According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the cost of incarceration averages more than $31,000 per inmate per year. That can run as much as $60,000 in some states. Add to that the state’s expenses for prosecution and appeals (both from the state and from the defense) and the resources needed in getting the convict to and from court, and you’re talking about some real money. Multiply that by the annual number of people convicted of non-violent, essentially petty crimes and you’re talking the GNP of, oh, say, maybe Latvia or Tunisia.
So when we talk about locking somebody up – as opposed to other sanctions such as community service, fines, et al – we should ask ourselves are we serving the cause of justice, or are we just seeking revenge?
Yeah, I know. “An eye for an eye” (Matthew 5:38-42) vs “Vengeance is mine, I will recompense, sayeth the Lord” (Hebrews 10:30). First amendment, separation of church and state, yadda yadda yadda.
Obviously, this brings us to the current brouhaha regarding actor and failed hoaxer Jussie Smollett.
For those of you who have been away, in January Smollett told Chicago police that two men had attacked him, put a noose around his neck and shouted racist and homophobic slurs (he’s a gay black man). One month later, county prosecutors accused the actor of criminal bullshit, having paid – by check, no less – two guys to do this as a publicity stunt. He was charged with 16 felony counts.
On Tuesday, lead prosecutor Joseph Magats said, “After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his [$10,000] bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.” He went on to tell WLS radio Smollett had no prior felonies and wasn’t a danger to the community. “He was prosecuted. It may not have been the disposition that everybody thought would occur. He did do community service [16 hours, for Rev. Jesse Jackson’s National Rainbow PUSH Coalition]. He did forfeit $10,000. It’s a fair and just disposition in the case.”
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel went bonkers. “The state’s attorney’s office is saying he’s not exonerated; he actually did commit this hoax,” he told ABC News. “He’s saying he’s innocent. They better get their stories straight, because this is making fools of all us.” Rahm also went on about Smollett was devoid of decency, how the $10K didn’t cover the city’s expenses and how he dragged the city’s name through the mud.
That $10,000 bit may or may not be true; we haven’t seen an accounting. But that “dragging the city’s name” bit is bullshit. The 100th anniversary of the 1919 Chicago race riots will be this July 27th. To make a long story short (I’ll go into detail closer to July 27th), the black neighborhood was burnt down by white gang members while those white policemen who weren’t participating in the violence stood around and watched. The riot lasted seven days, the damage to the city persists to this day.
But Rahm’s opinion represents those of the Chicago police department, as well as a great many people all over the country. Smollett’s promotion hoax hurt the cause of ending violent bigotry directed towards blacks and queers; there’s no doubt about that among people of conscience and a noticeable IQ. But tossing this clown into prison isn’t going to change that one bit. Rahm didn’t comment on how wealthy people often get away with damn near anything. He could have taken a victory lap, as wealthy black queer people now have leveled that playing field a bit.
So why are people so pissed? Not because we want justice; Smollett paid the ten grand, did his community service, he ruined – at least temporarily – his career and he undermined it for life, and he was shown to the world as the poster child for self-destructive idiocy. He’s unlikely to be autographing footballs at nostalgia conventions.
No. We want vengeance. As stupid as Smollett was, we have this lizard-brain need to make an idiot put a pound of flesh on the scale along with the rest, even though that will have absolutely no impact on anything whatsoever outside of giving some people a nanosecond of satisfaction.
Come to think of it, that feeling – as pervasive as it is – is just as stupid as what Smollett did. Let us set forth to forget this clown ever existed.