There’s a criminal law saying that “if you do the crime, you should do the time.” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was cited in the Financial Times, March 7, 2013 as admitting to Congress that some banks are just “too big” and may impede criminal prosecutions. Attorney General Holder says he’s aware of the “negative impact” on the economy of prosecuting banks, including HSBC who admitted to drug money laundering.
Apparently, the statement of “doing the time” applies to black men who are incarcerated but not to big banks that commit criminal violations including money laundering violations in this country. It’s ironic that the Supreme Court in Citizens United says that corporations are people when it comes to spending an abundance of money in elections to elect politicians. But when it comes to criminal wrongdoing, some banks are not like people and are too big to do the time.
This is particularly disheartening to me since many African American men are subject to another standard when it comes to jail. They make up for the vast majority of the prison population although their population is around 6% of the total population. Black and Hispanic men make up approximately 40% of the prison population. But black men are not banks. Apparently, banks are considered by some to be too big for jail but black men and Hispanics men are just the right size to fit inside a jail. Black men do not get a pass when it comes to criminal activity. It is quite the opposite and black men are targeted for some crimes. And once convicted of felonies, they lose their most important rights, their freedom, liberty, their homes and the right to vote.
All I know is if you do the crime you should do the time, whether you are big or small, black or white. At least one Senator, Senator Elizabeth Warren questions why no Wall Street firms or banks have gone to trial for their fraud and demise of the country’s economy. In February, Senator Warren grilled Ben Bernanke on this topic. He had no real response. Senator Warren stated in February, “There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it,” she said. “I’m really concerned that ‘too big to fail’ has become ‘too big for trial.'” Last week, Senator Warren stated during a hearing that ” If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re gonna go to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life. But evidently if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your bed at night — every single individual associated with this. And I think that’s fundamentally wrong.”
Banks are run by people and not robots. Bank decisions are made by real humans. And bank decisions cause real harm to people when criminal conduct is involved. Take the example of the Subprime mortgage companies which are not banks but also as big as banks. Many Subprime mortgage companies and banks targeted blacks and other minorities for sub-prime mortgages even when they qualified for regular mortgages. And many blacks lost their homes to foreclosure as a result of the criminal wrongdoing of these companies. But, none of these corporations and their officials have stood a criminal trial and gone to jail as a result
When the highest law enforcement prosecutor in the county refers to banks as possibly being too big to fail, it sends the wrong message to everyone, except banks. So bankers are sitting above the law and black men are sitting under the jail. Well, it’s a catch-22 because if banks are too big for jail, then they’re too big to exist. When banks, Wall Street and financial institutions are tied to Congress, the Senate and even the White House, then maybe they are too big. I won’t say they shouldn’t fail. The solution is to bring everyone to justice who commits a crime and let them do the time, if convicted of a crime. That should also include “big banks”.
Debbie Hines is a trial attorney and former prosecutor who frequently appears in the media addressing issues on race and gender. She also writes for the Huffington Post. Her writings have also appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and the Afro American.