Justice For Some

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A few years back, someone broke into our cars; not the smash-and-grab type, but the oops-I-didn't-lock-the-doors type. The responding officer imparted this: "Lock your doors," adding emphatically, "It's teenagers from across the bay looking for easy cash."

Turns out, she accused the wrong culprit. A young man living with his mother around the corner was responsible. Struggling with drug addiction and a rumored toxic household, he stole coins, charging cords, pocketknives, and small items to pay or barter for what he needed. When faced with burglary charges and jail time, his wealthy, surgeon father hired a private investigator and attorney who paid me a visit. Armed with cash and conciliatory letters from the father, son, and rehab counselor, they pled his case in my dining room, offering compensation for impunity.

My husband and I debated the alternatives. Allowing a twenty year-old boy who had made some bad decisions a second chance seemed humane and reasonable. Other than the hassle of replacing pilfered items, we were not really put out. However, my conscience nagged me about the boy's privilege. Who was rescuing the 20-year-old black boy who had made a bad choice? Where were the private investigator and attorney cobbling together funds and letters, presenting a case for the young Latina girl who had broken the law?

The scales of justice have long been tipped by wealth, class and race, and are today have long been. In the documentary 'Thirteenth', criminal justice reform advocate Bryan Stevenson says, "We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes."

Ultimately, we decided to give the young boy a second chance. But rarely does a day pass, that I do not wish we had told the boy's father that we would do so IF, he worked with an organization that helped an underserved community and that he find a person who had made poor decisions similar to his own child, but lacked the familial resources to negotiate a second chance. With any luck, he is hearing my plea now.


With a Perspective, I'm Melissa Macko.

Melissa Macko is a mother of three, and an activist and volunteer in Burlingame.