In this post, I write about drugs, race and sentencing. For context, I recommend that you watch “The House I Live In” which recently aired on PBS.
You will hear and see my dear friend, United States District Judge Mark W. Bennett, from Sioux City, Iowa and defense attorney Jim K. McGough from Omaha, Nebraska. Bennett is one of the best federal district judges in the nation. He is an even better human being. McGough is a tough-minded, intellectually honest and extremely competent criminal defense lawyer. He is a fine person too. What they have to say is worth hearing.
You will also get an accurate but utterly depressing view of black society in many places in this country. Despite what you might think, Omaha and Lincoln fit right into this narrative.
Most every other part of the film enraged me. When one of the commentators suggested that our government’s drug laws are the functional equivalent of the holocaust, I nearly puked. What a disgusting and contemptible comparison.
The film got me thinking about what I would say at sentencing to a typical young black drug dealer (and his enablers) if I were entirely truthful. If I were to be candid, I think I might say the following:
Your crime is despicable. You prey on the weakest members of what is left of your community. You are beyond rehabilitation (and perhaps redemption). In an earlier age, you would be termed a sociopath. A very long prison sentence, as called for under the federal Guidelines, will, if it does nothing else, incapacitate you. And, by the way, I don’t think it is an accident that crime rates have dropped dramatically as the length of prison sentences have risen significantly.
You lack an education. You can barely read. Except for your mother and your girlfriend who unwittingly empower your criminality by their slavish devotion, you have no family support structure that is worth a damn. You have never held a job for more than a month or so. You father and then totally ignore your children. You have a criminal history that began when you were very young and continued unabated until the present. You carry a gun like a plumber carries a wrench.
I don’t blame you. You never had a chance. In your formative years, you lived more like a feral puppy than a child. You were ferociously lovable, but wild beyond imagination.
Our society cannot afford to do the things necessary to address the root causes of your depravity. More to the point, we don’t have the stomach for it. If we were serious, the next child born to a child would be scooped up and taken away. And it would get far more authoritarian from there. Frankly, prison is a cheaper and ultimately more palatable alternative to doing the things we would otherwise be required to do.
Having thought these things, I will never say them. Why? To paraphrase Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, the truth is we can’t handle the truth.