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The High-Tech Lynching of Jamal Lewis

You'd've thought prison was for people who committed crimes.

by James Leroy Wilson
January 27, 2005

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Bobby Fischer is in limbo in Japan, as his passport’s been revoked. The United States government said he committed a crime by playing a chess match in Yugoslavia a dozen years ago.

Tommy Chong’s crime was selling glassware on the Internet.

Martha Stewart’s crime was selling stock.

Persecutions by the government, and the victimless and wholly unnecessary laws behind them, stand out when celebrities are the victims (or “criminals”). The latest one is Jamal Lewis. What was his crime? Drug dealing? Nope. It was conspiracy for drug dealing. Ah, so the cops caught him red-handed, on tape - nabbed him before the deal went down, right? Maybe actually caught him with the drugs which he was going to sell? Sounds reasonable, but wrong again.

Lewis pleaded guilty to conspiracy just yesterday, January 26. His sentence was “light” by drug crime standards. Four months in prison, two more in a halfway house, and 500 hours of community service. But it is clear why Lewis pleaded guilty, why he plea-bargained for a reduced sentence. It was to avoid the wrath of a full federal prosecution in front of a jury, and ten years in prison. The feds’ resources are virtually unlimited, and if they want someone to go down, he will. Lewis has a career, a very successful one as running back for the Baltimore Ravens. He wants to be back with the team come training camp.

According to the Associated Press,

In the drug case, Lewis was accused of helping broker a cocaine deal for childhood friend Angelo Jackson during conversations with a government informant in Atlanta.

On June 23, 2000 -- Lewis had been drafted by the Ravens on April 15 -- the FBI said an informant contacted Lewis on his cell phone to discuss selling cocaine to Lewis and Jackson. The FBI said Lewis and Jackson later met the informant at an Atlanta restaurant. Both conversations were taped.

Jackson and the informant met several times more over the next several weeks, but Lewis was not part of any of those conversations, court papers say.


Lewis wasn't indicted on the federal drug charges until February 2004; prosecutors say they waited to protect an ongoing investigation.

But here’s the real outrage:

No drugs ever exchanged hands.

So, Lewis is guilty for talking about maybe doing something illegal with a childhood friend and the government’s mole. You would think, since no drugs ever changed hands, that the Feds would leave well enough alone. Three and a half years had gone by!

And who initially put into Lewis’s head the foolish notion of getting involved with drug dealing in the first place? His friend? Lewis himself? No, the FBI. The government tempts you to commit a crime, but ultimately you never do commit the crime. The government nails you anyway.

The crime was that these conservations were recorded. Clarence Thomas defended himself in the Anita Hill hearings, railing against the “high-tech lynching of a black man.” I don’t know if the race card should be played in Lewis’s case or not. But clearly, for whatever reasons Lewis was prosecuted, justice wasn’t one of them.

The Feds must really enjoy celebrity prosecutions. Local governments have a hard time convicting celebrities of real crimes like rape and murder. But there are so many federal laws, that anyone is a potential target. Targeting a celebrity, a football star, is a fake demonstration that “no one is above the law.”

The reality is that the FBI and federal prosecutors can do whatever the hell they want, and get whoever they want into trouble. And, with the PATRIOT Act’s powers of surveillance, this will only get worse. The federal government’s ability to frivolously prosecute us for victimless non-crimes makes no one safe.

This is not how the government of a free society behaves.

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