October 21, 2008
If you're arrested for drugs, you're more likely to get a second chance if you're white
Anthony Smith Jr. is black, poor and a native of Cleveland's East Side. So is Dontez Orr. Both are in their early 20s.
Each had a life-altering encounter with police two summers ago that grew from trivial events. Smith was jaywalking on East 65th Street near Fleet Avenue; Orr was driving south on Interstate 71 at night with an unlighted rear license plate.
Neither had a criminal history to speak of, according to court records. But Cleveland police, citing concern for "officer safety," frisked jaywalker Smith and found one rock of crack cocaine in his right front pants' pocket. Linndale police said Orr gave them permission to search his 1993 Ford. They also found a rock of crack, beneath the passenger seat.
Both are now convicted felons -- a fact, in the words of one Cuyahoga County judge, that "can ruin your job prospects forever."
Brian Biddulph is not a convicted felon, even though his offense was more serious and his record worse.
Biddulph, who is white, listed a Westlake address and could afford to hire his own lawyer. He was given a second chance to remain felony-free. [Mark Godsey]
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