Why Do Rich White People Get Away with Crime?
by C.A. Matthews
Editor's note: The pronoun "they" is being used occasionally in this article to keep the gender of the "rich white person" anonymous.
Why do rich white people get away with crime? Why do they only get a tiny slap on the wrist whenever they get caught in the act of committing a crime? Anyone else—especially the poor and people of color (or POC)--would get the book thrown at them for the same offense. It ruins POC's lives and livelihoods, but rich white people (RWP for short) are able to commit crimes and go back to business as usual. It makes no sense. It keeps me awake at night.
I've had the unfortunate experience to encounter just such a crime. I won't name names or give too many specifics here because I realize that I'm not a rich white person. (I'm far from rich, and I'm partially non-white.) RWP could use the current justice system against me for calling out their despicable behavior. So, instead I will give a general outline of the crime and how it has affected me and others. Then, I will give a call to action so we can all take steps to stop this sort of thing from ever happening again.
One day a certain rich white person was given the authority to disburse money from several different state Medicaid grant funds in a public institution of higher learning in which they worked. At some point, this person decided to give some of the grant money to a relative's private non-profit without going through proper channels or disclosing their conflict of interest.
Now, this non-secular non-profit, among other things, runs some social programs to help feed the area poor and help school kids, particularly students of color. One could argue this was a good place to use the grant money for the benefit of the community. There's no disputing that the non-profit's programming was worthy of financial support. However, apparently giving grant money to this non-profit was never okayed by the school. Possibly the grant money wasn't designated for these types of programs, or this decision was not one that should have been made solely by the rich white person.
You might think this is a "slap on the wrist" type of infraction at first, but it gets worse. This "misuse of funds" didn't happen once or in small amounts. The rich white person continued to take more and more money from the institution's Medicaid grant funds and to give it to their relative's non-profit over and over again over a period of several years. It added up—big time.
The institution eventually caught on to what was happening and the state ran an audit. The amount of missing money is… Well, it's more than many of us could ever dream of making in over a decade working full-time at minimum wage or even at $15/hour. And not all of the stolen money went to the relative's non-profit programs—some of it went toward purchasing personal items, such as expensive fashion accessories.
The rich white person was eventually fired from their lofty position at the school and charged with several felony counts of misappropriation of funds/theft in office. According to state law, each count could have landed this person in jail for many years and restitution more than likely would have been ordered.
To make a long story short, the rich white person went to court but did not go to jail. It's unclear at this time whether any of the grant money taken will be paid back/has been paid back or not. To add icing to the cake of white privilege, the rich white person did not lose their license to practice their esteemed profession in the state where these felonies were committed.
The judge did the defendant a further favor by making it so they won’t even have a criminal record if they promise they won't commit a similar crime again. It's a type of adjudication that's usually reserved for young adults who commit a serious crime but seem to have a promising future. Judges can use their discretion and apply this "diversion program" to help kids out so they can grow up without a permanent black mark on their record. (Suffice it to say, this rich white person is much older than eighteen, and it is rare for this program to be implemented for anyone other than young adults.)
I dare you now to go back and substitute "poor person of color" for "rich white person" in this story and tell me how you think the story would end. You and I both know it would end very differently! A poor person of color would be sentenced to jail time and definitely would have been forced to pay back all the money they'd stolen plus interest. Their criminal record would be made public, not expunged, and it would destroy their chances of finding decent employment ever again.
What really drives a stake into my heart is that this money was not stolen from an obscenely wealthy capitalist. It wasn't stolen from a corporation that treats its workers with contempt by not providing health insurance. No, this money came from We the People, the taxpayers, and it was stolen from a public institution that had been given it through a state Medicaid program. It was the public's money—not a private corporation's or individual's money. There were no "Robin Hood" antics going on here.
I worked as a Medicaid caseworker, so I know how much Medicaid programs can help struggling families, especially poor families of color. The rich white person decided to steal from us, the taxpayers, via a grant funded by a government program that helps the poor. Stealing from a government program that helps the poor to "help" other poor people doesn't make sense, unless you think of how giving large sums of money to a private non-profit might make it appear "successful" in the eyes of others. A successful non-profit usually has an easier time raising more money from donors than a not-quite-as-successful-looking one.
It seems clear to me: The rich white person who took this grant money wasn't motivated to help poor people in particular. They were more interested in helping their relative's non-profit look successful. They might have even done it to elevate their own status in the larger community, by being seen as "savior" of sorts through their "generous donations."
Now that the grant money gravy train is gone, will the lack of regular infusions of stolen money cause the non-profit to eventually close its doors? What will happen to the social programs that the stolen money funded? Will donors who thought the non-profit was successful in its own right quit donating to it? Will these programs disappear? What happens to the people—the poor people, the people of color—who were helped out by those programs? Who knows?
Will the public institution lose all access to federal and state grant monies in the future because an employee easily helped themselves to it? Will they be penalized by the government because of the theft? Will a lack of government grant monies in the future hurt funding programs to help students at this school? It's possible.
The rich white person had a great lawyer and got off easy. They got to go back to their existence pretty much as it was before they decided to commit these felonies. Their future looks relatively rosy compared to the poor people who benefited from the non-profit's social programs. The rich white person won't be missing any meals or going without food tonight.
Why do RWP get away with crime? Because they can and they do.
I'm telling this story because I want you to know that this is not an isolated incident. RWP get off easy more often than not in court if and when they're even caught and charged with a crime in the first place. This wasn't a "victimless white-collar crime." Real social programs that helped real people are now at risk and a public higher learning institution has had its reputation tarnished--all because a person of means enjoyed playing around with the public's purse.
The American justice system doesn't need to be reformed--it needs to be totally obliterated. It's corrupt to its core. It's run by RWP for RWP who don't give a shit about the rest of us struggling to survive. It should be completely reworked until it's actually about delivering justice and not about letting rich white people have their way at the expense of others.
You might think I'm being unfair to this particular rich white person, that this person might have some sort of mental illness or an addiction that caused them to steal the grant money. I'm not unkind. I know there are many people who need mental health care and either cannot afford it or are too prideful to seek help. I've worked in drug rehab/psych wards and have encountered these individuals many times before.
But I also know that the law holds addicts and mentally ill persons accountable for their criminal actions—especially poor mentally ill people and addicts of color. If a poor drunk runs over and kills a person, that drunk goes to prison for vehicular manslaughter. The legal definition of sanity only considers if the person was able to understand what they did was wrong according to the law. I truly believe in this case this rich white person knew that taking the grant money was stealing, and that stealing is wrong, but they decided to do it anyway.
This is why we need to tear down and reconstruct our justice system from the ground up. We need to make it clear that no one gets a free "get out of jail card" simply because they belong to a privileged group. Your RWP connections do not grant you special privileges when it comes to crime sentencing, either. You are to be judged for your crimes the same as the poor and POC.
If anything, reparations should be made to the local POC community. For too long, RWP have enjoyed abusing the privileges of their high-status positions. They should pay double the restitution for all the monies and properties they've appropriated for their own use from the powerless. The rich white person in this story should pay double what they stole—once to the school they took the grant money from, and then again to the non-profit (under new management?) so that it can continue helping the poor uninterrupted and without the taint of stolen money.
I'm not the only American tired of rich white people getting away with crimes—just look at the huge outcry and numerous protests in the last year since George Floyd and other African-Americans have been brutally murdered. It's time arrogant rich assholes are forced to pay back what they took from the rest of us. It's time RWP tasted justice the same as the rest of us.
will be hitting the law books hard this coming term, learning what I
can do to help bring justice to asylum-seekers denied due process.
Each of us has to get out of our comfort zone and do our part. We
need to fight together to defeat the scourge of RWP justice once
and for all. RWP justice must die so true justice can be reborn. Only then will freedom ring for all, not just a few.