Friday, April 25, 2008

Get Your Black Ass to Jail; Do Not Pass Go and Pay Us $5 million

I know some of y'all probably have "injustice fatigue" but bear with me because I'm about to hip you to something fairly ludicrous.

Most of you are familiar with actor Wesley Snipes. Some of you remember him from his amazing portrayal of Nino Brown, a cold-hearted drug dealer with a horrible Gumby-haircut in New Jack City. Others might be a fan of his work as Blade, a half-vampire who kicks serious blood-sucking ass. He's played in many movies and has been responsible for classic cinematic lines like "Always bet on black," and "Your mother's an astronaut."

More importantly, with his penchant for playing brooding, muscled smooth operators, Snipes is one of the key reasons dark-skinned brothers saw a massive surge in popularity in the late 90s and early 00s. Before Wesley, lighter-hued brothers like myself were all the rage, but after Wesley started drop-kicking folks and taking off his shirt, well people were pushing away their lattes and looking for a stronger brew.

While Snipes earned some marginal backlash for making comments that seemed to denigrate black women in 1997, for the most part he's been well accepted by the black community. (Check out some comments here.) He's also gotten some love from white folks who have found his Blade movies to be entertaining, although he's been labeled a "jerk" and "prima donna" by some of his colleagues.

Now, they can call him an inmate.

Normally, I wouldn't be paying all that much attention to Wesley Snipes. Sadly, I often have trouble working up sympathy for celebrities who are mistreated, particularly black ones who typically have not used their celebrity to benefit our community.

But, the facts surrounding this case are just crazy.

According to previous articles I've read, Snipes didn't pay his taxes for three years because he has some advisors who convinced his gullible ass that the whole tax system in America was a scam and he didn't need to pay taxes. So, he forgot he was black and believed that Uncle Sam was going to let him earn millions of dollars and not get a cut. I know, it's not exactly the brightest move, but bear with me.

It seems that Snipes got a jury to agree with him that he had been bamboozled by some crafty crackers, and they decided to acquit him of most of the serious tax charges, and only convict him of three misdemeanors. And that's when Wesley got his Nigger Wake Up Call.

Typically, a misdemeanor conviction for a celebrity means probation, a fine and community service. If they eff up really bad, they might spend a month or two in jail. The combination of their fame and their high-priced lawyers usually keeps them from ever having to indulge in group showers for an extended time period. Exhibits A and B for this practice are Amy Winehouse and Brittney Spears.

But, things didn't go like that for black-ass Wesley. Nope, this brother got THREE YEARS on a misdemeanor charge, and that came after he paid $5 million in back taxes on the spot.

Damn, now that's fucked up.

Look I could go into a long diatribe about the justice system or direct you to articles that really outline the problem like this one. But, I don't want to bore most of you readers who are aware of the effed up nature of this country's justice system, and I really don't feel like explaining things to those people who can't see the blatant injustice in this whole situation.

What I will discuss is the judge's notion that his harsh sentence was a means of deterrence for future criminals. Now, I'm not an expert on legal rules, but when did it become acceptable to give a first-time offender the maximum sentence because it MIGHT stop other people from committing the same crime?

Does this judge always sentence every defendant to the maximum sentence because it would deter crime? If not, why exactly did he decide that a deterrence rationale was acceptable in this case? To me, this seems like a blatant abuse of power.

My opinion is that the judge didn't agree with Snipes only getting convicted on minor offense when he faced much more serious charges. I think this judge decided that it was his duty to right the wrong committed by the jury.

That is a chilling prospect considering the studies that show that judges typically believe that black folks are more in need of harsh lessons than white folks. At least that's the lesson I took from the statistics that show blacks are more likely to get sentenced to longer prison terms when they are convicted of the same crimes as white folks, even if the defendants have similar criminal histories. I don't know about y'all, but I'm not comfortable with the idea that judges can randomly oppose harsh sentences on defendants just because the want to prove a point.

That's less appealing than "To Wong Foo with Love."


older_not_wiser said...

I won't argue that Mr Snipes' harsh sentence is not primarily the consequence of his being a black man, but don't forget his crimes involved not just tax evasion, but tax protest. There is NOTHING our government considers more dangerous and in need of example-making punishment. Not drug dealing. Not murder. Not even treason.

TorontoGirl said...

Well the judge was wrong but somehow I have zero pity for wesley. The comments he made about black women were despicable and I have a long memory. Frankly if he stayed in jail for the next 10000 years, I wouldn't care.

In general, though, the American "justice" system is fucked up. It's so "unjust", it's a joke.

Deacon Blue said...

Not that it's any kind of slam-dunk because, well, Snipes is still black...but I gotta think that this is one of those sentences that is just ripe for being shredded on appeal. Shite, Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson got cut loose and we're going to hang Wesley Snipes out to dry for not paying taxes for a few years?

A.F. said...

I once had an acquaintance--a white woman--who had made a lot of money writing tv shows. She didn't pay any taxes on that money. After some years, the IRS gave her a lot of grief, but ultimately she just went to court, and since she no longer had any of the $ left, a judge granted her a $25/mo payment plan, or maybe it was $50/mo. Of course I don't know the legal ramifications of each of these individuals' exact situations, but my money is on your analysis here.

BrendaKay said...

Big Man,

It's really hard for me to have any sort sympathy for Wesley. Here is a man seemingly smart enough to learn pages upon pages of scripts for those crappy movies that he's starred in lately. But is somehow so dumb as to not know that he didn't have to pay taxes. Please.

My heartfelt compassion and prayers are for Sean Bell's grieving family. Not for some arrogant fool like Wesley Snipes.

While there is absolutely no question that the American judicial system is stacked against minorities in the worse possible way. Anyone with half a brain knows that the new booming industry in America is the prison system, where we (black folks) make up more than 70% of the population.

But I have to tell you, Big Man, I am sick to death of seeing our young (and old) black men and women making stupid, ignorant mistakes that land their butts in front of a judge or jury who is determined, that they won't walk like OJ did.

BrendaKay said...

Oops, a bit of a typo there - that he DID have to pay taxes...

A.F. said...

Sure he should have known he was supposed to pay taxes, but if he were Jim Carey or Vince Vaughn or Will Farrell, I can't imagine his being carted off to jail.

truth said...

I have sympathy for both Wesley Snipes and Sean Bell's family. They are both victims of a unjust judicial system. Obviously, Mr. Bell got a worse deal than Mr. Snipes.

Although, Mr. Snipes may have known better than to not pay any taxes for three years, there is no way he should have gotten three years in prison for a misdemeanor.

I've never heard of such a thing for anyone else, but it does not surprise me that Wesley will receive the maximum sentence. The laws in this country were made for us.

sytgrl said...

Big Man, I just wanted to say that I love your blog; it's become part of my daily reading.

I kinda feel sorry for Snipes, as the sentence does seem a little harsh. However, the federal income tax code as it stands IS unconstitutional. Not that his black a$$ was ever going to prove that in court.

Big Man said...

I knew it was going to hard for people to feel sorry for Wesley, and honestly, I don't really feel that sorry myself. Like I said in the post, Wesley has never done that much for black folks, and he pretty much seems to be only worried about what's good for Wesley.

But, three years just ain't right. More importantly, when the judge tells folks that he's doint this to set an example for future tax scofflaws, well there's a problem there.

I've found that black folks seem to be much, MUCH more likely to get screwed when there is an example to be made. It's actually no contest.

Look, Wesley was an idiot for believing this ridiculous spiel about tax freedom. I'll even admit that he might have been guilty of a more serious charge.

BUT, he wasn't convicted of that more serious charge. He was convicted of a misdemeanor; his FIRST criminal offene. Unless this judge always gives first time offenders the maximum sentence, then he just decided to punish Wesley for two reasons in my mind; his celebrity and his black skin.

That's the only conclusion I can draw, and it's unacceptable.

Gye Greene said...

Brendakay: re: "Here is a man seemingly smart enough to learn pages upon pages of scripts for those crappy movies that he's starred in lately." Although, being good at memorizing doesn't mean he's actually **smart**. :)

Big Man: FWIW - I'm a Criminologist, and yep, you're right: net of offense characteristics (e.g. severity of the offense; drug-related; violent) and offending history, there doesn't seem to be a "race effect" for the adjudication stage (i.e. being found guilty).

But the sentencing stage ("assigning the specific punishment") tends to show a "race effect" - both in the type (e.g. community service versus imprisonment) and the magnitude of the sentence.

Some of it is due to differences in earlier stages of the process -- e.g. if there's a race effect in getting bail or not, then at the sentencing stage, the defendant may seem more "blameworthy" if she/he wasn't released on bail, and thus get a harsher sentence.

There's an interesting "O.J. effect", when race meets social class: If you're rich enough (Michael Jackson?), your $$$ can trump race. So, as your other readers have noted, let's hope he gets this appealed. (I mean, what with all the publicity...)


heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think Wesley Snipes was stupid and arrogant, but the sentence is clearly excessive when we consider all the Britneys and Paris Hiltons who are at least as stupid and arrogant and get mere slaps on their well-manicured hands.

An organization called Color of Change is presently petitioning for equal sentences since there is no question that the darker ones skin, the longer the sentence.

Raving Black Lunatic