The Fatal Flaw In America’s Justice System
friday 11th 2020
This week one of the officers, Thomas Lane, who was arrested for George Floyd’s murder was released after paying his $750,000 bail. A harrowing enough sentence on its own, but wait for the one that follows - He posted bail due to a fundraiser page his family set up and subsequently other people donated to, to secure his freedom temporarily at least. This has upset and angered many of us, who just want justice to be served. However, what’s even more disturbing and disheartening about all this, is another story, 250 miles from Minneapolis, in Iowa City…
During peaceful protests in Iowa, one of the organisers, a 20 year old Black man known as Mazin Mohamedali was charged with Unlawful Assembly and Disorderly Conduct - both seen as misdemeanors. He was subsequently ordered to jail on June 8th due to a probation violation. Mohamedali, is serving three years probation as part of a plea deal for second degree robbery. He has been placed in jail without any possibility of bail and will stay there until he can be admitted to a halfway house. This is because the Iowa Department of Correction has stated that Mazin “poses a threat to the community and local law enforcement.” They are even said to be seeing if they can revoke his probation. Mazin is a vocal activist against police brutality and systemic racism, often speaking out on behalf of Iowa Freedom Riders.
Now, before we continue, let’s just revert back to Thomas Lane. Lane, 37, who was still in his probation as a Rookie officer when he was fired on May 26th, was also convicted of a string of offences before he became a Police cadet. Public records show that Lane held more than a dozen criminal charges and traffic citations and was convicted of seven charges. But perhaps most interestingly, in October 2001, Lane was reportedly charged with two counts of obstructing legal process, damaging property, unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. Following this in March 2007, he also faced misdemeanor charges of hosting a noisy party or gathering and disorderly conduct.
So there’s two questions;
How is Lane any less of a threat to the community than Mohamedali?
And why was Lane allowed bail when Mohamedali wasn’t?
Let’s look at the first question. The perception of threat.
Both these men have been held responsible for crimes. One could argue that Mazin’s original conviction of second degree robbery makes him a threat. However, unfortunately we can’t view the court records so can’t say what this constituted. What should be noted, is at the time of this conviction, all news articles related to the offence don’t mention Mazin and we do know he entered a plea. This could be for a number of reasons, but does raise doubts around how involved Mazin actually was. We’ll look into this in more detail when we talk about bail. So, now we look at his probation violation of Unlawful Assembly and Disorderly Conduct. This raises plenty of questions, as this is a misdemeanor both Lane and Mohamedali have been charged with at different times. Looking at Lane, he has actually been charged with more offences than Mohamedali and his most recent offence of abetting to second degree murder, is obviously more serious than any of the previous charges we’ve spoken about for both men. Based on these facts alone, it’s fair to say Lane is no less of a threat than Mohamedali.
Now let’s look at Bail.
Bail is a system that is broken. Any system that equates a person’s freedom to a sum of money is one that will be full of errors. In addition to this, it also goes against Black and Hispanic communities. Not only are both these communities more likely to be arrested, and more likely to be issued bail. They are also less likely to be able to afford it, which often means they end up stuck in jail, pre-trial when they are actually still presumed innocent in the eyes of the law. Then racial bias strikes again when determining bail amounts. For public order offences (things like disturbing the peace) the average bail for a Black defendant was $10,000 higher than for a White defendant, according to a 2010 survey of five US cities; for drug crimes, the difference is $13,000.
Right, let’s rewind back to Mohamedali’s plea that he took for the second degree robbery. It’s statistically known that the Bail system causes people to plead guilty even when they're not. For example, in 2013 New York City courts processed 365,000 bail hearings, but less than 5 percent of those cases went to trial. Why would someone do that you ask? Why would they plead guilty to a crime they didn’t commit? Robin Steinberg, founder of the Bail Project said in her Ted Talk: What if we ended the injustice of bail?;
“Imagine for a moment that it’s you stuck in that jail cell, and you don’t have the $500 to get out. Someone comes along and offers you a way out. ‘Just plead guilty,’ they say. ‘You can go home, back to your job. You can kiss your kids goodnight tonight.’ Steinberg goes on to say: “The current bail system is designed to extract guilty pleas from the most vulnerable people in our society. If people were empowered to demand their right to a fair trial, the system would grind to a halt.”
Ultimately, these plea deals leave poorer, more vulnerable people with criminal records even when they’ve done nothing wrong and in addition, the system sees them as a way to help America’s overwhelmed courts function.
But this time, Mohamedali wasn’t even offered bail. He wasn’t even given the option, because the system is prioritising making an example of an outspoken activist. Whilst allowing a man that let another man have the life slowly choked out of him walk the streets again.
This is racial inequality.