Convictions Without Conviction

Following up on yesterday’s column about the number of people in American jails, it often seems that in the middle and upper-class rush to incarcerate people of the poor of our country, they seem to be doing too good a job. I am personally getting a little tired of reading almost every day about someone getting out of prison after having served years for a crime they didn’t commit.

This time it is a gentleman named Ronald Taylor from Houston, Texas. He had served 12 years for a rape, finally overturned because of “problems” with the Houston Police crime lab. In June, a former U.S. Justice Department inspector hired by the city cited hundreds of “serious and pervasive” flaws in forensic cases handled by the lab. This is the third case that has been overturned so far.

I was overwhelmed by the apology from the involved District Attorney. Wow. Sort of a casual, “Oh, sorry, I made a mistake. Well, it was only twelve years of your life. Didn’t really bother me much. Have a nice day.” Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal should now get to spend twelve years in jail. But he won’t, of course. But, gosh, sorry, Ronald.

Of course, Rosenthal is a well-off white guy, so he’s not going to jail just for stealing twenty percent of another man’s life. He will just go on with business as usual, tossing the less fortunate into the slammer. That may seem unkind. It is not. Taylor didn’t do anything wrong and lost twelve years of his life to prison. Rosenthal did his job in a slipshod manner, stole twelve years from a fellow human being, and will receive no punishment at all. What a joke. This is justice in America.

Mr. Rosenthal may be a fine fellow, but his due diligence in this case, and almost certainly others, was lacking. American justice has become an assembly line, in which the only aim is to convict, somebody, anybody of a crime, to get it off the books, to look good at the country club and for the voters. That is easier if the person that they select as the guilty party is poor and a person of color, even if they are innocent. “Okay,” they say, “another one down, millions to go.”

Many years later, everybody in the system says, “Oops!” Sorry, folks that’s not enough. That is not enough for me and it certainly is not enough for Ronald Taylor.

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