Why Doesn’t Anybody Go to Jail?
…except Black folks, brown folks, and poor white folks
I recently learned that one of my brothers got arrested a few years ago. He was driving around the streets of Little Rock, Arkansas, and BOOM! the “Blue Light Special.” Since he was driving his friend’s flashy luxury car, he assumed that was the reason for the stop. It wasn’t. The police had a warrant for his arrest. The next thing he knew, he was on his way “downtown.” His crime? Unpaid rent.
That’s right, according to The Arkansas Times, Razorback Country is the only place in these United States where being a day late on your rent can land you in jail:
Arkansas is the only state in the country that allows landlords to file criminal — rather than civil — charges against tenants after they fall behind on rent. Based on a law dating back to 1901, if tenants’ rent is even a day overdue, they forfeit their right to be in the property. Then, if they don’t leave their homes within 10 days of getting a notice from their landlords, they can be charged with a misdemeanor.
Arkansas’s criminalization of financial hardship notwithstanding, my brother’s case had a happy ending. As it turned out, he didn’t owe his landlord a dime. For one thing, he hadn’t lived at the property in question for years. It seems the landlord filed for eviction but forgot to drop the charges upon receipt of the rent.
Because of the landlord’s negligence, a warrant for my brother’s arrest floated around “in the system” for years. Since it was all a big mistake, his brush with the law was over after a few hours at the police station. But it’s still not clear why the police stopped him in the first place.
I’ve never been to jail, but the odds aren’t in my favor
The police have pulled me over several times, but fortunately, the worst thing that happened was an unwanted ticket. But in America, if you happen to be Black, Latinx, or a poor white person, you’re only a misstep away from some form of incarceration. Luckily, I’ve defied the odds—so far.
This isn’t hyperbole. According to data ranging from 1974 to 2001 collected by the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-partisan, non-profit advocacy group, your odds of incarceration at some point during your lifetime increase exponentially the more melanin you happen to possess.
More recently, a 2020 study by The Sentencing Project found the incarceration rate in state prisons for Black Americans is nearly five times that of white Americans.
If you’re white, you have a lot less to worry about (unless you’re poor)
The flip side of the incarceration equation is that if you happen to be white and living above the poverty level, your odds of not going to the Big House become exponentially better. Sure, occasionally, murderers like Derek Chauvin or the trio who killed Ahmaud Arbery go to prison. But let’s face it, even though the murders were on video in both cases, the convictions were hardly a sure thing.
If the last five years tell us anything, it’s that when rich white people and/or powerful politicians commit crimes, it’s almost impossible for them to get arrested, let alone convicted of a crime. Nowadays, they don’t even have to respond to Congressional subpoenas.
In the case of former President Trump and his inner circle, no matter how many acts of criminality they commit, nothing they do results in consequences. Nobody, not the FBI, the Justice Department, or even good old-fashioned law enforcement, seems to have the wherewithal to hold them to account.
The odds of incarceration could be changing, at least for Team Trump
But thanks to an epic level of hubris and a favorable Supreme Court ruling, we may finally see Team Trump receive their comeuppance. Last week in an 8–1 ruling, the High Court gave the January 6th Select Committee access to more than 700 pages of White House documents from the National Archives, despite former President Trump’s claims of executive privilege.
In losing yet again in court, this particular SCOTUS decision could be worse for Trump than it appears, according to a Washington Post opinion piece by George Conway (emphasis added):
[T]he justices actually cut back on the court of appeals’ decision: They held that, because the court of appeals had found that Trump would lose under any of the standards his lawyers had argued for — including precedents addressing privilege claims asserted by sitting presidents — there was really no need to decide what the scope of a former president’s rights should be.
In other words, the justices relied solely on the reasoning that Trump’s claims were so paltry, his privilege arguments so weak, that Trump would have lost even were he still in office…
The result was an even more devastating rejection of Trump’s privilege claim — in effect, an unambiguous, blanket holding by the Supreme Court that presidents who incite insurrections in office don’t get to invoke executive privilege.
One thing in our favor is that Trump’s inner circle truly believes overturning elections is not a big deal. For example, Boris Epshteyn, the strategic adviser for Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, is so confident he’s done nothing wrong, he gleefully admitted involvement in a GOP fake elector scheme on national television.
Let’s hope Trump’s buddies keep bragging and doing television interviews. Maybe they’ll change the odds and get themselves thrown in jail.