Throughout history, the lawmakers and lawbreakers have been engaged in a sort of tango in the dance hall that is politics and legalism. Each plays a role in American society today. However, there are factors that affect and temper the rules that the lawmakers and lawbreakers each define. The Declaration of Independence states, “all men are created equal”. The American justice system’s states all men are not treated equal.
The American justice system can be called many things, but fair and equal justice simply does not exist. While most of the country goes to sleep at night believing that, the guilty go to jail and the innocents are exonerated, the reality is that the American justice system does not wear these same rose colored glasses. The laws and lawmakers cherry pick the people to make examples of by tailoring and punishing laws that preclude themselves. Gender, race and class are weapons that are used to do just that.
The contradictions of crime, law and justice in contemporary America are evident in this day and age by merely watching a newscast or reading an article on modern day issues. The powers that be in America, the elected officials, litigators, and judiciary have an apparent sliding scale on measuring guilt, guiltlessness and criminality. Justice is not equally distributed in American society. The lawmakers get “tough on crime” every election, but only “street crime” is addressed in the “tough on crime” campaigns. White-collar crime has a very comfortable place out of reach of the long arm of the law.
Social deviants who are indifferent to society and the repercussions of their actions commit crime, right? But who are criminals? Criminals are defined as the people who commit acts against their fellow man and/or society. They should be caged and punished. What if you are Edward Lee Elmore and are convicted for committing a crime that you did not commit and being innocent is not enough to overturn a malicious prosecution? According to the New York Times article, “When Innocence Isn’t Enough” of March 2, 2012, by Raymond Bonner, evidence that could exonerate Mr. Elmore was not enough to get a re-trial or his release. Innocence is simply not enough. Mr. Elmore is the stereotypical criminal that society wants behind bars. His education is low; he is indigent. Because of these factors, he was kept imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. While justice finally did arrive and he was eventually released, it was a begrudging act. Mr. Elmore’s real crime was his socioeconomic class.
Yet there has been no effective prosecution of the major banking corporations that caused the economic collapse of 2008. Egregious fraud, misappropriation, inflated CEO bonuses while corporations shafted stockholders, have been undeniably prevalent and common place in the America but no successful prosecution has happened. Events that were the basis of a significant increase in crime and criminals as a means of survival, snowballing into economic disaster for millions of Americans go unprosecuted. In our society, Mr. Elmore is the criminal, the CEO’s de jour are not.
Robert Hare, an expert of psychopathology, applies a checklist he has compiled to help diagnose psychopathological tendencies to corporations. His findings were intriguing. “..they are irresponsible by putting others at risk; manipulative of everything, including public opinion; lack empathy for others and are unable to feel remorse; refuse to accept responsibility; and relate to others superficially The standards that define criminality do not apply equally to all people and all businesses. The scale is tipped by corporate lobbyists and government deregulation to facilitate business as usual on Wall Street. If such atrocious actions were taken by a gunman in downtown Detroit, the question of whether to arrest or punish him would be a “no brainer”. Yet we do anything but punish corporations. It is not on in the American government’s best interest to see Wall Street collapse. The Wall Street-Washington Corridor is a superhighway of crossover interests.
“Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Although the Declaration of Independence, seems to empower a government “for the people, by the people”, the American Justice system disagrees. America has turned into an oligarchy with competing self-interests that result in the exploitation of the country. Equality and fairness is legislated now. Poverty is criminalized. Criminals should not be on the street, yet they are not all punished. This contradiction is the first pebble in the crumbling of the America created by the Founding Fathers.