Skip to Content

The United Police States of America

You Have the Right to Remain Silent:


Willie James Sauls is unlikely to see the outside of a prison. Last fall a court in the state of Texas sentenced this 37-year-old man to 45 years in jail. His crime: he snatched the purse from an old woman.

In Norway, meanwhile, a court sentenced Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing racist who slaughtered 77 people, mostly teenagers, and injured several hundred, to 21 years in prison -- less than half that time -- with an option for that detention to be extended by five-year increments if he is determined to be still dangerous. Otherwise, the 32-year-old, if considered rehabilitated, could be released at the age of 53.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Germany was rocked by killings committed by a radical left group called the Red Army Faction. Its members killed over 30 people, including the nation's attorney general and leading industrialists. Eventually its leaders were caught and convicted, but by 2007, almost a decade after the Red Army Faction had announced its own dissolution, those still in prison were pardoned by the country’s president.

It is beyond inconceivable to imagine a US president, governor or even a judge, releasing a prisoner from a US jail who had committed the kind of offenses committed by either Breivik or members of Germany’s Red Army Faction. It is, for that matter, hard to imagine any political leader in the US pardoning even purse-snatcher Willie James Sauls.

This is, after all, a country that just recently hounded a 26-year-old internet activist, Aaron Swartz, into committing suicide, after a federal prosecutor threatened him with 35 years in jail -- this for the heinous crime of stealing income from a company that was collecting revenue for making available academic papers for which the authors get not a penny (in a protest action he had publicly hacked an MIT server and downloaded hundreds of academic papers which the private contractor was charging for!). This is a country that routinely convicts the wrong people and locks them up for decades and doesn't even apologize if they manage to eventually prove their innocence and win release. It's a country that is holding people as "terrorists" at Guantanamo, without trial, for over a decade, knowing they never did anything wrong, simply because it doesn't have the courage to admit its errors.

Right-wing Americans love to call the US a “nanny state,” claiming that the federal government is always trying to pass laws regulating people’s lives. What the US really is, though, is a “puni-state” -- a nation that thrives on vengeance and retribution, and that rejects the whole notion of rehabilitation or character change (even while euphemistically calling its prisons "corrections" facilities).

 45 years for purse snatching in TexasWillie James Sauls: 45 years for purse snatching in Texas


How else to explain the prosecutorial passion for charging absurdly youthful offenders as adults?

story | by Dr. Radut