By Josh Sager
For the last decade in the USA, we have seen two patterns emerge in our prosecution of criminals - more specifically, the increased prosecution of some while a free pass is given to others. Mass incarceration of non-violent offenders, who steal small sums of money or simply possess small quantities of drugs, 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 we are imprisoning people for small-scale theft, our authorities have essentially ignored the widespread fraud and theft perpetrated by bankers and investors; fraud which is not only illegal, but which caused an economic collapse and widespread misery. 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 thefts 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 their investors, they are considered a successful professional.
Over the last decade, harsher sentencing laws, mandatory minimum sentencing and the increased number of arrests for minor crimes has exploded the number of people in jail. Recent studies have shown that approximately one in four (65 million) Americans has some form of criminal record. Many of these non-violent offenders are poor and simply stealing to survive, or minorities who were unfairly targeted by the police.
Despite the well document and widespread patterns of economic fraud that caused the collapse of the US economy, no bankers have been charged, or even arrested, 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 has our government not punished those who were responsible for our economic woes, but they have since given the criminals over a trillion dollars of taxpayer money in tax free loans, deregulated what few rules the banks had yet to break, and are now discussing giving these bankers a massive tax break on future income.
People should take a step back from this situation, as well as their partisanship, to look at the situation objectively: 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 prosecutable 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 millions dollars, and you are a con-artist. Steal trillions of dollars, and you are too big to fail.”