As you’re probably aware, Plaxico Burress is going to be spending some quality time with the New York State correctional facilities for doing various dumb ass things while concealing an unlicensed firearm–not the least of those things being shooting himself in the leg.
Since he was offered a three month plea and rejected it, I have no problem with him getting the two years he agreed to after realizing prosecutors were going to throw the book at him.
Others do have a problem with this, feeling that Burress is getting a raw deal and a too-harsh penalty. Those who feel his stupidity only warranted a few months in jail–a few months that was rejected by Burress in his initial plea bargain–cite an outrage at the justice system, particularly with regard to minimum sentencing.
While I see the flaws in minimum sentencing–many seem arbitrary; others so obviously racially-motivated that you would laugh if it wasn’t so despicable–I still see far greater flaws in leaving the administration of justice to a case-by-case basis system. Why? Because those who support such a reform seem to do so under the assumption that, without guidelines, judges and prosecutors will be inclined to handle each case as unique and, in doing so, do the right thing.
That seems unlikely. Why? Because most people, good and bad alike, don’t have the energy to even attempt to bring an unbiased approach to sentencing based on facts particular to each and every case. And even if they have that energy, to expect them to not be affected by precedent is borderline foolhardy.
There are far too many laws and far too many people breaking laws to think that the few on the side of justice would be either effective or just if left to their own devices.
My concerns aren’t about the cases that warrant multiple decades in prison; I’m concerned about the crimes that warrant sentences of ten years or less. In a case-by-case system, can we really expect officers of the court to put forth the energy it takes to examine each and every case as special? The fact that they are human beings leaves them open to bias and the eventual comparing of cases for the purpose of “perspective.”
Simply put, prosecutors and judges would eventually start coming up with their own sentencing standards anyway, thus making the lack of guidelines not only irrelevant, but possibly dangerous. Police could say “Well, it’s illegal to go over 65mph and today is Thursday, so that ticket’s going to be $250 instead of 75.” (Obviously, some cops do this anyway, but without standard they could do this with near impunity).
And let’s not forget: the tossing out of minimum sentencing would have to necessarily toss out maximum sentencing as well.
Sentencing falls under ranges because there are two many laws, too many criminals and far too few people really willing to do the work that individualized justice requires. It’s just unrealistic. So what can be done?
In my mind, minimum (and maximum) sentences should be under constant and rigorous review (as should the laws that precede such sentencing); a living, breathing system that changes with the times. Such a system requires sweat, but seems realistic in approach.
The question then becomes: Well who is doing the reviewing and revising? In my (hopeful) system, this is an area in which the people could–and should–participate passionately. This is a way to make votes really count in a particular way. I’m not so naive as to forget ours is a representative democracy, but input from the people doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable.
What does seem unreasonable is the doing away with minimum sentences and the assumption that those in power would suddenly do the right thing.
Posted an abridged version of this on THE ROOT.
Robert Littal of Black Sports Online feels as though Plaxico Burress is catching a raw deal, and outlines ten facts that are germane in the incident and why he feels the two years in jail seems too harsh a penalty. While I think he makes a few fair points, I have to disagree with Mr. Littal’s overall view on the situation and want to discuss his list piecemeal.
1. Plax had no prior convictions.
A county that frowns heavily upon illegal weapons possession is not going to be lenient about the fact that a person has no previous convictions, particularly in an instance where said illegal possession is coupled with the discharge of the firearm in a crowded enclosed area.
2. Plax’s friend had been robbed at gunpoint the week before.
While surely alarming, Plax is a man with resources and options. On the extreme side, he could just not put himself in harm’s way by going to places where his profile could put him in danger. In a more reasonable way, he has the financial resources to hire trained and licensed professionals to protect him from possibly dangerous situations.
3. Plax had a license that may or may not have been expired for a gun he owns in different state.
First of all, Plaxico Burress is grown man carrying a concealed deadly weapon out in public. Making sure his licenses were up-to-date isn’t exactly an unreasonable request. Second of all, when it comes to carrying a deadly weapon in public, wouldn’t it be prudent to perhaps see if your possibly-expired license can transfer?
4. Plax brought the gun to the nightclub.
Without checking to see if his carry permit was current and transferred? That seems like it would invite trouble should the gun happen to unfortunately discharge. Why not hire armed personnel?
5. Security at the club allows him to enter with the gun
That fact makes the security culpable in an entirely different regard. It doesn’t make Plax less guilty of bringing an illegal weapon into a crowded night club. Both parties acted with egregious irresponsibility.
6. Security thinks better of their decision and asks that Plax check his gun.
A reasonable attempt to consider safety, however late it may be. So what prompted them to ask for the gun? The fact that its owner was bombed out of his tree and posed a danger to other clubgoers.
7. In trying to hand over the gun, it went off.
While accidents do happen–and this is clearly an accident–Burress is drunk and attempting to do the right thing about six steps too late and, unfortunately for him, it cost him in a profound way. Don’t forget: Plax had broken SEVERAL laws before the gun went off.
8. The bullet grazed him but no one else.
Having already broken several federal and state laws, the fact that the bullet only grazed him makes Plaxico lucky not innocent. An illegal firearm discharged in a New York City nightclub. The bullet that struck Burress almost struck a bouncer upon ricochet. In the case of deadly weapons, “almost” counts for something.
9. Plax is a high profile public figure who makes a series of mistakes rather than just report it.
As a Super Bowl hero one year removed from glory, had he gone and reported the incident, wasn’t the possibility of leniency from New York greater? In fact, it was. Prosecutor’s offered Burress three months in jail as a plea deal. Burress rejected it.
10. Burress eventually owned up to the incident to police.
It was hard to hide the fact that he’d shot himself in the leg with his own gun and attempted to cover it up with the help of a teammate. “Owning up” doesn’t buy much after you’re so clearly dead to rights.
Here are the facts as I see them: Plaxico Burress had an illegal weapon on his person in New York City. While I empathize as to why he was carrying a concealed weapon, the above is a truth that cannot be avoided. Rather than hire armed professionals to ensure his safety, he, with the willful permission of a nightclub, entered the establishment with this concealed weapon. Even if he were able to carry the gun legally, the presence of the weapon increases the danger to others exponentially (For the record, I don’t feel any different about guns in the hands of police officers).
So, Burress has endangered the safety of others in a crowded enclosed space and done so illegally. After beomcing intoxicated, he attempted to handle this illegal firearm and it discharged, the bullet striking him in the thigh and almost striking a nearby bouncer. Upon realizing what had taken place, he and a teammate fled the scene and attempted to cover up the multiple crimes that Burress committed.
As the evidence mounted against him, Burress turned himself into police and began to plea bargain. The crimes he committed warranted a maximum fifteen years in prison and a minimum of three. Prosecutors offered him a plea deal of three months, which he refused. The state of New York had little choice but to move forward with its case which Burress could never hope to win. Upon realizing this, Burress took a two year plea deal.
In accordance with the laws of New York and the facts above, how exactly did Plaxico Burress catch a raw deal?
In a recent NY MAGAZINE article, Jennifer Senior discusses new media rock star, President Barack Obama, the sheer volume of information that the White House delivers and the nature of media that facilitates our insatiable appetite for it. Writes Senior:
Obama’s raised the bar for presidential visibility. Love him or not, people like that they can see him regularly. Everyone feels like they have an opportunity to participate politically–even if it means just shouting at the top of their lungs or swooning over a charismatic wink.
Despite the concerns of those fearing a godless pinko takeover destined to last one thousand years, Barack Obama still has to defend his belt in 2012. I find myself wondering if sheer celebrity and exposure will propel him to a second term.
In an age where our attention spans have a fondness for video and 140-character information bursts, Barack Obama is Henry Ford. Can any presidential contenders hope to outproduce him?
Originally Published February 10, 2009.
Am I my brother’s keeper?
Nino Brown, New Jack City
“Don’t be mad y’all ain’t in style no more.” That statement, and others similar to it, are part of the standard infantryman’s gear when he or she is conscripted into their respective color army, which is compulsory. The battle has raged for over four centuries; so long, in fact, that it has transitioned from combat to a matter of tradition. The ways in which war is waged vary; some approach it aggressively; others take a more humorous tack, playing the dozens in whatever environment they feel comfortable in. In the right company, particularly with regard to matters of racial desirability, it’s not uncommon to hear something along the lines of “Y’all ain’t been in style since 1991,” peppered into the conversation. Still, this humor is shaded with one side’s version of truth and it is an issue that can quickly escalate from jokes to contentious debate.
Color is a polarizing topic in Black America, and while many a dissertation-length tome has been written on the complexities and nuances of racial identity on the grounds of skin tone, I find it more helpful to point out, however broadly, a reality whose components can be teased out and debated, but not ignored. Really, it’s very simple. There are two sides: Dark and Light. While each side falls under the umbrella of Black America, both leagues have very particular complexions—pun both intended and not—and ways of doing things. The standards and ideals are, at best, confusing to the other side and, at worst, are loathsome. Both are governed by their perspectives, stereotypical and otherwise. Their goal is even simpler than their division: To reign supreme and represent the race, especially to “people who don’t know us like that.” Obviously, the closing of ranks is not so severe that associations, social and otherwise, are not made, but these associations do not supersede, by and large, the feelings of mutual contempt and mistrust. On one side, the resentment stems has its roots in antebellum authority; slave owner perspectives tempered with Black nuance. On the other, resentment for society’s favored sons and daughters and a suspicion of those who are too close to white for comfort. Humorously and otherwise, both attack each other with the same cudgel: You are not the right kind of Black.
It has been a little over three months since a certain junior senator from the state of Illinois had the audacity to make history. Many have opined on what this means for race relations in America—and by “race relations” we mean to ask how the white majority will regard other people of color as we move into the future. Some have wondered what it will mean for the color war described above. The latter question I find to be more compelling and, in search of an answer, decided to consult a classic 90s crime drama: New Jack City.
The other day I had occasion to see New Jack City again and was struck by how acutely the color conversation, the battle for Black played out, particularly for the film’s male characters. The film’s poster fires the first shot. Dark and sinister, drug kingpin Nino Brown (portrayed by Wesley Snipes) looms in the darkness. Below him are the three detectives—one white, the other two light-skinned Blacks—determined to bring him down. Snipes’ dress—black cap turned backward, black sunglasses and black leather jacket, casually holding a pistol in one hand, while a burning cigarette rests in the other—is a nightmare personified: Black radicalism with crack rocks and a bankroll. As the movie rolled, so too did the messages. For the light-skinned characters in the film, both perspectives are satisfied. They are the hero and moral compass; the crusading and avenging police officers played by Mario Van Peebles and Ice-T will stop at nothing to rescue the (Black) community from Nino Brown’s clutches.
Yet, there is another side to the coin. They’re also portrayed as weak, untrustworthy, and incompetent in some regard, simultaneously fulfilling a stereotype that many dark-skinned Blacks hold for light-skinned Blacks while also making Brown all the more compelling. One can’t help but be taken in by Brown’s aura (among people who discuss these things, Snipes’ performance is single-handedly credited for bringing Dark-skinned males back into prominence). Charismatic and driven, he is an individual who willed his ambitions into existence. While having some of the qualities a young Black man could point to as admirable, he is also the ruthless overlord of a criminal enterprise. He is a villain and pays the villain’s price for helping to destroy the (Black) community. In New Jack City and elsewhere, the message is simple. Dark versus Light. Light versus Dark. In this long-standing war, can anyone or anything bring the peace?
In all the post-election fervor, one might think that the former junior senator changes the above reality; that he single-handedly sent the relevance of New Jack City to the archives, never to be heard from again. Not so because A: He’s not Snipes-skinned and B: His pathos is made of different stuff. The new CINC complicates the Black America’s deeply entrenched attachment to color because his identity is not ensnared by it. He simply does not follow the caste rules. Where the historical color caste was created by white men procreating with African women, the former senator is the progeny of a white woman and a Kenyan man and that fact is significant. He had an upbringing that gives him an international appeal. He is a man apart; what a friend of mine called the Great Mirror: Able to reflect back whatever an individual needs to see. Rather than transcend race, one would argue that he reinterprets it from the outside. Does this somehow make him not Black? No; it means his approach to Black defies the standard.
So what does this mean for Nino and them? If anything, the former senator causes New Jack City to be more relevant. Why? Because most in Black America recognized that he was in their world but not of it. For one side, he had the look and pedigree that many had grown to despise and a personal history that was foreign. On the other, he had the look and the pedigree, but not the personal history that would have given a degree of comfort. He simply could not be trusted by anyone. But that initial skepticism thawed—with an immeasurable amount of help from wife—as the man began to show himself and Black America came to embrace him—and his history—as one of its own. And it is in that embrace that the centuries-long pitting against stands in its most stark relief. New Jack City’s age does show, but the ugliness of its color undertones shines.
Whether or not the former junior senator will be his brother’s keeper is less relevant than the following question: Who does Black America consider its brothers? A Columbia-grad-turned-head-of state didn’t make New Jack City old; he merely turned the film’s central question around on his would-be inquisitors. What Black America does with the question of color, with its deeply-rooted allegiances in this moment is critical. This election can be used to dismantle the caste question and embrace the racial identity nuances that will define the future or it can continue upon a familiar and divisive path, and hope that the President-elect will be forced into choosing a side. Should Black America choose the latter, it will be sorely disappointed. He may look like he is on a side, but he is not. He won’t choose because he doesn’t have to; for the reasons listed above, he can opt out. People like him are the future; he is a New Jack, a redefinition of Black identity and it is Black America’s responsibility to get where he is, not the other way around. The task is not easy; the history is complicated and painful, but the work must be done.
Will Black America be Obama’s keeper? That will greatly depend on how Black America perceives him. In the difficult days ahead, we will know by the terms by which we criticize or invalidate him. In a job that requires a degree of Nino Brown, if the disappointment and hard feelings are color-coded, we will know.
As you may be aware, I tweet along with the rest of the web cool kids. In doing so with a shameful regularity, I caught the attention of Black Twitterati, who took a little time out to show the kid some love.
Don’t blame it on the sunshine,
Don’t blame it on the moonlight,
Don’t blame it on the good times,
Blame it on the boogie
Not to speak ill of the dead, but…why can’t you blame it on the good times, Michael?
I can sort of understand why you wouldn’t want to blame celestial forces for why you can’t get no lovin’. And that’s no lie. I mean, if you’re woman’s acting up, I don’t see anything wrong with looking to the sun or the moon for answers seeing as that’s how so many goofy dames seem to be governed. But I can also appreciate wanting to dig a little deeper, go past the celestial bodies and explore the realm of boogie. If that with a healthy dose of cocaine is keeping her in the club, you have to address that fact.
But if you can blame it on the boogie, can’t you also blame it on the good times? Assuming the boogie precedes or is the proximate cause for the good time, isn’t the good time an accessory after the fact?
So, it’s looking like the public option in the health care reform debate has been successfully shouted down by (white) people throwing temper tantrums at town halls across our great nation. I’m not bothered by the fact that they fear a pinko takeover destined to last ten generations. Tickled maybe, but not bothered. Frankly, as an American, I support their right to express how they feel about legislation that may affect their lives. Harangues aside, they drew their line in the sand and said, “Mr. President, we less-than-respectfully submit that you and your public option should go fellate one another until climax.”
The thing that bothers me in this situation is the thing that has always bothered me about Democrats: Their disappointing lack of toughness. Say what you will about Republicans–and there is PLENTY to say–but they justify their thug on a daily basis when it comes to things they believe in. Some will say they play dirty pool; that they manipulate facts and appeal to the lowest common denominator to further their agendas. To that I say: Yea. Exactly. They understand that sometimes, politics is a matter of flexing muscle, not a MENSA convention.
With a majority in the house and senate and, according to themselves, logic and reason on their side, why aren’t the Democrats flexing back? Why aren’t they saying, “Lady from Pennsylvania, we hear you. But we think we’re right on this one, so we respectfully ask that you sit the fuck down”?
Because, despite also being convinced that they are right in what they believe, they want victory to come the right way; they want to make sure everyone is happy before doing anything. They don’t want politics to be a bloodsport, are determined to will it into civility and then stand by dejected when they again get mollywhopped.
Even worse, they still have the gall to insult George W. Bush at every turn for the things that he made happen. Let me say this: When convinced he was right, George W. Bush never let the opposition’s temper tantrums rule the day.
Some are saying the compromise in necessary because, unlike left-leaning opposition, the right is more likely to get violent about it. So the lesson here is that people who make violent threats get the last word? Funny, in a country that imprisons suspected terrorists indefinitely, I’m confident we can find a place for people who wanna get criminal over health care reform.
Has it always been this way? I can’t say. I do know that as it stands right now, I’m glad these aren’t the people in charge of assuring my civil rights. #SorryGayPeople
Lists are so much more useful than groups of sentence wrapped around some central idea, right?
- Funny how “tragic mulattoes” end up catching better breaks than “tragic negroes”.
- If I’m polite to you without heckling of some sort, I probably don’t like you.
- Black women in the 35-45 age group are something special.
- Why people go to night clubs to stand on the dance floor not dancing is still beyond me.
- Certain kinds of self-segregation are acceptable for all groups, particularly in night clubs, especially if you’re a member of a group that does not like to dance or dances badly.
- I sometimes wish The Feath was around for the sole purpose of punching girl’s in the face.
- The Root’s Twitter avatar isn’t still Iran-conscience, I just don’t know how to change it.
- I don’t have ugly friends. And if I do, I’m honestly not aware of that fact.
- When people ask me to use my phone’s web browser for something, I hold it up and feel quietly judged.
- Whenever life seems to be coming up aces, dandruff shows up.
- Open mics are pretty good except for most of the poetry.