I've generally stayed away from blogging about John Forbes because I've known him and his family for years. John was a student in my senior honors English class at Savio back in 1997-98, and even before that, when I worked at the Boys & Girls Club, John had been a Club member and coached little kids in our wiffle ball league. I followed the news like everyone else and waited to see the sentence that was handed down in federal court earlier this week, and now I'm happy for John and his family.
I glanced today at the Eastie Watch piece in this week's East Boston Times about Forbes and that spurred me to pull together some thoughts I had on the matter. I agree with the author's (though, for some reason, this weekly feature is unsigned I believe it's written by Times reporter John Lynds) contention that the Boston Herald's story on letters of support for Forbes -- specifically from City Councilor Sal LaMattina and former State Sen. Robert Travaglini -- is a bit snarky and off-base. These guys have both known the Forbes family forever, and if they had sacrificed that friendship in order to protect their political reputations, then that would have been a less-than-noble act. We're not talking about a backroom conversation with the DA or the judge to influence an outcome; this is the normal process of writing letters of support. People, including politicians, do this all the time.
What the Times doesn't confront -- and what I've only seen passing reference to in any local media in light of Forbes' sentence of probation -- is the broader picture, which this case has made even more clear: In America, the justice system is skewed by socioeconomic class. This isn't a novel or groundbreaking conclusion, but I can't help but think about it in these circumstances. Let's put aside the specifics of Forbes case because, as I said, I am pulling for him, and I want him to get on with his life. Speaking in objective terms of no one in particular, in the US, if one is white, middle class and is connected to the infrastructure of a community, one has a huge advantage in the criminal justice system. Conversely, if none of those are true, one has none of those advantages and is treating much differently in the courts.
Currently in the US there are more than 250,000 people in federal prisons and local jails for drug offenses. It's likely that many of them didn't have structured childhoods, good schools and connections to community organizations, and as a result they were locked up, often for years. Human Rights Watch has concluded that "blacks are 10.1 times more likely than whites to be sent to prison for drug offenses." I'm not, however, fixated on race, but class is a different story. OJ Simpson is black, but he got away with murder because of his money.
America has spent more than a trillion dollars on the so-called War on Drugs in the past 30 years. We don't seem to have received a good return on that investment. It's time to revamp drug laws so that everyone is able to receive treatment and everybody is able to get on living their lives with strong support structures in place. It's good economic policy, but it's also the right -- and fair -- thing to do.