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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Black men still imprisoned by inequality

Vince Lemus Special to The Spokesman-Review

I n the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson penned the words, later repeated in part by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Within days of each other recently, two young Spokane-area men were arrested in similar but unrelated circumstances.

Young John Powers, was accused of burglary — a felony — after he and his sister allegedly assaulted her former friend. Annie Powers, who was merely present, apparently was not arrested.

The echo of the cell door shutting had barely faded when John Powers, son of the former mayor of Spokane, was released. Where is the injustice here?

From the perspective of the perpetrator, there is none. Justice was served with a silver spoon. Judge Neal Rielly called the jail and ordered that Powers be released on his own recognizance. As reported in The Spokesman-Review, Judge Rielly said, “Given the information I was provided, I felt the kid was entitled” to be released on his own recognizance, “I don’t care who he is.”

The judge may not care, but our justice system seems to care — a lot. Does the “system” work the same for everybody? Who is entitled and who is not?

It may seem harsh but necessary to look at the availability of entitlement, power and privilege. Ideally, entitlement to justice should be based on those words by Jefferson. Realistically, however, entitlement too often depends on one’s race, gender and socioeconomic status.

Tony Skinner, a young black man and former Gonzaga University basketball player, was jailed for allegedly taking part in an assault strikingly similar to the one with which Powers and his sister were associated. Skinner, though, was held on $30,000 bail.

Skinner accompanied his friend, DeJuan Ashley, who allegedly assaulted the victim in a Gonzaga dorm. Skinner, who has no record, was apparently only present for the assault.

This being the 50th year since passage of Brown vs. the Board of Education, one can see that life is still significantly different, based on race, socioeconomic status and access to justice. Ideally, all people are created equal; however, not all people have the luxury of being treated as equal.

These two cases present similar circumstances but contrasting outcomes. The judge said he would “do the same for anybody.”

Did Skinner’s lawyer access the network and call Judge Rielly? Did the judge who “doesn’t care” who the defendant is call to get Skinner released on his own recognizance? Why is Skinner, who has no record (not even a DUI) and did not assault anybody, still in jail while young Powers and his sister walk free?

Did anybody ask, “Who is Tony’s father?” Finally, why is Tony’s photo plastered on the front page of the Sports section while young Mr. Powers and his sister keep their faces unshown?

It’s painfully obvious we are still “separate but equal.”

Andrew Hacker, author of “Two Nations,” once wrote, “Warring within the minds of Jeffersonians, both in his time and in ours, is the hope that blacks are equal — accompanied by the suspicion that they are not.”

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