Justice

Elementary School Kid Explains the Biggest Issue With Our Justice System

It seems impossible to explain the problem with the U.S. criminal justice system in a mere 30 seconds, but one ten-year-old student just made a pretty fantastic attempt. In a viral tweet first shared by @NaomiYitna, he explained how economic inequality skews who ends up in prison.

"The average person that's wealthy can easily pay their way out of prison. It's really all about money. The people that have the money always pay their way out," he says. Citing an example, he mentioned his favorite TV show, "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson."

"It was the way that [O.J.] represented himself," the child said. "It was the way that he paid people to let him free."

Wealth and fame played major roles in Simpson's trial. 

Simpson's defense attorneys strategically framed the case around racial injustice perpetuated by the LAPD — but, as the show went great lengths to point out—Simpson's wealth afforded him resources unimaginable to most Black men accused of crimes in the United States. Those who believe Simpson to be guilty argue that his acquittal had far more to do with how wealth and celebrity stature rig the criminal justice system than justice itself.

Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark weighed in on how fame impacted the trial in an interview with Slate, and responded to the show's portrayal of Judge Lance Ito's favoritism toward the defense. "They attempted to show how much Judge Ito pandered to the press and the way that he was constantly trying to curry favor, but they could never deliver on the truth of it, on the profound extent to which he let the defense completely run the courtroom because he was interested in how he was perceived," Clark recounted.

Manson family prosecutor and bestselling author Vincent Bugliosi explained the injustice of Simpson's acquittal in his book, "Outrage: Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder," and argued that the media portrayed Simpson's attorneys inaccurately due to the defendant's wealth and stature, which influenced the course of the trial.

"For all of Simpson's money, it was nothing short of remarkable that he still didn't have one lawyer representing him in court who had demonstrated any real competence in murder cases. But if you were to listen to the media throughout this period, one would never have known this," Bugliosi wrote. "Their reasoning was that if Shapiro and Cochran were on this big celebrity case, and presumably charging a lot of money, they must be the best."

He also argued that media sympathy for Simpson made the verdict all but inevitable:

"To this day, virtually everyone refers to Simpson only as "O.J.," a friendly nickname that implies the speaker still likes Simpson or at most views him as one would an errant friend or relative, certainly not a brutal murderer. "How's O.J. doing?" Larry King would solicitously ask any guest of his who was a Simpson intimate and who had visited Simpson recently at the jail. These and many other small signs of respect, or awe, or affection, indicated that Simpson, even if guilty, might be given some break tantamount to a papal dispensation. In the absence of a powerful prosecution, it became almost a self-fulfilling prophecy that he would be found not guilty."

The wealth gap rigs the criminal justice system.

As the student wisely pointed out, Simpson's experience in the judicial system points out the extent of what privilege affords, and highlights the grotesque reality faced by most people accused of crimes, who do are not shielded by wealth or fame.

As ATTN: has previously reported, 707 of every 100,000 people in the U.S. are behind bars. A staggering one in three Black men in the U.S. will spend time in prison. Many of these people, unlike Simpson, are accused and convicted of non-violent crimes, and have limited financial resources.

A nation's biggest form of public housing should not be prison

Many factors contribute to mass incarceration. California recently reformed the “three-strikes law,” which sentenced 25 years-to-life to anyone convicted of three felonies. The War on Drugs also drastically increased the number of people incarcerated in the United States, and disproportionately targeted the low-income Black community.

When low-income people are arrested, they also frequently cannot afford to pay bail. Jamie Fellner of the Human Rights Watch explained, “for people scrambling to pay the rent each month, finding $1,000 for bail can be as impossible as finding $1,000,000. Bail punishes the poor because they cannot afford to buy their pretrial freedom.”

Many people who face criminal charges do not have the resources to pay for a private attorney, and rely on public defenders. These lawyers' qualifications and the amount of attention they are able to grant individual cases due to their workloads vary greatly by state. Recently, Louisiana public defenders offices have faced huge funding crises. In February, the Plaquemines Parish Public Defenders Office closed indefinitely due to cuts in funding, NPR reported. The East Baton Rouge Parish Public Defenders Office also faces major cuts. On Wednesday, the New Orleans Advocate reported:

"East Baton Rouge Parish’s chief public defender said Wednesday that, barring additional state funding, he will lay off six staff investigators, reduce the salaries of several staff attorneys and investigators, and suspend the contracts of his seven contract lawyers, effective April 15."

Economic and racial inequalities also shape who is executed on death row. Those who end up on death row are often "people that hardly have anything," the child points out. Black inmates also make up half the executions carried out on death row.

In December, President Obama pardoned two federal prisoners and shortened the sentences of 95.

"President Obama is committed to restoring the sense of fairness at the heart of our justice system," the White House announced. "Most of the commutations the President has granted have been to non-violent offenders sentenced under those unjust—and now outdated—drug crime sentencing rules. If these individuals had been convicted for the exact same crime under today's laws, nearly all of them would have already finished serving their time."

[H/T Complex]