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EDITORIAL: Justice still favors the powerful

EDITORIAL: Justice still favors the powerful

Light sentence for ex-Cohoes mayor another example of disparities in justice
EDITORIAL: Justice still favors the powerful
Photographer: Shutterstock

Say hypothetically that you’re a 19-year-old unemployed black man, and you get caught stealing over $12,000 in cash from the money jar at a local raffle.

And say you used that money to pay to rent a crappy apartment and to support your girlfriend and baby.

Guess where you’re going.

Correct: Prison.

Now say you’re a 52-year-old white guy, a once-respected former mayor of a small city, and you get caught stealing over $12,000 in donations made by voters to your political campaign fund. 

And say you used that money to pay for vacations, fancy dinners and personal home repairs.

Guess where you’re going.

Correct: NOT prison.

Same crime. Different punishments. 

Do you think that’s fair? We don’t either. But that’s the reality of our criminal justice system these days.

The first case represents the kind of thing that happens every day to minorities and other powerless people who can’t afford expensive defense lawyers.

But if you’re a well-known politician, and you whimper at your sentencing and say you’re sorry and beg for leniency and have powerful friends write letters of support, like former Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse did earlier this week, you get 200 hours of community service, probation and a fine, and told by the judge that the public humiliation you suffered was punishment enough.

Guess what. It’s not.

If the public is going to respect and honor the criminal justice system, the punishments it metes out must be applied the same to the poorest, most defenseless person as they are to the wealthiest and most powerful.

This inequality is the reason why the Legislature and governor passed the controversial bail reform legislation last year — to inject fairness into a system that allowed a disproportionate number of minorities and the indigent to sit in jail awaiting trial due to the inability to pay even modest bail while people who could pay bail were set free. 

The fact that the Legislature screwed up the law by making it too lenient doesn’t negate the need for the reforms. It only undercuts the efforts that have been made to make the system fairer to all.

The symbol for our justice system is a blind-folded woman carrying a sword and a set of scales, to symbolize fair and equal administration of the law, without corruption, favor, greed or prejudice.

Do we have that system now? 

We think that question answers itself.

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