Those damn French

According to Wikipedia, the metric system is an internationally agreed decimal system of measurement that was originally based on the mètre des Archives and the kilogramme des Archives introduced by France in 1799. And that brings me to the Sentencing Guidelines.

When it comes to drugs, the Sentencing Guidelines punish offenders using drug quantity as a proxy for culpability. In doing so, the question of “how much” relies upon the metric system instead of the good old English system of customary units (like pounds). We (the drug dealers and I) have been confused ever since.

Who knew an eight ball was 3.5 grams?*


*It is true that this has stimulated the American market for gram scales. But that is only good for the Chicoms who have a monopoly on the business of making these handy hand-held devices.


She worked as a prostitute, this white girl. She had connections to the Mexicans. She put her black pimp in contact with the Mexicans, and the two–the pimp and the prostitute–went into the meth business. It nicely supplemented the pimp’s crack operation. The pimp was sweet on the girl, but she didn’t reciprocate his affections. But she did live with him. She cleaned his house, cooked his meals and let the customers in. Upstairs, he filmed pornographic movies but she didn’t participate. He liked to have sex with one girl while another “tweaked” on the meth crystals he dropped off the bed while he thrashed around with the first girl. They caught the white girl on telephone intercepts, and that brought down the white girl, the black pimp and the Mexicans. I sentenced her during diversity week.


We can’t handle the truth

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.


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