Monday, April 09, 2007

Punching, shoving and the politics of race, power and prosecutorial discretion

Via Pink Dome, for those who thought Shaquanda Cotton's second degree felony conviction for shoving a teacher's aide was justified, tell me what you think about former state Rep. Rick Green getting deferred adjudication on a Class C misdemeanor for punching state Rep. Patrick Rose. Cotton was prosecuted on a second degree felony for "shoving" someone with an open hand, while Green (right, with Rose) curled up his fist and threw a punch.

Some of the difference stems from power, some of it's race, some of it's that Patrick Rose didn't aggressively seek Green's prosecution, and of course, Green pled out whereas Shaquanda demanded a trial. On the other hand, both were assaults on "public servants," and Green's was more serious than Cotton's. (No one was hurt in either incident.)

Green's C misdemeanor shows me the prosecutor in Shaquanda Cotton's case had plenty of discretion if he'd wanted to pursue a lesser charge. Someone will accuse me of "playing the race card," but it's fair to wonder if Cotton and Green both received "equal protection under the law." It seems to me Mr. Green received a little more protection than Ms. Cotton.


800 pound gorilla said...

It is playing the race card: plain and simple. If it were Al Sharpton pushing Jesse Jackson the outcome would be similar to that of the two legislators. If it were a white Dixie Chicks fan pushing a black traffic cop the result would be similar. It's a power thing. It's only coincidental that whites hold a disproportionate amount of power in our legal and political system.
I pointed out in the 80s that cops weren't necessarily racist. They harass those with less power. They bully young people and subject them to random stops and fishing expeditions much more often. It's just that people of color stay young at older ages.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I would say, 800, that the intersection of race, class and power is not a "coincidental" link, but an historical one, which makes the matter a bit more complex.

I do agree that if Sharpton and Jackson had an altercation, they'd come out similarly to Mr. Green. But the truth is, at least in the South, if you're black AND poor that's two strikes against you, and you just don't get as many chances to screw up as does the white middle class before the "felon" label is hung around your neck. Plus, racial targeting of drug investigations in particular in Tulia, Hearne and Palestine, among many others, disallow me, personally, from honestly excluding race as a factor - I've simply seen it aggressively in play too often.

That said, equal protection isn't only about race - the powerful should receive no greater mercy, nor the poor more vengeful justice, whether they're white, black or green. I think the Cotton case may be criticized without bringing race into it - it should not be impossible to charge a kid with a second degree felony (2-20) for an offense that could also be charged as a C misdemeanor, the equivalent of a traffic ticket. That's WAY too much prosecutorial charging discretion, IMO.