We’re all familiar with the golden rule, right? I’m not talking about the “do unto others” bit from The Bible, but the “He who has the gold makes the rules” one. Nowhere is this golden rule more evident than in the American justice system. And it won’t change until we collectively refuse to acknowledge its legitimacy. Matt Taibbi also makes this point eloquently in his book “The Divide.”
The most glaring evidence of our fraudulent judicial branch is shown in the treatment of Credit Suisse’s admission that it helped up to 22,000 wealthy Americans hide approximately $12 billion in assets from the IRS. Attorney General Eric Holder got everyone worked up into a frenzy when he made a statement that big banks who engaged in criminal activity were “no longer too big to jail.” But that turned out to be false when Credit Suisse, who enabled tax dodging on a massive scale, was allowed to slide back into good graces by paying a $2.6 billion fine, which amounts to 10% of its annual $26.2 billion in revenues. That’s a lesser rate than lawful Americans pay in taxes. The penalty assessed by the US Department of Justice is essentially a “cost of doing business.” Disgust over such lax treatment is likely why the US’s top tax enforcer stepped down after negotiating the settlement after originally saying she would favor prosecution of the bank.
When you combine Credit Suisse’s kid-gloves treatment with similar lax settlements for HSBC — who helped launder money for violent Mexican drug cartels — and the pittance of a settlement JPMorgan Chase had to pay for swindling millions of Americans out of their homes in fraudulent foreclosure schemes, the golden rule is clearly the guiding principle for the US Justice Department. We need not even mention all of the fraud and deception from Bank of America, Citigroup, and other big banks that created the subprime housing bubble, got bailed out after it burst, and never faced any jail time. Even the chief of the International Monetary Fund has said that the biggest banks haven’t changed a bit since the financial crisis.
However, a much different brand of justice is saved for those without the gold to make the rules.Cecily McMillan, a grad student, while trying to lawfully leave the scene at a protest, had her breast grabbed from behind by a plainclothes police officer who never identified himself as a cop. Reacting reflexively, she inadvertently struck the officer with her elbow. McMillan was then beaten in the street until she had a seizure, was never given medical attention, and was arrested on the charge of assaulting a police officer. At the trial, Judge Ronald Zweibel allowed no discussion of the violent past of her attacker, Grantley Bovell, who had a history of unprovoked attacks on civilians. Zweibel also didn’t allow discussion of the NYPD’s violent crackdown on nonviolent protesters in the Occupy Wall Street encampment. While McMillan got only 3 months out of what could have been a 7-year sentence, it’s still an injustice that a sexual assault victim was the one to do time, not her attacker.
Another sexual assault victim that won’t ever see justice served to her attacker is the 3-year-old daughter of Robert H. Richards IV. Richards is the great-grandson of IrÃ©nÃ©e DuPont, of the DuPont chemical dynasty. He lives off of trust fund money in a $1.8 million, 5800-square-foot mansion. Richards’ daughter told her grandmother that she didn’t “want my daddy touching me anymore,” detailing her father’s history of sexual assault throughout her young life. Richards faced two charges of second-degree rape of a child, which is normally a mandatory 20-year prison sentence. However, his judge allowed him to skate on a probation rap, saying he “wouldn’t fare well” in prison.
Richards fared much better than Gregory Taylor, a homeless man who was victimized by California’s draconian “three strikes” law. Since 1994, the state of California has had a policy stating that anyone who commits an offense after having previously been convicted of the same offense gets double the jail time. Anyone who commits that same offense again is automatically sentenced to 25 years to life. For most “three strikes” offenders, the harsh punishments they face are simply the result of crimes committed out of economic necessity. In Gregory Taylor’s case, he had broken into a church kitchen to steal bread, because he was hungry and had no money. Taylor was sentenced to 25 years, but was mercifully released from prison after 8 years behind bars.
On the other hand, one California man who should have definitely been behind bars for at least 25 years is Gurbaksh Chahal, CEO of RadiumOne. Chahal was caught on video beating and kicking his girlfriend 117 times during a 30-minute attack, and faced 43 felony counts. But Chahal’s money and status as a tech CEO in the San Francisco Bay Area got him a lawyer who negotiated his punishment down to probation, attendance at a domestic violence class, and 25 hours of community service. Chahal’s attorney is James Lassart, a former federal prosecutor who is also defending state senator Leland Yee, who faces multiple corruption charges. San Francisco Superior Court judge Brendan Conroy didn’t allow the surveillance video showing the 30-minute attack to be used as evidence, on the grounds that police obtained the video illegally, while prosecutors argued the video would have been erased if police filed for a warrant.
We as a nation can see these gross injustices in the judicial sphere, but there are only two options — either we allow the fraudulent two-tiered justice system to continue, or we refuse to accept its legitimacy, by voting out justices who are electable, voting out the politicians who appoint unelected justices, and simply not respecting the decisions made by the Supreme Court. While judges can’t state their political opinions when running for elections, it’s completely acceptable to ask candidates for judicial posts about whether or not they will uphold the law regardless of a person’s privileged status, either in race, gender, or class. What we allow is what will continue.
Carl Gibson, 27, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nonviolent grassroots movement that mobilized thousands to protest corporate tax dodging and budget cuts in the months leading up to Occupy Wall Street. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary We’re Not Broke, which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Carl is also the author of How to Oust a Congressman, an instructional manual on getting rid of corrupt members of Congress and state legislatures based on his experience in the 2012 elections in New Hampshire. He lives in Sacramento, California.