The news lately seems full of injustices, particularly against people of color (POC). First, another police shooting out of San Francisco has rocked the news waves. Stephon Clark, aged 22, was shot primarily in his back in the backyard of his grandmother. Accusations of a police cover-up and protests in the street have heightened tensions. On the other coast, the police of Asheville, North Carolina released body camera footage of a police officer assaulting a man after the man had been allegedly jaywalking. The video shows the police officer choking the man and hitting him in the head multiple times.
Police violence has become a pretty regular story – so much so that you can feel immune to it. But out of Texas, one story makes it pretty clear that the justice system has a problem with race and POC, after Crystal Mason, a convicted felon, received a jail sentence for voting in the 2016 election. On November 8, 2016, she went to her local precinct. She was told her name was not on the voter roll, so the staff gave her a provisional ballot. In February 2017, she was arrested while she was meeting with her probation officer. In Texas, it is legal to vote in a general election – even with a provisional ballot – until any jail sentences have been fully served. This includes parole, probation or suspension. She had no idea she was not allowed to vote. Her lawyer argued her vote was cast in good faith, but she was sentenced to five years in jail for voting illegally. As a note, Ms. Mason’s vote was never even actually counted.
This is an extreme sentence in light of the other individuals who have been convicted of voter fraud in their states. In Wisconsin, 52-year old Robert Monroe (a white man) was convicted of 6 counts of illegal voting, and sentenced to one year in jail. Chad Gigowski, another white male, was convicted of voting twice on the same day in two different locations back in 2012. He served six months in jail. In Texas, of 38 prosecutions for illegal voting between 2005 and 2017, only one has ever resulted in a sentence exceeding 3 years. This involved a state official who voluntarily and knowingly registered non-citizens to vote.
In 2015, everything changed with the new attorney general, Ken Paxton. An extreme conservative, Mr. Paxton has made examples out of individuals accused of voter fraud – who also happen to be more frequently minority women. Maria Ortega was a permanent resident and mother of 4 who illegally voted in the 2012 and 2014 elections. She had been brought to the country as an infant, but acquired only a sixth-grade education. She believed that because she owned property, could serve in the military, get a job and pay taxes, that it also entitled her to vote. Unfortunately, a jury convicted her of two charges, and she was sentenced to eight years in prison.
And as if it were not obvious enough that some serious disparities are occurring in our justice system, Ethan Crouch, the ‘affluenza teen,’ was tried in the same Texas county. Crouch was drunk and high when he crashed his truck into another vehicle on the side of the road. He killed 4 people and injured nine others. At trial, it was asserted that he suffered from ‘affluenza’ – or being so wealthy and spoiled that he could no longer tell the difference between right and wrong. He avoided jail time, and on probation was filmed drinking alcohol, a violation of his terms. After that, he and his mother ran off to Mexico, where he was caught and sent back to the U.S. For his trouble, he was given 720 days in jail. For those of you keeping count, after killing 4 people, wounding 9 others, violating his probation, and avoiding arrest, Mr. Crouch serves a whopping 2 years in jail. Ms. Mason, a convicted felon for a non-violent crime (it was tax tampering), is sentenced to 5 years for casting a vote that did not even count… for a candidate who didn’t even win. But sure. Justice is blind, right?