Op-Ed: In Minneapolis or Tallahassee, people of color are arrested while the wealthy white walk
by Jason Solomon
Published 10:17 pm. ET Jun. 17, 2020
Minneapolis, 2020: A man is suspected of using a counterfeit $20 bill at a grocery store. The police are called. The story of the killing of George Floyd is now well-known.
Tallahassee, 2014: Two hitmen murder FSU law professor Dan Markel in broad daylight in Betton Hills. Upon their arrest, police reveal that their only link to Markel is that one of them has children with Katie Magbanua, then-girlfriend of Markel’s ex-brother-in-law, Charlie Adelson.
When interviewed by police, Markel’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson says her brother Charlie had talked about hiring a hitman to murder Markel. This is corroborated by testimony of one hitman; and in the 2019 trial, the prosecutor and defense agreed they believed Charlie and his mother Donna were involved in orchestrating Markel’s murder.
Six years later, neither Charlie Adelson — a wealthy white South Florida dentist — nor his mother has been arrested, while the three who have been arrested are all poor people of color.
This is the two-tiered system of justice we have in the United States — a system that brutally punishes poor people of color, while treating with kid gloves the white and wealthy.
It is a system built on prosecutorial discretion – the ability of prosecutors to decide who gets charged with crimes, largely without the involvement of judges.
So who we elect as prosecutors has enormous implications for our democratic promise to treat people equally, regardless of status.
When he ran for office in 2016, State Attorney Jack Campbell’s opponent criticized him as likely to continue longtime State Attorney Willie Meggs’ practice of going easy on the wealthy and well-connected. It was Meggs who made the initial decision not to arrest Charlie Adelson, despite police releasing an affidavit laying out the overwhelming evidence against him.
Campbell’s handling of the case so far can be seen as a careful, well-executed prosecution strategy: Go after the lowest people on the totem pole first – the hitmen – and then keep going up the ladder, getting as much cooperating testimony from co-conspirators as you can.
But at this point, the next co-conspirator to be tried — Magbanua — has repeatedly declined to cooperate. So why not arrest the Charlie and Donna Adelson, and try the three of them at the same time?
Campbell could step up and show he is a fighter for equal justice. Or he can back down and show that – in Tallahassee, at least – only rich white people can get away with murder.
Jason Solomon is an attorney, educator and former law professor at the University of Georgia. He founded Justice for Dan, a group of Dan Markel’s friends and others who advocate for justice in response to his murder and against the separation of his parents from their grandchildren.