted in some locales in higher crime rates because of local police deciding to patrol less aggressively. All of these instances deal with one side of the “justice problem” — the perception, and in many, but not all, cases the fact that the law and law enforcement appear targeted more intently on poor and minorities.
In one basic sense, any form of punishment for criminal behavior will fall more heavily on the poor and disadvantaged. If someone lives from paycheck to paycheck, or doesn’t even make enough money to get from paycheck to paycheck, any fine, any time in jail, even any requirement to take time off from work to deal with charges or citations – any of these are a far harder burden on the poor and minorities than upon middle-class or affluent Americans. Interestingly enough, some Scandinavian countries have recognized this to a degree – and wealthy individuals there can receive mere speeding tickets with five-figure fines, based on the rationale that such high penalties are equivalent in impact to much lower fines for poor or less affluent speeders.
At the same time, over the same period, I’ve watched how “justice” deals with certain white and more affluent Americans, such as Cliven Bundy, the rancher who refused to pay over a million dollars in overdue gazing fees to the government, fees that, to begin with, were a fraction of what private landowners charge for leases. Bundy gathered a militia and forced a stand-off with the BLM, who relented and released the cattle they had been seizing for non-payment… and so far, roughly a year later, from what I can tell, the BLM has done nothing.
Now, Bundy’s son, Ammon Bundy, leads another “militia” group that has seized and occupied a Fish and Wildlife Service building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Ammon Bundy and this group vow to stay there until the federal government returns federal lands “to the people” and that the government release two ranchers jailed for arson and other offenses on federal lands, despite the fact that the lands have always been federal lands, and before that they belonged to the local Native American tribes. If the government acquired those lands by fraudulent means, which Constitutional scholars agree it did not, then the lands should revert to the local tribes, not to white ranchers and loggers. Yet, so far, the federal government has done nothing to deal with young Bundy and his backwoods white toughs.
After County Commissioner Phil Lyman illegally not only rode an ATV through a federal roadless area, and one of the protected and most sensitive archeological sites in the state of Utah, but also organized and championed that ride, he was fined and sentenced to ten days in jail – and the state legislature commended him and attempted to pass legislation to reimburse him for his legal bills.
The Bundy and Lyman cases are certainly a far cry from the “justice” received by all too many of those far less affluent, and what bothers me is that these are just examples of what happens every day. That’s not to say that I’m unabashedly in favor of anywhere close to all the recommendations made by the more extreme of those in the “black lives matter” movement, but the plain fact is that if a group of black men had behaved the way Phil Lyman or either of the Bundys have, they’d almost certainly been dealt with far more strongly. I can’t imagine an armed black lawbreaker owing the federal government millions of dollars confronting government officials with high powered weapons, being allowed to continue to refuse to pay what he owed, and being allowed to continue his lawbreaking unimpeded.
Some of this “double standard” rests on political beliefs. White environmental activist Tim deChristopher, as I chronicled earlier, submitted a fraudulent bid to lease oil and gas rights on federal lands,in order to keep the lands from being despoiled,and was sentenced and served 21 months in jail, despite the fact that, even before he was sentenced, the U.S. Solicitor General had voided the lease sale as illegal, while the same “justice” system merely sent Phil Lyman to jail for ten days, although Lyman destroyed archaeological artifacts and flouted federal law, while deChristopher’s acts cost the public and the public welfare very little.
All this tends to suggest strongly suggest that affluent and well-connected white conservatives definitely are treated ultra-leniently, unless of course they fraudulently take money, or threaten to do so, from ultra-wealthy white conservatives… and then, of course, all bets are off.