The Justice Divide

Updated: Jun 30

A headline news report on Sunday, 7 June 2020 stated that the Minneapolis city council had adopted a veto-proof resolution to abolish the Minneapolis police department. What will replace it isn’t clear yet, but the council vowed it would be drastically different than the current system.

If someone had predicted that headline even one month ago, you would have pronounced them insane. Yet after the tragic and inexcusable death of George Floyd, here we are.

I have a recommendation for you. If you really want to understand what’s going on in the United States right now, pick up (or download) the book “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap” by Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi. It was published six years ago, but today it reads like a prophecy.

Taibbi’s premise in this book is simple: We’ve heard a lot about wealth inequality the last few years, but his goal was to explain the correlated problem of justice inequality. The book’s method is interesting. He jumps back and forth from examples of very wealthy people who commit crimes that hurt thousands of people who are never punished, to examples of African Americans in the inner-city who spend six months in jail for riding their bicycle on the sidewalk because they couldn’t afford bail. The examples are shocking to the point of being almost unbelievable – on both sides of the Divide.

The nice thing is Taibbi is probably one of the smartest, most talented writers we have. The book is real page turner. Every once in a while, in the middle of a sentence, he unexpectedly throws in a sarcastic one-liner that will send you off into a few moments of laughter that breaks up the narrative.

And judge for yourself whether he was prophetic. Here’s a quote from the last chapter of the book.

“The problem is, if the law is applied unequally enough over a long enough period of time, at some point, law enforcement becomes politically illegitimate. Whole classes of arrests become (circle one) illegal, improper, morally unenforceable.

“We have to be really close to that point now. Too many of the same damning themes keep jumping out.

“The first and most obvious is that two people caught committing the same crime rarely suffer the same punishments, if they aren’t the same kinds of people…. Troy Marone in jail for a joint while HSBC executives walk for washing hundreds of millions for drug dealers. Some guy in backwoods Arkansas gets arrested for forging a check for $450 to bail his girlfriend out of jail, but nobody gets arrested for systematically forging thousands of signatures on foreclosure affidavits.”

This gives a little flavor for the kinds of examples in the book, but as Taibbi predicted, the Justice Divide has become a cancer that strikes at the very foundation of the legitimacy of our justice system.

I honor and admire the vast majority of our men and women in blue, especially here in Utah. Heaven knows I wouldn’t want their job. However, it’s the responsibility of we, the people, to define how and where we authorize these public servants to use deadly force. I still mourn the fact that we, the people sent Officer Jared Francom to his death because some guy had a few marijuana plants in his basement. I believe the good public servants I have known would welcome changes that would result in less risk to themselves and the people they have to deal with in the challenging situations they face every day.



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