Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Color of Justice

Easter conjures up pastel images of approaching Spring, rabbits, chocolates and egg hunts.  Easter generally doesn't include hordes of young people marauding in the street, harassing pedestrians, disturbing shoppers and causing mayhem.

That's what this Sunday brought to Times Square.  Dozens of young people were accused of "wilding" and engaging in assaultive, disruptive and criminal behavior.  Several people were shot and many were injured.  About fifty teens, mostly African American young men, were arrested for a variety of charges, the predominant charge being disorderly conduct.

Now Manhattan DA Cy Vance has decided in order to send a message, that he will not offer "plea bargains" in all of these cases.

Which is strange, if you think about it, because he seems to have a knack for offering pleas.  To the cabbie who admitted lying about not taking his meds before he slammed his car into a woman, killing her.  To the Saudi man accused of killing an elderly man on the Upper West side in a robbery gone wrong.  To David Letterman's blackmailer, because, well, he really didn't mean to extort the celebrity for $2million bucks.

The evidence in these three cases seems pretty substantial and the crimes that much more serious and offensive.  Granted, I'm not defending any young person who decides to behave poorly and disruptively.  But you have to wonder how many of the young men rounded up and arrested were not guilty of any more heinous behavior than to be standing in Times Square while young and black on the wrong day and time.  Time Square being such the mecca of entertainment, it's not absurd to think that young people would have chosen Easter Sunday to spend some time there eating, drinking, shopping or just enjoying the great weather on some of those snazzy lawn chairs on the Broadway pedestrian mall.  The news accounts lists dozens of stories of young black men with their moms, girlfriends or family members who got rounded up and collared for, well, being in the path of a cop and his handcuffs.

Any law enforcement official who goes to court to make a blanket statement that there will be no pleas in a particular category of cases without first evaluating the evidence in each and every case is either a media whore or just not that bright.  A few years ago, about 200 people were arrested for disorderly behavior during the Puerto Rican parade.  After careful evaluation of the charges and the evidence, less than half a dozen of those cases ended in pleas and convictions.  Just because there's a large scale arrest by police does not mean that all of those arrests are backed up with evidence to support the charge.  Some are, some are not.  There's always the possibility that there might be a few folks who may actually be not guilty.

Being young, black and in New York isn't a crime.  Apparently, to District Attorney Vance, the color of justice available to those individuals is substantially different from those of a paler pigmentation.

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