If you’ve kept pace with the news recently, then you’ve been reading a lot over the last few weeks of horrific conditions in which some people in this country are being held: babies without diapers, children without beds, parents separated from their kids. Honestly, I am having trouble typing the keys on my keyboard because I am so disgusted thinking about it. The Trump administration, however, has met these revelations with radio silence.
There is, however, only one prisoner who the Trump administration seem to be very concerned about – and that should concern all of us.
A$AP Rocky, a rapper and celebrity, was recently arrested in Sweden for allegedly assaulting someone in a fight in Stockholm. The case has quickly gotten attention from Kim Kardashian and Kanye West among a bevy of other prominent celebrities, and apparently both the President’s wife and his son-in-law have spoken about it. The Secretary Of State has personally intervened, the King of Sweden has been contacted, and President Trump himself has made a public commitment to aid the rapper and contacted the Swedish Prime Minister on his behalf.
It is important to state that I am not here to make a judgement call on this particular incident or on this specific person – that is for the justice system, and the justice system alone, to do – and the rapper himself doesn’t appear to have asked for this kind of spotlight.
But it’s impossible to see this kind of absurd juxtaposition in the news and not ask myself: Is every person getting equal protection under the law, as promised by the United States constitution?
Sadly, I do not think so. I think what’s more likely is that being rich gets you another kind of justice in our country, and regardless of the circumstances of any one particular case, that power imbalance is profoundly and utterly wrong.
It’s not the first – or worst – time this kind of two-tiered justice system has been in the news lately. The sordid details that continue to arise out of the ongoing Jeffrey Epstein case perfectly illustrate the problem. Even with a mountain of evidence, compelling witnesses, and story after story of abuse and exploitation, Epstein’s wealth and connections secured him a slap-on-the-wrist plea deal while thousands of Americans linger for decades in jail for lesser offenses.
Epstein’s recent arrest, and the resignation and reinvestigation of the man who was responsible for that plea deal, are welcome steps toward justice in one story; they are not substitutes for fixing the systemic problem that let him avoid justice in the first place.
Rich people in this country, myself included, already get special privileges in everyday life that are completely inaccessible to non-millionaires. We get special tax breaks, we get outsized political power, and sometimes, we even get access to the Oval Office.
Equal protection under the law is supposed to refer to rich and poor, celebrity and non-celebrity, alike. If we have a justice system, here in the US or elsewhere, that doles out benefits to the rich and famous while continually punishing the poor, then we have no justice system at all.