New York's 2009 Democratic Primary race for Manhattan District Attorney might very well be an indication of why many of the state's correctional facilities, and the country's prisons for that matter, look like mini-Third World enclaves. In overwhelmingly Democratic New York City, with a bulging population of black and Latino Manhattan residents, to have three white candidates extolling their compassion for fairness echos loudly of hollow rhetoric.
It did not help matters that television station NY 1 held a debate, at John Jay College, that was poorly moderated and uninsightful. Dominic Carter, who is occasionally reliable in his across the desk, face-to-face interviews, instituted what he called THE LIGHTNING ROUND. The Lightning Round series of questions, demanding only yes or no answers, was so absurd and useless it would not have gotten past the desk of a high school moderator at a student government debate. Yet, candidates Richard Aborn, Leslie Crocker Snyder and Cyrus Vance Jr. played along with this time-wasting, meatless exercise in less than trivial information.
Who cares whether or not the candidates believe that Robert Morgenthau was the best Manhattan DA ever! Many of the white suspects from Connecticut and New Jersey who were caught buying drugs in Washington Heights probably love Mr. Morgenthau because they were pled to misdemeanors and did not have to do any jail time. On the other hand, many of the blacks and Latinos in the same situation charged with felony drug possession requiring time in a state facility probably have a very different opinion of the retiring Manhattan DA. However, neither the moderator nor the professional newspersons who questioned the candidates broached this recurring disparity.
The continuing use of a Jim Crow standard could also have been exposed when the question of Plaxico Burress came to light. Due to the length of time between the former New York Giant wide receiver's gun incident and the point at which charges were filed, the candidates were asked if they believe Mr. Burress received special treatment because of his celebrity status. Plaxico Burress is currently serving a two year sentence having pled guilty to illegal gun possession.
For decades, New York State has had mandatory jail time for illegal (unregistered) gun possession. But several years ago when singer/actor Harry Connick Jr. was caught in New York with an unregistered gun, he pled to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to perform a Public Service Announcement. The fact that the black celebrity, Mr. Burress, is doing jail time and the white celebrity, Mr. Connick Jr., did not, is probably just a coincidence.
More recently, CNN television host and anchor, Lou Dobbs' wife was also arrested in New York for illegal possession of a gun. Like crooner Connick, Mrs. Dobbs was not sentenced to do the mandatory jail time. In running for a position as high profile and important as Manhattan District Attorney, it is mind boggling that the 20 year criminal court judge, Leslie Crocker Snyder, the "Escaped from New York" Assistant DA, Cyrus Vance Jr., and reversal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws advocate Richard Aborn, did not see fit to shine a glaring light on these judicial inequalities.
However, the real insult to this injury is that the members of the Fourth Estate never bothered to ask.