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Carlos Watson prosecutors say the quiet part out loud

Brian Wright O’Connor

When Harvard Law Professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. walked into the federal courthouse in Brooklyn last month, he was prepared to denounce what government prosecutors had revealed in writing about their attitude towards African Americans.

But the judge took a long look at the many friends and relatives of Sullivan’s client gathered in the courtroom and decided to suspend oral arguments. Had he bothered to listen, he would have heard Sullivan say what so many Blacks already know: the judicial system, animated by a false belief that people of color commit more crimes than whites, comes down disproportionately harder on Blacks.

It was right there in black and white in the government’s own words. In response to Sullivan’s motion to dismiss federal fraud charges against Ozy Media founder Carlos Watson based on prosecutorial bias, their filing said the esteemed professor’s argument “ignores the well-documented fact that crime rates vary among racial groups.”

“The argument is just shocking and outrageous on so many levels,” said Sullivan, after the hearing was cut short. “In response to our claim that this disparity with race, particularly with African Americans, is unconstitutional, they responded with a shrug of the shoulder and said, ‘Well, Black people just commit more crimes.’”

In other words, the all-white prosecutorial team — with their own questionable history of bias in choosing who gets charged in criminal cases — decided to say the quiet part out loud.

The court chose not to hear Sullivan’s argument, backed by facts, that systematic racial disparities in rates of prosecution are the result of Blacks being placed under greater scrutiny.

“All relevant scholarship shows, and even Justice Department data show, that people of different races tend to commit crimes at about the same rate, but some are prosecuted more,” Sullivan told the Daily Mail newspaper.

Moreover, it is a “well-known fact that white people commit white-collar crimes with a greater frequency than Black people,” said Sullivan. “So few Blacks are in business relative to whites,” he added, “that whites disparately commit white-collar crimes.”

Watson, an Emmy Award-winning Harvard College and Stanford Law graduate, faces up to 37 years in prison for allegedly misleading investors about Ozy Media’s audience size and revenue projections.

Sullivan, who built a national reputation for reviewing questionable prosecutions in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, presented evidence showing that white media entrepreneurs who allegedly used similarly inflated numbers — a routine practice in the moneyed corridors of Wall Street and Silicon Valley — never faced charges. To the contrary, they received glowing magazine profiles about their Bromance business acumen.

Sullivan also took direct aim at the team prosecuting Watson. “The data speaks for itself — the prosecutors handling my case have targeted Black and brown individuals in 90 percent of their work.”

The Watson case raised troubling questions about the abuses of prosecutorial discretion right from the start. The latest chapter in which lawyers serving in the Biden administration revive discredited arguments about Blacks committing more crimes just makes matters worse.

Brian Wright O’Connor is a long-time contributor to the Bay State Banner.