My Turn: I Am Not the Enemy

I battle crime every day, and i defend myself every day, too. I'm a black prosecutor in Louisville, Ky. I have presented cases before juries, but from my first day on the job I have felt that I have been on trial in the court of public opinion. Even my maternal grandmother once asked if I was a Republican (I'm not), while others just asked the ultimate question: how can you put our black men in jail?

Depending on my mood, the answer can be a three-part speech on the decay of moral values, educational-attainment levels and teenage motherhood. Other times I simply tell them the defendants put themselves in the penitentiary and I facilitated their exodus from the community. Or better yet, my favorite answer: I didn't put the crack in their pocket and a gun in the other.

It's difficult to combat the impression that somehow I am personally persecuting these men and not performing a public function of law enforcement. I have no problem sending a drug dealer or a drug user to jail. I know that I'm doing important work to keep the streets safe, not just from drugs but from the virus of the drug culture. The virus of criminality. The virus of fast money at all costs. The virus of adrenaline addiction. The virus of chaos addiction.

A friend once said that drug dealers need a 12-step program to recover from the lifestyles they lead. Young men filled with testosterone and bravado don't mix well with little guidance and the lure of quick money. Hundreds or thousands of dollars of disposable income made in a few hours is a difficult life to reject when all that is offered as an alternative is a minimum-wage job. When your mother is addicted to drugs or her lost childhood, and your father is absent, you start life with a cinder block around your neck. Young males notoriously make bad decisions. But these bad decisions are deadly.

My job is not that of a social worker or a social scientist. I was hired to enforce the laws as drafted. I have a duty to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, including all the black victims of the drug culture. These victims are not just the dead rival drug dealers but the addicted mothers who neglect their children, the neglected children themselves and the overburdened extended families who care for these addicts and their children.

Many surreptitiously accuse me of being a race traitor, a puppet of a racist criminal-justice system. Race does not enter the equation for me. My question to these black people who believe me to be a traitor is, when will you connect the dots? Please realize, the police and the prosecutors are not the problem; it is the criminals in these depressed neighborhoods who are. These young, directionless men are the true menace. In order to settle the score, many think protection for these "victims" can be had through jury nullification, impeding investigations and elevating "social"-justice instigators who demonize all police. There are prosecutors and police who are not pure of heart and definitely have an agenda, hidden or obvious. But how do these young men find themselves in the criminal-justice system? Their choices. In the past, black people argued for justice from a place of moral superiority, but now who can take seriously anyone who defends drug dealers, child abusers, wife beaters or rapists? The victims deserve more.

In my county, two thirds of all the criminal defendants are black, which means that roughly two thirds of all victims are black. Should law enforcement not prosecute black criminals and doom all black victims to the absence of justice? Why aren't the police and the prosecutor seen as the champions of the black victim? There is a disconnect in the mind of many black people. My great-grandfather was murdered in Kentucky back in the 1940s. There was no investigation. There was no prosecution of the people involved. There was only a funeral, a widow and fatherless children. This would never happen today. Criminal acts—violent or otherwise—will not be tolerated by any person regardless of race. The system is not perfect, but have you seen the alternatives out there? We have the most perfect imperfect system on earth.

Of course, it's harder to be black in this country. Of course, black people are treated unfairly. Of course, the inner cities have a decaying infrastructure. But there is absolutely no reason to break a reasonable, appropriate law. None. The alternative is chaos.