Fantasy Reparations

Not that I’ve ever been a big fan of the Marshall Project, but that was before they started publishing fiction. But even fiction has its limits, grounded perhaps in something remotely connected to reality so that the parts that try to evoke emotions don’t invoke cringes and laughs instead. They blew it this time.

Three Strikes Didn’t Work. It’s Time to Pay Reparations

Heck of a clickbait title, but the subtitle will really grab you.

Black and brown men paid the price for supplying what the recreational drug market demanded: cocaine and weed.

I know these “good Samaritans” well. I defended quite a few of these great humanitarians, maybe even some the writer remembers from her days in the South Bronx. They were fun days, filled with tiny vials of crack and kids killing for the turf of a decent street corner spot or banging some old lady over the head for their fix.

I WAS RAISED IN THE SOUTH BRONX in the late 1980s and ’90s. I came of age and into my consciousness while a generation of men of color were herded into the criminal justice system under the rigid, unyielding habitual offender laws — three-strikes laws — for nonviolent drug-related offenses.

Except New York never had a “three-strikes” law. That’s the sort of detail that you would think someone at the Marshall Project would realize, since the writer was obviously clueless. Or maybe she wasn’t, and is trying to pull one over on you on the way to her rom-com ending.

There are sound, strong even, rational arguments that the sentences imposed on crack dealers in New York, both state and federal courts, were grossly excessive. When ten years didn’t stem the problem, it was upped. Then raised again. Rinse and repeat. And it never worked, not because the sentences weren’t absurdly long enough, but because there were few options and way, way too much money to be made selling crack.

If you were a young guy in the South Bronx with limited education, your job prospects were, ahem, poor. But there were these guys driving fancy cars, wearing shiny Rolexes, with gold chains that could weigh down a horse. They drank Cristal at night at clubs where women fell on them. It was a life many young men yearned for, and so they took that path. They knew very well what they were getting into, but the good life was worth it. Or at least that’s what they believed.

And whenever there is big money and good times at stake, people will fight for their piece of it. And they did. Some when they were forced to. Some because they wanted to be Tony Montana, enjoying the power of violence a little too much.

But what they were not was great humanitarians, helping out their brother man by supplying a desired pastime. Don’t pay for your crack and see how sweetly they tried to persuade you to honor your responsibilities. And if the only way to get the loot to cover your debt meant some random person got beaten or robbed, well, that was had to be done because you needed that next fix.

That’s not the story Juleyka Lantigua Williams tells, however, as it would never lead to the tear-jerking ending.

In my Bronx neighborhood, after fathers went upstate, mothers often had to work two jobs to keep families afloat, even in rent-controlled apartments. Or they had to do the unthinkable and apply for Section 8 and welfare to help care for an infant. Grandmas would arrive from the Caribbean to become the stay-at-home parent, do the cooking and cleaning, and keep their daughters from succumbing to their virtual widowhood.

It was hard on the family left behind, especially when “their men,” the spouses and fathers, spent every dime they ever made on the accouterments demanded of a big man on the street. There was no money left to feed their children, or for lawyers, when it was pissed away on trinkets. But the passive voice, “after fathers went upstate,” conceals why fathers went upstate. Even if they were sentenced to reasonable sentences, they would still go upstate. Because they were drug dealers.

And after drying your tears over the horrors perpetrated on drug dealers drinking champagne, we come to the fantasy payoff.

Today, the men who were taken from neighborhoods like mine are in their forties and fifties, having spent most of their lives in prison. Their families torn asunder, their children and siblings derailed, and their future — should they eventually be released — a total blank. The only way for states and the federal government to atone and begin to undo the damage is to commute their sentences, reverse their convictions, and pay these men reparations.

Does this romantic kiss at the end of this sad story not break your heart? Had the payoff been reducing sentences of life plus cancer to, say ten years, which would have been more than sufficient to serve the legitimate purpose of a sentence of incarceration, this might be a story with a nexus to reality. But that wouldn’t have made you cry, would it?

Commute their sentences. Reverse their convictions, and the coup de grâce, reparations. Reparations? It’s almost poetic, in a completely batshit crazy sort of way. If that doesn’t make you cry, nothing will.

I’ve spent a good deal of time of late trying to explain to young activists why they’re not helping to achieve viable reform by indulging in their psychotic delusions of denial, their fantasy versions of reality, their weeping over systemic horrors that aren’t quite systemic and weren’t entirely unjustified.

This post was a prime example of pushing a lie so ridiculous, so unfathomably laughable, as to render its writer, and its publisher, a joke. Serious people have fought to get New York to enact an expungement statute to no avail. So instead, proffer a story so absurdly false, plus call for commutation, reversal of convictions and, ta da, reparations?

This didn’t appear at the Marshall Project by accident, but because the young and unduly passionate believe this insane nonsense, spout lies they want to believe and demand solutions that are so outrageous as to be off-the-charts offensive.

And someone like me, a criminal defense lawyer who is supposed to be on their team, refusing to indulge in their delusions and instead fighting for rational solutions based on reality, is the worst of the bad guys. After all, no one is worse than a traitor to the cause, even when the cause is a rom com fantasy.

I was informed yesterday by a woke young lawyer that maybe the problem is that I, “a middle aged white guy,” might not be “the best person to judge the validity of complaints about things like microagressions [sic]” when they’ve stymied effort to prevent cops from needlessly killing black guys in the streets.

Maybe he’s right, that the future of reform will rely on fantastical lies by narcissistic children. So why not reparations? Makes total sense as long as you believe in fantasies. And if you are down with delusions, at least you can take comfort in knowing that the Marshall Project suffers from delusions as well. After all, it’s our messiah, or so it says.

25 thoughts on “Fantasy Reparations

  1. wilbur

    It’s not just reparations, of course. She wants “the creation of a dedicated services department similar to the Veterans Administration that can offer job placement help, mental health options, housing assistance, educational pathways and reintegration support for those who were excessively charged and over-incarcerated. ”

    She’s got a better shot at getting reparations.

      1. LocoYokel

        Do you really hate ex-cons that much to wish another VA on them? They served their time, quit punishing them.

  2. Skink

    She has a valid point. These folks worked hard, often sacrificing their liberty and lives. They created a business, no an industry. Having done their time, they’re broke, even homeless. Their children are alone, uneducated, untethered to the world and useful society. In the meantime, what they created offers vast wealth to others, but they own no shares in the business.

    When operating systems were sold on discs, I shared hundreds of copies with acquaintances. In turn, some became hooked on Windows. I’m betting they went on to buy the programs. I caused wealth for Microsoft. Stand by, I need to call Mr. Gates.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s quite true that they created vast wealth for others. Or as I like to say, “no one gets away Scott-free.”

  3. Guitardave

    This ones for you, trying to deal with these empty heads…and a couple of friends that got YEARS when they should’ve got a ticket…for selling a fucking plant….both white men…so no reps from these “angels”..

  4. Richard Kopf


    I wonder if Juleyka Lantigua Williams from the South Bronx has ever considered who made the phrase “crack whore” a reality and laughed about it. For me, I still can’t get the “crack whore” out of my mind who hung herself in the cell adjacent to my courtroom.

    All the best.


  5. Steve Brecher

    In a saner world, in which the War on Drugs was abandoned and laws against possession, distribution, etc., were repealed, there would be an argument for reparations to the nonviolent subset of those incarcerated under the repealed laws.

    However, I don’t have a rejoinder to norahc’s point about using other peoples’ — taxpayers’ — money in that fantasy world. Perhaps crowdfund the reparations.

    1. SHG Post author

      Lest this take a dive down your rabbit hole, spare us the “saner world” where dealing heroin or coke is legalized. Play that nonsense at reddit.

      1. LocoYokel

        Wait!?! Coke is not legal!!??! Boy are the vending machine people where I work gonna be pissed.

      1. losingtrader

        I was repeating you. Try to keep up. K?
        In fact. why don’t I do an Elon Musk: Take 2 weeks off and I’ll decide how hard your job really is , then fire you when you come back cuz you’re overpaid.

        Oh wait……you haven’t asked for a big raise yet.

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