Letter to the editor: White crime, white time

In a recent Spectrum story, “Students and Community React to Black’s Sentencing,” we read that former UB Vice President and convicted embezzler Dennis R. Black was sentenced to five years of probation and community service, with no jail time. State Supreme Court Judge John Michalski felt it would be too harsh to send him to state prison. The story adds that “The Spectrum reached out to over a dozen professors, but all declined to comment on the record.” Here’s a comment on the record: as a civil servant who used his office to steal from his fellow New Yorkers, Mr. Black deserved some serious jail time, regardless of the jail.

On the same day, in another Spectrum story titled “Buffalo native sentenced to three and a half years in prison for UB dorm burglaries,” we read that 21-year-old Buffalo native Darnell Cleveland was sentenced to three and a half years for a series of burglaries. UB Deputy Chief of Police Josh Sticht was very pleased at the long sentence, given that it was for a non-violent crime. I figure Mr. Cleveland also deserved some jail time —perhaps he and Mr. Black could have been cellmates.

So why the disparity in sentences for Dennis and Darnell? Shouldn’t the difference have been the other way around? After all, Mr. Cleveland is considerably younger than Mr. Black. He did not steal nearly as much. And he did not betray any public trust.

But Mr. Cleveland is poor and black. Mr. Black is rich and white, like Judge Michalski. And there’s only so much sympathy to go around. Talking about black men in prison, comedian Richard Pryor used to say, “You go down there looking for justice; that’s what you find: just us.


Jim Holstun

Professor of English