Parity and equity

3/22/2019, 6 a.m.
Several searing events during the past two weeks have again raised serious questions about the lack of parity and equity ...

Several searing events during the past two weeks have again raised serious questions about the lack of parity and equity in this nation.

Two very public events rise to the top: The college admissions scandal and the sentencing of Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, in federal court.

On March 13, a federal district court judge in Washington sentenced Mr. Manafort to an additional 43 months in prison for a series of witness-tampering and lobbying crimes he pleaded guilty to last fall. Add to that nearly four years for his conviction in federal court in Northern Virginia on eight felony counts of bank and tax fraud, and Mr. Manafort’s prison sentence totals 7½ years. He also has been ordered to pay a combined $31 million in restitution.

With the nine months he already has served, Mr. Manafort possibly could be released sometime in 2025, if the president doesn’t pardon him.

Given the seriousness of Mr. Manafort’s crimes — conducting lobbying work in the Ukraine and conspiring with a Moscow-linked associate to tamper with potential witnesses, and later ducking paying millions in U.S. taxes and hiding money in offshore accounts while lying to prosecutors — we believe like many other critics that Mr. Manafort’s sentences should have been a lot tougher.

Federal sentencing guidelines in the Virginia case alone called for Mr. Manafort to receive from 19 to 24 years in prison.

The situation raises questions about whether white-collar criminals, and white men in particular, are treated with deference and, essentially, are above the law.

A November 2017 U.S. Sentencing Commission report looking at prison sentences between 2012 and 2016 found that African-American male offenders received sentences that were 20 percent longer on average than those for white male offenders.

Critics also have pointed to harsher sentences routinely meted out to black offenders convicted of lesser crimes than Mr. Manafort — just more examples of inequities in the nation’s criminal justice system.

How do we change these systemic problems? By pushing for tougher sentences for white offenders and/or less harsh sentences for African-American offenders? By monitoring the sentences handed out by judges and bringing the judges to justice?

While we have no clear answers at this point, we feel somewhat assuaged by the fact that Mr. Manafort was slapped after last week’s sentencing with a 16-count indictment against him in state court in New York for residential mortgage fraud and other state crimes. He cannot weasel out of the state charges; a pardon by his erstwhile criminal companion President Trump only would impact Mr. Manafort’s federal court sentence.

The college admissions scandal also highlights the rampant inequality in educational access. Wealthy parents are accused of paying a California man to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and provide false athletic records to enable the students to secure admission at elite schools such as Stanford, Yale, Georgetown, Wake Forest, UCLA and the University of Southern California.

According to court records, the leader of the fraud, William Singer of Newport Beach, Calif., had parents donate up to $6.5 million to a fake charity he had established in exchange for his fraud-based efforts to get their children into select colleges. To make matters worse, the parents received a tax credit for their payments in the scheme. 

At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them corporate CEOs, lawyers, actors, a clothing designer and other wealthy elites, have been charged in federal court in what has been called the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.

The situation points out the sad irony faced by many African-Americans when Caucasians, standing on white privilege, have the audacity to question why and how African-Americans gained entry into universities and certain jobs. They belittle African-Americans by suggesting they are “affirmative action” college entrants or hires and don’t merit a spot in the classroom or in the workplace.

Now we see that those caught in the college scheme have bought and cheated their children’s entry into college — and true merit had nothing to do with it.

These situations have come to light at an important moment in our state’s and nation’s history when issues of race, inequity, parity, white privilege and equality are front and center. These situations only serve to point out the depth of the disparities in this country and how critical it is to come up with solutions.