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Rich Justice Poor Justice

Jazz Hayden: Just stand outside the criminal courts, traffic courts, and civil courts on any day of the week and you will see long lines of poor people of color -- black, brown, and beige -- receiving “poor people injustice”.

Two systems of criminal justice have once again been confirmed, this time on the international stage with the exposure of one of the largest banks in the world, HSBC, as one of the biggest money launderers in the world.

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It has long been my position that the criminal justice system that poor and oppressed people desire already exists. It is a system of restitution, fines, community service, and non-incarceration; unlike the totally punitive system of jails, prisons, chain gangs, death penalties, and harsh prison conditions.

There has always been this duplicity that has been based on power and privilege in America. Racial control of the power structure and white-skinned privilege has unabashedly designed these two systems to meet their needs for social control.

To show the glaring disparity between how the rich and powerful are treated, in contrast to how the poor and vulnerable are treated, I need only relate a chapter in my life experience.

In 1977, I was arrested, along with about 15 other men of color, and charged with conspiracy to violate the federal drug laws of the United States. There was a media frenzy around this case because the lead defendant was none other than the “notorious” Nicky Barnes. His notoriety came from his lawyer’s success in beating several flawed attempts to arrest and convict Mr. Barnes. The New York Times labeled him “Mr. Untouchable”. There were claims of a sophisticated corporate structure (labeled the Council) that sold millions of dollars in illicit drugs across the country, engaging in violence, money laundering, and other related drug crimes. Curiously, probably the most damning evidence against this band of brothers was that they all paid their taxes on their illicit income. A reading of their income tax returns offered into evidence showed that many of them used tax accountants out of Detroit to prepare their taxes -- this was used as “damning evidence” of conspiracy, paying taxes.

Well, out of all of those on trial I was the only one charged with “money laundering”. I was not charged with selling, possessing, or distributing drugs, just exchanging some $47,000 in small bills for $100 dollar bills. This money came from three after hour’s clubs (gambling), a variety store, and a restaurant -- common enterprises in the economically marginalized Harlems of America. Well, I was convicted of conspiracy. When the judge asked what was done with the money that was received from me the court was told that it was put back in circulation, that it was not connected to any drug transactions. I was given 15 years, lifetime parole, and a $30,000 fine. The justice department, in a hearing before the Congress, bragged about their first time ever convicting someone in a drug conspiracy who had no connection to drug transactions. Oh, and I forgot to mention that another first was accomplished by the government in their lust to convict these 15 black men from New York City. The government broke over 200 years of precedent by empaneling an “anonymous jury”, a jury designated by numbers -- no names, no religion, no race or ethnic background -- just numbers.

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Fast-forward to the present and we have a money launderer of billions of dollars from drug cartels and nations under sanctions from the UN and the United States of America. Europe’s largest bank -- not a ghetto sidewalk executive, HSBC the largest bank in Europe, money launderer in chief. NO prison! No house arrest! Not fired from their jobs and banned from banking? Oh, they are “Profoundly Sorry”. “We accept responsibility for our past mistakes, Gulliver said in the statement.” I did every day of my 15-year sentence. The Supreme Court threw out the lifetime parole (or I would still be doing that). And, I was so broke by the time I was released that the judge they took me before (the day of my release) said “enough of this persecution” and threw out the fine.

My story is the story of millions of people of color in this country; there is no justice in America for the poor and the marginalized. Just stand outside the criminal courts, traffic courts, and civil courts on any day of the week and you will see long lines of poor people of color -- black, brown, and beige -- receiving “poor people injustice”. Some of us come out of this prison-industrial complex in a state of constant rage with but one goal; dismantle this monster.

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Joseph "Jazz" Hayden

Joseph Jazz Hayden is the founder and CEO of Still Here Harlem Productions and its offshoot He is also the initiator of the Campaign To End The New Jim Crow, a campaign to build a national movement to end mass incarceration and to build caring communities.

Sunday, 17 March 2013