Marion Brothers

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Eddie Griffin on Criminal Justice

This is a short personal overview of the criminal justice system based upon the personal experiences of Eddie Griffin, a former black revolutionary outlaw during the 1970s. This essay was written as a prelude to a college classroom discussion.

I. Complexities of Crime

Not all crimes are alike. A bank robber and a pedophile are two different criminal elements, with different motives and different mindsets. There are Economic Crimes, from petty theft to embezzlement, with varying degrees of aggravation. A Crime against Persons is a different category of crime. However, society tends to lump these all categories into one stereotype.

Crimes against persons are made into horror movies, but economic crimes are glamorized and glorified in outlaw culture. The petty thug is idealized and imitated. The cat jewel thief burglar and safecracker and slick bank robbers are ionized. But the truth of crime is never told.

Nobody ever asks from whence come all the billions of dollars to fuel the international drug trade, or where the money goes after sales. Like the Opium War of China, it was a war about distribution and turfs of trade, a criminal enterprise whose money from the trade is “wash” into “legal money”. The setup and fall guy is the so-called drug lord.

The fall guy is the buffer to the top echelon. Although the public suspects it, we never know it for a fact until a scandal erupts. Those at the top of the scandalous criminal enterprise have no resemblance to those at the bottom of the food chain- them that get eaten by the criminal justice system.

II. The Criminal Element

There is Organized Crime and Disorganized Crime, the latter being the impulsive spur-of-the-moment occurrence, such as spontaneous murders and hit-and-run robberies. Then there are the Crimes of Passion, where human impulses go berserk, such as Rape and Battery.

Organized criminals are mastermind planners who design heists and illegal drug trade and human trafficking. Within these ranks is a murderer of a different sort and a different motive- the Hit Man. For a dollar, they will blow a man’s brains out.

The Hit Man is the threat behind the scene of all organized crime. Snitches get whacked. Failure is not tolerated. And, if a man gets greedy or too big for his shoes, he is unceremoniously dethroned, whether by the bullet or through the court.

But Big Fish are hard to fry. They got lawyers and politicians in their pockets. The system operates on payola and graft. Anybody on the food chain that gets out of line gets eliminated.

Organized criminals work from the inside out, whereas the disorganized criminals work from the outside in, like peeping through a window to see if there are any witnesses, or drive-by shooting aimed at revenge. The organized criminal, on the other hand, operates on the basis of knowledge and wit. The disorganized operates out of ignorance and blindness to consequences. The disorganized criminal gets the most time for the most idiotic offenses.

The disorganized moron goes to state prison, picks cotton, and regresses into child mindedness by watching cartoons all day in the dayroom on television. The smart guys isolate themselves with books to read. They go to federal prison where they start scheming all over again.

III. The Criminal Justice System

For a price, there is justice. A good lawyer is worth his weight in gold, but the disorganized criminal cannot afford him or her. He has to throw himself on the mercy of the court and accept whomever they give him. And, who cares if he gets the electric chair. It would be one more criminal off the street and out of this world. For the price of a court-appointed attorney, a man gets what he pays for- Nothing.

Sending men to prison is like making sausage. It is one long continuous stream, unbroken. To expedite the process, there is the silent plea-bargaining process, collaborated between the district attorney and defense counsel. Although a plea may be willfully gained in the process, there is coercion going on in the background, always pressuring the defendant to accept a conviction and lighter sentence.

In recent times, however, district attorneys have been overcharging defendants with crimes as heavy as is legally justifiable, exaggerated if need be. This puts pressure on defendants to cop a plea. If the defendant chooses to waste the court’s time with a trial, clog up the sausage machine, then the DA will prosecute to full extent of the law and the defense attorney will do nothing more than earn his or her court-appointment fee.

IV. The Prison Setting

Most criminals with court-appointed attorneys get “slammed dunked”. The defense rarely calls witnesses because they (officers of the court) have all agreed secretly in their hearts that the defendant is guilty, so why go through the extra expense of a charade? The result is somewhere between 10 years-to-life. Most slam-dunk cases fall within this range. They are simple to prosecute and move through the sausage machine.

The criminal is the thug, not the defendant wearing the Yves Saint Laurent suit with an army of lawyers. These latter are the DAs worse nightmares and sometimes the judges best friend or major contributor to his or her campaign. These are well-known and well-respected clients, though their crimes run secret and deep.

Eddie Griffin did time with the fall guys, not the white-collar country club clientele, no Paris Hilton maid service. But every now and then, a white-color criminal choir boy stubbles into the cages with the lions. Their first thought: Suicide.

I saw an oil swindler come into the maximum security segregation unit and leave out the same night- on a gurney. He hanged himself. No doubt reality sank in, and frankly I cannot remember if I even cared. By the time of his suicide, I was so desensitized and jaded with death in the penitentiary. Another suicide was just another suicide, a once a month occurrence in the lion’s den. Suicide, stabbings, and beatings were routine. Blood on the floor no longer turned my stomach, as long as it was not mine.

I lived in a survivalist pressure cooker with other mastermind criminals who bit the dirt the hard way. I was a professional bank robber, with an inside track. My crew and I covered bank shortages on embezzlement day. My information came from inside the bank, as to where, when, and how to strike. But from whom the information came, I know not where. And, always the newspapers reported more than take.

They called me the Black Robin Hood, and I took a hard fall at point-blank range through the eye of the scope of a Texas Ranger sharpshooter. Surrender is a bitter pill for a man who would be charged with bank robbery, kidnapping, and commandeering a police squad car- with kidnapping being a capital offense. Other desperadoes in my shoes would have put a self-inflicted bullet in their brains and committed suicide-by-cop.

Instead, I did a hard 12 on a 50-year sentence and had a chance to meet all the old outlaws formerly on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, like my chess-playing buddy, Mr. Untouchable. That’s what Time Magazine called Nicky Barnes, who during his day was the biggest drug kingpin in the country. Over a chessboard, I learned a lot about the mind of a criminal, who would later turn rat.

They say that he averaged $5 million a month in drug sales. They say he was connected with the New York Mafia underworld, with a street army of thousands in the drug distribution world. He was at the top of the food chain in distribution, but on the bottom of the food chain in terms of race. He was black. His suppliers were billionaire white Italians. For them, Nicky was the fall guy. He was doing a double life sentence, but he would flip and gain early release and a new identity.

I watched him go through the changes from the time he was place in solitary confinement in a unit all by himself. They were working on his mastermind capabilities, undermining his arrogant sense of power and invincibility, terrorizing him in the middle of the night with racist taunts, trying to get him to snap. And, snap he did, but not according to the feds game plans. It was his wife and daughter on the outside, and his number one lieutenant. There were rumors that his main man had taken over his drug empire, and was having an affair with both his wife and teenage daughter. He cracked.

[A Continuum]

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