Saturday, November 20, 2010
Are Black Politicians More Corrupt than White Politicians?
After the passage of the Act, Black Power was transformed from a slogan into a tangible reality. Now, we have many African American mayors and members of Congress. We have black governors and one U.S. senator. Today, the most powerful man on earth is a black man, President Barack Hussein Obama. It is undeniable. In many ways, African Americans have made great progress.
However, that tremendous progress has been tarnished by recent political scandals involving African American politicians. This past Thursday, the House Ethics Committee convicted long time, legendary Congressman Charlie Rangel of 11 ethics violations and recommended censure. The Washington Post reported that:
"Rangel, 80, was found to have improperly used his congressional staff and official letterhead to solicit donations from corporate charities and chief executives for a college wing named in his honor, contributions that soared into six- and seven-figure range once he became chairman of the tax-writing committee. The committee also found that he violated New York City rules by housing his political committees in rent-controlled apartments in Harlem, did not pay taxes on a villa he owns in the Dominican Republic, and did not properly disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal financial assets."
I was saddening to see this accomplished 80 year old politician break down and start weeping like a baby.
Unfortunately, Rangel is not the only African American accused of ethics violations. Rep. Maxine Waters also faces ethics charges for improperly seeking to help a bank in which her husband owns stocks. As AP reports, her trial has been postponed due to the discovery of an email affecting the charges. The charges include: "violating a rule requiring lawmakers' conduct to reflect creditably on the House; violating the spirit and letter of a rule prohibiting receipt of benefits by exerting improper influence; and violating a government code of conduct that prohibits dispensing or receiving special favors." Fortunately, at least for now, Rep. Jesse Jackson no longer faces an ethics investigation.
Last week, Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife Leslie Johnson were arrested for taking bribes from an unidentified developer. To view the video of the arrest, click this link. The Washington Post reports that the following events led to Johnson's arrest:
"Two FBI agents were at the front door of their two-story brick colonial in Mitchellville.
"Don't answer it," the county executive said, unaware that more agents were listening in.
Johnson ordered his wife to find and destroy a $100,000 check from a real estate developer that was hidden in a box of liquor.
"Do you want me to put it down the toilet?" Leslie Johnson asked.
"Yes, flush that," the county executive said.
But what about the cash? she asked - $79,600.
Put it in your underwear, the county executive told his wife.
She replied, "I have it in my bra" - which is where agents discovered the money after she answered the door.
That conversation, as documented in an FBI affidavit, led to the arrest Friday of Jack Johnson and his wife. Each was charged with evidence tampering and destroying evidence in a case the U.S. attorney called the "tip of the iceberg" in a broader corruption investigation in Prince George's."
This month, Leslie Johnson was elected to the Prince George's County Council. After her arrest, voters have launched online petition drive to prevent her from being sworn in.
The Jack Johnson situation reminds me of former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's conviction and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's conviction.
Early this year, as reported in the Baltimore Sun, Dixon entered an Alfred plea to perjury charges related to her failure to "disclose on her city ethics form lavish gifts from her then-boyfriend, Ronald H. Lipscomb, a developer who benefited from city tax breaks and contracts." In December 2009, "a city jury found her guilty of stealing roughly $500 worth of retail gift cards intended for the needy."
Finally, the people of Detroit were proud of the improvements that Kwame Kilpatrick was making to the city until the text message scandal emerged. In September 2008, Kilpatrick pled guilty to perjury charges. He was sentenced to 4 months in jail and 5 years probation.
After serving his jail sentence, he violated his probation, lied in his affidavit and was sentenced to a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. To make matters worst, in June 2010, the Detroit Free Press reported that the feds indicted the former mayor on 19 mail fraud and tax charges. Here is a break down of the charges and penalties:
"Mail and wire fraud: Kilpatrick faces 13 counts for allegedly using the mail and telephone to raise money for his tax-exempt Kilpatrick Civic Fund under the false assertion that it would be used for charitable purposes. Authorities allege he actually used fund money for personal and political expenses.
Penalty: Up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Filing false tax returns: Kilpatrick faces five counts for allegedly failing to report taxable income of $470,951 in the form of cash and private jet flights from unspecified sources, and personal expenses paid by the civic fund from 2003 to 2007.
Penalty: Up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Income tax evasion: Kilpatrick faces one count for allegedly failing to report $171,751 in income in the form of cash and private jet flights from unspecified sources, and personal expenses paid by the civic fund in 2008.
Penalty: Up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine."
All of these recent scandals create the impression that African American politicians are more corrupt than their white counterparts. Such scandals perpetuate the stereotype that black people are not fit to govern. I refuse to accept those racist assertions.
John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Many politicians, black and white, become intoxicated by power, develop an exaggerated sense of entitlement and compromise their integrity. They begin to believe that they are above the law. These current investigations, prosecutions and convictions of black politicians may be another manifestation of institutional racism in the criminal justice system.
Bear with me for a second. According to legal scholar Michelle Alexander, the so-called War on Drugs is waged almost exclusively in black communities even though studies consistently show that African Americans are no more likely to use or sell drugs than whites.
Similarly, it appears that the war against corruption is being waged almost exclusively against African American politicians. Legal scholars should conduct a comprehensive study of this issue. Apparently, prosecutors and ethics committees primarily focus on black officials. Consequently, black officials are disproportionately investigated, indicted, arrested and convicted.
For example, as Joe Conason notes in his article Why Mitch McConnell is worst than Charles Rangel, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell has engaged in similar conduct as Rep. Rangel. Conason writes, "like Rangel, McConnell has rewarded corporate donors to an academic center named after him -- and used earmarks for that purpose." However, as far as I know, no one is investigating McConnell.
Please do not get me wrong. I refuse to defend any corrupt politicians. Corrupt African American leaders like Dixon and Kilpatrick betrayed the people and dishonored the struggle. They got what they deserved. All politicians must be held accountable for their actions. Everyone must obey the law. However, laws must be equally and fairly enforced regardless of race. Selective prosecution is unacceptable.