On Friday in Washington, DC, I stood in the cold with 15,000 of my closest friends. We were marching on the Department of Justice to free the Jena Six. We were marching to ask why Megan Williams, a young woman brutalized in West Virginia, was not having the rape and assault she had been subjected to prosecuted as a hate crime. We were marching to ask why the re-emergence of nooses in our national life has not become a cause for concern.
But as speaker after speaker remarked, we were also marching because the DOJ is an organization whose priorities are as upside down as Hanukkah in July. That was all too clear in the previous day’s indictment by a federal grand jury of a certain home-run hitter from San Francisco on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. As the Rev. Frederick Haynes of Dallas thundered from the podium, “[The DOJ] spent more time on Barry Bonds” than on anything that actually matters.
His point was not necessarily to defend Bonds, who is possibly the most polarizing athlete of his generation.
The US Department of Justice has spent nearly four years and millions of tax dollars to determine whether or not a baseball player lied about what he may have been injecting into his body. They are prepared to send a man to prison for fifteen years based on the question of whether he “knowingly” or “unknowingly” took “steroids or other performance enhancers.” Forget for a moment that a performance enhancer could be anything from Gatorade to gumdrops. Forget that this entire media frenzy seems like yet another “weapon of mass distraction.” This Bonds indictment is just another sign of how irrelevant the Department of Justice has become to those who seek justice.
I have been on many a sports radio show recently discussing this issue. The script is always the same: You hear people on call-in shows suggest that Bonds should be “hung high from the rafters” (yes, that’s said), and Bonds’s accuser, the Department of Justice, gets an absolutely free pass. This is an institution that after seven years of having John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales at the helm is a thoroughly degraded and demoralized operation.
Now another questionable leader, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, has been sworn in, despite his infatuation with torture as a means of policy. As the New York Times wrote on November 1, “Mukasey, a well-respected trial judge in New York…has stunned us during the confirmation process by saying he believes the president has the power to negate laws by not committing himself to enforcing Congressional subpoenas. He also has suggested that he will not uphold standards of decency during wartime recognized by the civilized world for generations.”
The idea that a Barry Bonds indictment becomes the first act of the Mukasey Justice Department further exposes Senators Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer, and the other Democratic pols who backed Mukasey’s confirmation. They called him “a man of character” as well as “a strong leader, committed to depoliticizing the agency’s operations.” There is no evidence of character and leadership in this indictment of Bonds; no evidence that Mukasey has any desire to do the people’s work–only the desire for a cheap political hit.
In an era of celebrity justice, Bonds certainly makes an enticing target. But there’s one problem: the Bonds prosecution is a perversion of justice. As Jemele Hill wrote for ESPN.com, “The feds have made Bonds into Al Capone, when he’s more like Pookie than Nino Brown. They’re blaming the crackhead instead of the drug dealer, the prostitute instead of the pimp, the wayward child instead of the enabling parent.” This is absolutely correct. A ballplayer once put it to me very simply: “It’s crazy that punishment is an individual issue but distribution has always been a team issue.”
The Feds could put every player from the last ten years on the witness stand and ask them if they used steroids, then expel from the game all who say “yes.” Those who say “no” could be prosecuted, like Bonds, for perjury. And then we could lock everybody up.
Or we could tell the truth: In the case of Baseball Fans vs. the Anabolic Era, everyone is guilty: not just players but all who were part of the assembly line that put the drugs in their veins. That means coaches, managers, trainers, the compliant media, and even the owners. It also means that a certain former Texas Rangers baseball executive now in the White House who did nothing while his players like José Canseco passed around the juice would get asked questions under the hot lights. And if everyone is complicit, then we could offer an unconditional amnesty to everyone from the last decade and move forward with better education, better testing and better vigilance in Major League clubhouses–a vigilance that cares more about the long-term health of players than whether they look like pro wrestlers.
Offering Bonds and others amnesty would spare us all the spectacle of a trial, but don’t count on it. We will see a Justice Department with a weak “he said/he said” case try to convict an angry, arrogant, 43-year-old multi-millionaire who has “vowed to fight the charges” with all the time, energy, money, and fury he possesses.
“All you need to know about the government’s case is that they leaked an official indictment to every media outlet in America and withheld it from Barry, his lawyer and everyone else who could read it and defend him,” Bonds’s attorney, Michael Rains, said. “Now that their biased allegations must finally be presented openly in a court of law, they won’t be able to hide their unethical misconduct from the public any longer.”
The ingredients are all in place for a poisonous brew: A Bay Area courtroom. An Internal Revenue Service investigator who has gone through Barry Bonds’s trash, wired his teammates, and jailed his friends and employees. A polarizing African-American athlete constantly accused of “using the race card” for daring to talk about racism. And a degraded Department of Justice that clearly lacks the will, or even the interest, to feign doing the people’s work. As Don–not Martin Luther–King would say, “Only in America.”