The Lamp

Where truth can be shared.

Justice Must Be Colorblind

Posted by thelamp on April 20, 2007

Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a wise and compassionate “conditional pardon” in March, freeing a man sentenced to life imprisonment in 1990 for possession of a marijuana cigarette while he was on probation. No thoughtful person would disregard the seriousness of probation violations, but this case was about much more than a convicted felon’s lapse of judgment.

The governor’s pardon balanced the scales of justice and cast a much-needed spotlight on racial inequities that sometimes result in disparate treatment for people convicted of similar crimes. In this instance, a pardon simply was the only just result.

Last November, the ABC News program “20/20” documented the case of Tyrone Brown, a black man described as poor and lacking “connections.” As a teenager he was arrested for an armed robbery that netted a $2-booty; a judge sentenced him to probation. When he later violated that second chance by getting caught smoking a joint, the judge tossed him in prison and effectively threw away the key.

The amount of money taken during the robbery is irrelevant. Drawing a weapon on someone and taking their possessions can’t go unpunished in a civilized society. Likewise, a man on probation has no businesses toking weed or using any other controlled substance. The problem is that this particular judge, Keith Dean, did not dole out the same degree of harshness in sentencing all defendants who appeared before him.

During the 17 years that Brown spent in prison before his release March 16, another man with a more dangerous criminal history went on with his life, spared from incarceration. Consider how Alex Wood, a wealthy white man related to an eight-term congressman, was treated in Dean’s courtroom.

In 1995, Wood pleaded guilty to shooting an unarmed man in the back, killing him. Under the terms of a plea bargain, Wood was given 10 years of probation and served no time behind bars. A short while later, he tested positive for using cocaine. Prosecutors wanted the judge to revoke Wood’s probation, but he did not.

Twice more, urine tests exposed the convict’s crack cocaine use. Eventually, one of his high-profile lawyers persuaded the judge to convert Wood’s probation to “postcard” terms, meaning all he had to do was write the court once a year. Meanwhile, Tyrone Brown languished in a state penitentiary.

After news media criticized the disparity – and obvious racial inequity – voters responded by removing Dean from the bench.

“Despite the fact that slavery was ended a century and a half ago, and the battles for civil rights were decided 50 years ago, there is still a horrible disparity between blacks and whites in America,” said Pastor Rod Parsley.

Gov. Perry’s pardon established justice, not only in the Texas courts but also in God’s eyes. Christians are morally obligated to obliterate racism in society. It’s been said that laundry ought to be the only thing separated by color. If the 82 percent of the American population who proclaim belief in God seriously espoused the biblical distain for racism, it would transform the nation.



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