As Daily Kos continues to highlight, justice in the United States is far from just. We’ve covered countless horrifying instances of police brutality against Black and brown people, as well as torture and abuse. We’ve covered the disturbing ways people in power use their status to coerce, pressure, and harm vulnerable and marginalized folks. When considering restorative justice and abolition, it can be complex to talk about what, precisely, justice means when harm has been done. Still, it’s safe to say that whether you believe in prison abolition or not, for example, you’re likely going to agree that it’s not just for Black men to serve life sentences for cannabis possession while white rapists get away with, for example, a meager three months served.
It’s also not fair that elected officials—or in this case, former elected officials—get off with a slap on the wrist. For instance, former state Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from North Carolina, used almost $400,000 from campaign fundraising for personal use and pled guilty to charges of lying to his bank (a felony) and not filing his taxes for 2018 (a misdemeanor). Seems like that would come with some serious time, right? Somehow, no. Lewis faces a $1,000 fine and two years of supervision, as covered by local outlet WRAL. Not a minute of prison time. And that’s before we even get into gerrymandering and voter suppression.
As some background on why you might find Lewis familiar, his name is basically synonymous with voter suppression via voter ID laws and gerrymandering in the state of North Carolina. For example, you might remember Lewis from his time on the House Redistricting Committee, when he, back in 2016, admitted that the congressional legislative map was a “political gerrymander,” as covered at the time by my colleague, Stephen Wolf.
In terms of voter suppression, Lewis proudly helped to push the state’s Voter ID Law into action back in 2013, which, mind you, was described by a judge as targeting Black voters with almost “surgical precision,” if you want a sense of how very suppressive this was. Thankfully, it was overturned as unconstitutional, but the reason it existed at all was that you guessed it, Republicans had an undue amount of power.
That wasn’t the only position of power Lewis held in the state, either. Lewis also served as the House Rules Committee chairman, which essentially gave him a great deal of sway over what bills moved forward in the state legislature—and which ones fizzled out.
In August 2020, Lewis resigned from his position in the North Carolina House. While he pled guilty to the charges of lying to his bank and not filing a tax return, he said he had been trying to save his family’s farm. Lewis lied to his bank by opening up an account for a business that didn’t exist to facilitate the scheme.
According to federal investigators, Lewis ultimately returned the money. Assumably, that’s part of why he didn’t end up facing actual jail time, as the bank didn’t suffer a loss from his actions. His campaign also didn’t. Lewis was sentenced in a federal courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday morning.
When his plea deal was announced in 2020, Lewis explained himself in part by saying, “Farming has been tough for me for the past six years in a row, and the financial stress I’ve been under has been tremendous. However, that is the reality facing many family farms, and it does not excuse my mistakes.” One gets credit for admitting their guilt and apologizing, yes. But he’s also exactly right in that it does not excuse his “mistakes.”
His defense attorneys followed the same logic as Lewis back in May 2021 when they requested that the judge offer Lewis probation, describing his crimes as “an act of desperation rather than greed,” as reported by the Associated Press.
Imagine if non-white people were given the same amount of grace to say life had been hard, finances were tough, and they were doing what they could to survive? How many people serve time because they were desperate—desperate enough to put their child in a better school district, steal food or diapers, or try to protect themselves from an abuser? If anyone has an excuse to feel desperate in this country, it’s not a white man with an enormous amount of power.
And if you’re really in the mood to squirm, you can check out a video interview from Lewis back in 2016 waxing poetic about that deeply exclusionary voter suppression.
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