A federal prosecutor in Texas is under investigation by the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility for asking a racially charged question during a trial, and drawing the ire of Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor as well. During a drug trafficking trial the prosecutor asked the defendant:
“You’ve got African-Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money. Does that tell you — a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say, This is a drug deal?”
The case itself was up for review by the Supreme Court, which denied cert (meaning they won’t hear the appeal). But Sotomayor took the opportunity to blast the prosecutor for that statement nonetheless:
“By suggesting that race should play a role in establishing a defendant’s criminal intent, the prosecutor here tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation,” Sotomayor wrote.
“It is deeply disappointing to see a representative of the United States resort to this base tactic more than a decade into the 21st century,” she continued. “Such conduct diminishes the dignity of our criminal justice system and undermines respect for the rule of law. We expect the Government to seek justice, not to fan the flames of fear and prejudice.”
The appeal that the court denied did not deal with that specific question, it was about errors made by the defendant’s attorney (who, oddly, did not object to the question above). But I think this incident is a glimpse of the racist assumptions at the core of our entire criminal justice system, especially when it comes to the war on drugs. Blacks, Latinos and whites buy and sell drugs at almost exactly the same rates, but blacks and Latinos are many times more likely to be arrested, convicted and imprisoned for it.
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