Opinion Web Exclusive

American justice system: Drug mules vs. murder

American Justice System

Francis Emelogu/The Cougar

Abuse of police authority has become an increasing concern in America recently. Many police departments have had issues with holding officers accountable for their wrongdoings.

Study after study has been released questioning whether the court system is racist, sexist or biased towards those in the upper class, but despite the stereotype that police and prosecutors are over-zealous in the United States, it seems that they don’t always display the zeal when it is desperately needed.

In Southern Indiana on Sept. 16, Joseph A. Oberhansley allegedly murdered and ate his ex-girlfriend, Tammy Jo Blanton. According to police, her body was found with multiple organs missing. A plate was found with blood and bone on it and a garbage can was found to have tissue in it. Oberhansley told the police that he ate some of the body cooked and some of it raw.

However, the atrocity of the crime isn’t what is most shocking. What is most shocking is that Oberhansley was free to commit the crime at all, despite his long history of violence.

In 1998, Oberhansley shot and killed his girlfriend, Sabrina Elder, who was 17 and had just given birth to their child. In the same incident, he also shot his mother, who was trying to defend Elder. He then turned the gun on himself and damaged his brain.

He was charged with putting a man in a chokehold and resisting police after being released in 2012. Only a few months later, Oberhansley led police on a car chase and was charged with criminal recklessness and resisting law enforcement. Oberhansley was released on $500 bail.

Before Blanton’s murder, police were called on Oberhansley for trying to break into her home. After confronting Oberhansley and having him leave, they only stayed for a few minutes before they left as well.

In each of these cases, Oberhansley demonstrated that he was violent and dangerous to society, yet nobody took a proper step to keep Oberhansley away from those he continually threatened. When police brought him in, attorneys and judges released him. When he was trying to break in to Blanton’s home, the police did not take him into custody.

There is a serious issue in the American justice system when those who commit non-violent crimes get sent behind bars for longer times than those who assault, rape and kill.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 3,278 people are currently serving life sentences after committing nonviolent crimes.

In some states, people can be sentenced to life due to “three strikes” laws, regardless of how violent, serious or deserving their crimes are. This means that men like Jeff Mizanskey end up sentenced to live the rest of their lives in prison for buying, selling or using marijuana.

Teresa Griffin of Houston had no previous criminal record when she was sentenced to life in prison for transporting drugs between Texas and Oklahoma. Despite her otherwise clean record — and claiming that she had been forced to be a drug mule for her abusive boyfriend — she is still in prison after having served 22 years of her life. That’s eight more years in prison than Oberhansley has ever served.

There is a serious issue when our country’s legislators and police spend more time and money chasing after those who commit nonviolent crimes over those who are a threat to the lives of everyone around them.

Hopefully this is the last time Oberhansley will be allowed to hurt those around him. However, nothing changes the fact that police are willing to let a violent man walk away hours before committing murder and cannibalism, but cannot be bothered to check where they throw their stun grenades during no-knock raids.

This incident happened when a SWAT team in Georgia unintentionally threw a stun grenade into a 19-month-old’s crib during a no-knock raid on a house they believed to be keeping drugs; the 19-month-old is in a medically induced coma.

The justice system in America needs to change its priorities when arresting drug offenders comes before making sure citizens are safe. The taxpayers’ safety needs to come before all else.

Opinion columnist Shane Brandt is a petroleum engineering senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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