Lady Justice is supposed to be symbolic of an America that should be blind of bias and persuasion. Lady Justice is supposed to represent an America where race shouldn’t matter, along with other factors like where you were born, what school you went to, or what your bank account looks like. Lady Justice is not supposed to see all of that when it comes to administering justice.
Lady Justice is supposed to be the symbol that represents justice in America, where justice is supposed to be equal to everyone and for everyone.
After some recent high-profiled cases in the news, it is clear and evident that Black people still do not receive the same type of justice that Whites do.
If you have been following the news, you have probably seen the story of how former “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and honest services fraud charges several months ago, after she admitted to paying someone to alter her daughter’s SAT scores to help her get into the college she wanted her daughter to get into.
Once again, I repeat: Huffman pleaded guilty to the crime of paying $15,000 to a college admissions consultant named William “Rick” Singer, and to his nonprofit organization, Key Worldwide Foundation (“KWF”), to cheat on change the results of her daughter’s SAT test.
And how was Huffman punished, or should I say rewarded? She was only recently sentenced to 14 days in prison for her admitted crime. Just 14 days in jail!
Meanwhile, back in 2011, a Black single mother of two, who lived in public housing and who was simply trying to get her life together and provide a better life for her kids, was snatched away from her kids after being convicted and sentenced to five years in jail for using her father’s home address to get her kids into better public schools to receive a quality education.
Kelley Williams-Bolar wasn’t a Hollywood celebrity or a rich, White socialite. She was a hardworking single Black mother, who had gotten a divorce from an abusive spouse, and who was going to school to become a teacher at the University of Akron, while working as a teacher’s aide. On top of all that, Williams-Bolar was tasked with the great responsibility of raising her two daughters, and was trying to purchase a home and raise her kids in a better environment than she had experienced. Nothing wrong with that right? One would think.
In each scenario, regardless of how we feel about their actions, both mothers appear to be trying to do something to better the lives of their children. So, what is the true difference between Kelley Williams-Bolar and Felicity Huffman that would allow one to receive 5 years in prison and another to receive only 14 days in prison, for seemingly the same type of infraction?
It is challenging to look past or ignore the fact that the race and the socioeconomic status of each woman, is starkly different. Williams-Bolar is a Black woman trying to build a better life for herself and Huffman is a rich, White woman with access to tons of resources and relationships.
If you really take a moment to step back and look at things holistically and historically, you would see the tremendous disparity between Blacks and Whites, relative to the level of punishment that Blacks receive versus Whites for having done many of the same things.
Take Ethan Couch for example, who in 2013 went on trial for killing four people after stealing alcohol out of Wal-Mart and driving drunk with three times the legal limit of alcohol in his system. He also ended up paralyzing one of his friends who was riding with him.
Texas Judge Jean Boyd, who has since retired, refused to send this young White teenager to prison after he admitted to committing all these crimes. Instead, Judge Boyd chose to only give this rich, White admitted criminal ten (10) years of probation, based off of a made-up psychological defense strategy whereby it was argued before the judge that Couch suffered from “Affluenza” – a condition in which a psychologist for the defense testified made him unable to distinguish right from wrong, nor understand the consequences of his actions, due to his privileged upbringing and because of his wealth.
Affluenza is not even recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as an official diagnosis, yet this is what Judge Boyd used as her reasoning for simply giving him probation.
Not only did Judge Boyd give Couch no prison time and only 10 years of probation, she also ordered him to be sent to a nearly $500,000 a year rehab facility for the rich, in order for him to “get better” and learn from his mistakes.
Then you take someone like Crystal Mason, who was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election while she was on supervised release from prison for a 2011 tax fraud conviction. For those who aren’t familiar with Texas law, convicted felons are not allowed to vote until they finish out their full sentence, which in Mason’s case, included her supervised release after prison.
Unbeknownst to Mason, she did not know she was breaking the law when she went to go vote and was allowed to cast a provisional ballot by an election judge, although her name was not on the list of registered voters.
She simply did not know, and although it was effectively argued in a court of law, Mason was sentenced to five years in prison, after facing between 2 and 20 years for the alleged offense. This conviction caused her to lose her job and almost lose her family home to foreclosure, and she is still fighting to get her life back after being released from prison on an appeal bond.
Unfortunately, Black people have historically and statistically been on the receiving end of a brand of justice that isn’t blind at all, specifically as it relates to the indictments, arrests, convictions and sentences handed down to Blacks versus Whites.
According to The Sentencing Project, which works for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration, Professor David Mustard found that even when cases were controlled for the severity of the offense, the defendant’s prior criminal history, and the specific district court’s sentencing tendencies, Blacks received sentences 5.5 months longer than Whites, and when income was considered as a variable, the disparity became even greater, with Blacks who had incomes of less than $5,000 being sentenced most harshly of all, receiving sentences that were on average 6.2 months longer than other defendants, or in other words, poor Black defendants received sentences on average 13% longer than other defendants.
According to the United States Sentencing Commission, between the fiscal years of 2012 to 2016, Black males continued to receive 19.1 percent longer sentences than similarly situated White male offenders.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the disparities that exist.
President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.”
The justice that President Johnson speaks of, is something that has eluded Blacks for centuries, and continues to elude Blacks to this day in this country.
The problem many Blacks in America have with the way justice continues to be displayed and exhibited in this country, is the lack of fairness and equity that Black people receive compared to other groups – particularly White people.
Lady Justice is based on the Roman goddess of justice named Justitia, who is equipped with three symbols of justice: the double-edged sword symbolizing the court’s coercive power and the power of reason and justice, which may be wielded either for or against any party; scales representing an objective standard by which competing claims are weighed; and a blindfold indicating that justice is, or should be handed out objectively, without fear or favor, regardless of identity, money, power, or weakness.
If Lady Justice was truly operating in her true and authentic role, where she is allowed to administer justice based on her created purpose, it would be safe to assume that America would never have to worry about hearing the same arguments, complaints and concerns from African Americans all across this country, who are consistently pleading for and demanding the same thing that White people like Felicity Huffman, Ethan Couch and others receive every day – equal justice for all.
Jeffrey L. Boney serves as Associate Editor and is an award-winning journalist for the Houston Forward Times newspaper. Jeffrey is a Next Generation Project Fellow, dynamic, international speaker, experienced entrepreneur, business development strategist and Founder/CEO of the Texas Business Alliance. If you would like to request Jeffrey as a speaker, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org