In many parts of the country, there is no “justice” to be found in our “criminal justice” system, which by and large operates as an essential part of the white supremacist superstructure. Designed to funnel Black Americans into the carceral state based on the most monstrously unjust pretensions of criminality, to this day the police and the courts work hand in hand to keep Black people in jail forever.
Nowhere is this more flagrant than in the deep South, where the Supreme Court of Louisiana has voted almost unanimously to uphold the life sentence of a Black man, Fair Wayne Bryant, who was convicted of stealing a pair of hedge clippers. 62 years old, Bryant has already served twenty years in prison for the 1997 charge of attempted simple burglary.
But that didn’t stop the Supreme Court, which is almost entirely white men, from upholding his life sentence. The one dissenting judge, Chief Justice Bernette Johnson — who just so happened to be the one Black woman on the court — wrote that “the sentence imposed is excessive and disproportionate to the offense the defendant committed.”
“If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish Mr. Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers…This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of 3 hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose,” noted Johnson in her dissent.
The severity of the sentence is ostensibly justified by Mr. Bryant’s charging with 4 minor property crimes over the previous two decades before his 1997 arrest.
Chief Justice Johnson argued that the sentence is a “modern manifestation” of the “pig laws” that Southern whites created in the post-Reconstruction era. These laws were written in order to unfairly punish poor Blacks for the pettiest of crimes and to recreate the slave state by funneling Blacks into jails, where they could be once again forced into labor.
Those laws are clearly still being enforced in spirit today with this latest show of despicable cruelty from the Louisiana Supreme Court.
In the state of Louisiana, a Black life is worth less than a pair of hedge clippers in the eyes of the state Supreme Court — and that is why so many are in the streets demanding that the nation wake up, accept that Black lives do matter, and begin dismantling the white supremacist institutions, laws, and political wings that ensure that these inhumane injustices still continue to occur every day.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.