Yesterday, actor Wesley Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion. It turns out the star of such films as Blade and White Men Can’t Jump failed to file income tax returns, which left the federal government none too happy. Back in February, Wesley Snipes was acquitted of the most serious charges he was facing but the misdemeanor charges stuck:
Mr. Snipes was found not guilty on two felony charges of fraud and conspiracy. He was also acquitted on three misdemeanor charges of failing to file tax returns or to pay taxes, but was convicted on three others. He faces up to three years in prison.”
While I’m appalled that another Black celebrity is headed for the slammer, I can’t help but wonder what the hell Wesley Snipes was thinking! I mean, it’s not like he just decided to not pay his federal income tax because he was broke. His 22-year acting career alone has netted him $103 million. Now, I know this doesn’t make Wesley the richest man in Hollywood—not by a stretch—but it does put him firmly in the not-too-broke-to-pay-taxes camp.
Over the course of the “research” that went into this post—which basically entailed watching the Blade trilogy—I discovered that Wesley Snipes was not just a best-selling actor, he was also a “tax evader.” Tax evader? Isn’t that what crazy White people who don’t want to pay taxes call themselves? Apparently Wesley Snipes actually had people who advised him to not pay his federal income tax. Now I don’t know what planet Wesley Snipes lives on but on planet Reality, a Black man doesn’t have to do much to get locked up by the government. In fact, they’re practically locking up Black men just to keep the prisons full. So here comes Wesley Snipes who—even by Black people’s standards—is pretty f*cking Black and what does he do?! He decides he’s not going to pay his federal taxes. What, he didn’t expect the feds to get upset and come after their money?
Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s some validity to the tax evaders’ arguments. I for one wish more of my tax dollars went towards providing a world-class education for American kids. Or perhaps affordable and accessible healthcare. Do I get any of these things? No, but I do get plenty of bombs and dead Iraqis—all of whom have relatives and friends who will not forget who killed them, but that’s a conversation for another post. Either way, that’s not exactly what I would call a fair trade but what can I do? I’m just one man. On the whole, though, I appreciate the courage of these crazy White people who tell the government “You can’t use my tax money to do stuff I disapprove of.”
There are, however, a couple of fundamental differences between the average tax evader and Wesley Snipes. First off, the average tax evader is not rich and does not owe the feds 2.7 million dollars. With that kind of dough in the balance, the government’s not going to go easy on you. Second, the average tax evader is White and everyone knows it’s a lot harder for White people to wind up in prison. Consider this. Most of the White people in prison are there for murder, rape, running meth labs, or some other pretty serious offense.* Most of the Black people in prison, however, are there for having a joint or crossing when the sign read “Don’t Cross.” Just last month, two White strippers—nicknamed the “Barbie Bandits“—were arrested in Atlanta for their role in a bank heist that netted them almost $11,000. One was sentenced to ten years’ probation while the other got only two years behind bars. Their two accomplices, both Black men, got five- and ten-year sentences respectively. All four were found in possession of illegal drugs, but the two male accomplices were on probation for prior run-ins with the law.
So really, was anyone surprised by the verdict in the Barbie Bandit case? I mean, locking up White people for bank robbery—let’s not forget drug possession—is so un-American. Black guys who break the law, however, belong only behind bars. For a long time. Remember the sentencing disparity for possession of powder cocaine versus crack? As the result of a 1988 law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine would net you a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. But the same law said you needed 500 grams—almost a pound—of powder coke to get the same five-year sentence. So, if crack is more prevalent in the Black community and powder cocaine is more commonly used by affluent White people . . . do the math.
With all this racism and unequal treatment of Black men at the hands of the justice system, I have to ask again: What the hell was Wesley Snipes thinking? Not much, apparently. It turns out he’s a bit of a nutter. According to a February New York Times article, Wesley Snipes—after he was indicted—“sent the government a series of rambling letters describing his tax theories and warning that ‘pursuit of such a high-profile target will open the door to your increased collateral risk.’” Huh!? Sounds like someone’s starred in one too many action movies. It also turns out that Wesley Snipes and his two co-defendants—both of whom got stiffer sentences—were affiliated with Guiding Light of God Ministries, which prosecutors described as an illegal tax-evasion scheme.
Sadly, it looks like Wesley Snipes is just another in a long line of Black celebrities who’ve been charged with serious crimes. And he’s in there with some heavy hitters: Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, James Brown, Mike Tyson, OJ, Marion Jones, I could go on and on. It almost seems like as soon as a Black person becomes famous, a “prison countdown” is started and it’s only a matter of time before you’re facing some serious time in the big house.
There might, however, be a silver lining in all of this. As demonstrated by OJ, wealth trumps skin color so even if Wesley Snipes does end up behind bars, it’ll be at a cushy minimum-security prison.
*I made this up.