Trading reduced sentences to drug criminals for information has utterly corrupted the American justice system, argues Brown (Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip-Hop Hustler, 2005).
The author isn’t the first to make a book-length argument that America’s criminal justice structure is fatally flawed when it comes to drug crimes, and he won’t be the last. His focus, however, is quite fresh: The combination of tough, federally mandated sentences and overeager prosecutors willing to make a case simply on the testimony of an unreliable informant or two, he writes, “has transformed drug enforcement into a game of tag in which small-time dealers constantly turn on one another.” Given the heavy punishments meted out for even small drug offenses, it’s not surprising that prosecutors can draw on a large pool of potential snitches happy to provide any information—true or not—to get off the hook. Brown uses a number of poorly handled cases to demonstrate that police departments around the country will use the word of a snitch, any snitch, to lock up their targets. The snitches often get revolving-door treatment for their own offenses, not to mention cash stipends and even a strange sense of camaraderie with the cops. As a result, investigative work and evidence-gathering fall by the wayside, and some informants are even freed to commit more heinous crimes as a reward for their self-serving lies. Unfortunately, Brown’s tone is often tepid when it should be angry. He moves from one case to the next with little sense of proportion, going into lengthy and frequently irrelevant detail that distracts from his main point. Appalled by the shocking ineptitude and outright duplicity of law-enforcement personnel that his research uncovered, Brown seems to feel honor-bound to report every single instance, at the cost of disastrously diluting what could have been a stunning book.
A powerful case poorly argued.