Counterpoint: A different class of justice

  • Article by: KENNETH BROWN
  • Updated: March 21, 2014 - 6:12 PM

Counterpoint: Recent cases show a wide gap between penalty levels based on race and class.

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Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, center, who admitted to inappropriate relationships with three subordinates, makes a statement after leaving the courthouse following sentencing at Fort Bragg, N.C., Thursday, March 20, 2014. Attorneys Lathrop Nelson III, left, Richard Scheff, and Ellen Brotman, right, look on. Sinclair was reprimanded and docked $20,000 in pay Thursday, avoiding jail time in one of the U.S. military’s most closely watched courts-martial.

Photo: Ellen Ozier • Associated Press,

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The other day a top ranking white male Brigadier General of the U.S. Army was sentenced to a $20,000 fine, a reprimand, no jail time, no reduction in rank, and will be allowed to retire with benefits after pleading guilty to 14 violations of military law (“General pleads guilty to reduced charges,” March 18).

Some of the violations involved in the case were adultery with more than one lower ranking female officer, possessing pornography on military computers, misuse of federal credit cards to visit a mistress, public sex acts, and forcing a subordinate to perform oral sex. The general’s white male civilian attorney claims the general was a good soldier because he spent 27 years in the military and five tours of duty in Afghanistan.

Is it just me or is there something terribly amiss in white America? I had no idea that a person could be departmentalized so that his “good deeds” nullify violations of law, abuses of power, abuses of position, abuses of other human beings, poor judgment and lack of moral character.

Today, I reviewed child-support collection notices from two counties, with a third on the way, regarding an African-American male. The two notices I have declare this young man is in arrears on his support liabilities and should be paying $579 a month in support and other fees. This amount is based in Minnesota law that states this is what this individual should be able to pay.

Calculating the numbers, a person would have to be paid $8 per hour and work 40 hours per week to owe this much. This person works part time, as he has three children in his home, and a significant other who works Thursday-Sunday evenings as a waitress. This gives him the opportunity to work three days a week. It appears he could work more by hiring a sitter. But the sitter would charge more than he makes or most of his significant others’ wages. Economically this would not make sense.

This young man does not have a high school diploma or GED. He began taking care of himself at age 11. Living on the streets for several years, doing whatever it took to survive, he became a victim.

He is a victim, just as the children he has are victims, and just as the women involved are victims. The system created to alleviate victimization is failing miserably in this case. He is threatened with the possibility of jail time for not paying child support. Who does this benefit?

This young man is no more than a slave to circumstance, an indentured servant to “the system.” Where is his reprimand and $2 fine?

Can someone tell me how either of these two situations is fair and just? Where is the justice for the female victims of the brigadier general? Where is the justice for the children?

As past chair of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission, a person previously in the child-support system, an advocate for the voiceless, a parent and grandparent and mentor, I believe these inequities in day-to-day life for the haves and have nots reveal the systemic class/race concerns in this country.

 

Kenneth Brown is former chair of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission.

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