© Josh Sager – April 2012
During the last decade, the United States justice system has developed a bifurcated system of prosecuting criminals—criminals who commit small-scale, non-violent offenses are getting sent to jail for draconian sentences while white-collar criminals who commit systemic fraud are let free. The mass-incarceration of non-violent offenders—many of whom have stolen small sums of money or simply are in possession of small quantities of narcotics—has risen to untold heights in recent years; we currently have more people imprisoned than any other country than China (or potentially North Korea). At the same time that the United States is imprisoning people for small-scale crimes, our authorities have essentially ignored the widespread fraud and theft that has been perpetrated by bankers and wealthy businessmen.
The bifurcation in the American justice system is particularly stark in the face of the fact that it was the large-scale fraud of white-collar criminal which caused the economic collapse during 2008. Not one American banker has seen the inside of a jail cell for the 2008 crash, yet millions of Americans have been arrested and imprisoned for petty offenses that have no affect on society. In our current system, the only difference between a man who steals a car and a banker who defrauds a family out of their home is that the banker does not get arrested if they are caught.
“Kill a man, and you are an assassin. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill everyone, and you are a god.”
– Beilby Porteus –
Portus’s quote, when translated into our criminal justice system, describes the pattern behind the selective prosecutions of theft in recent years: As the crimes get more severe and the victims more plentiful, the crime itself is seen as less of a negative thing. When a poor kid steals from the register of a store, they are unambiguously considered a criminal and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. When a rich banker uses deceptive practices to increase their own salaries at the expense of innocent Americans, they are considered a successful professional.
Over the last few decades, harsher sentencing laws, mandatory minimum sentencing and the increased number of arrests for minor crimes has dramatically increased the number of people in jail. Recent studies have shown that approximately one in four (65 million) Americans has a criminal record, and it doesn’t appear that this number is going to decrease any time in the near future. Most of these Americans have been convicted of non-violent drug or petty offenses and are little danger to society.
Despite the well document and widespread patterns of economic fraud that caused the collapse of the US economy, no bankers have been arrested or even charged, for their crimes. It is not that we don’t know who committed these crimes or that there is no jurisdiction for prosecution, but simply that our government has been remise in its duties to uphold the laws of the land.
Not only did the United States government not prosecute those who were responsible for our economic collapse, but they have since given these criminals numerous gifts. The very people who crashed the United States economy have gotten trillions of dollars of taxpayer money in interest free loans and our legislators are now discussing giving these bankers a massive tax break on future income. To compound this injustice, many American legislators on the right wing have proposed reductions to the paltry financial regulations that we have in place now—this, in essence, is an attempt to change the law in order to make the frauds perpetrated on the American people by our financial system legal under the law.
Can you imagine the police arresting a thief and, instead of charging them, giving them police funds as well as working with them to change the law to make theft legal? No—nobody can fathom why this would happen, unless the police were hopelessly corrupt. What makes the bankers’ theft any less worthy of prosecution than the simple thief’s, other than the fact that they did crimes of such monumental scale as to become untouchable?
“Steal a purse, and you are a thief. Steal a million dollars, and you are a con-artist. Steal trillions of dollars, and you are too big to fail.”