How do you know if there's a drug deal going on around you? During court questioning of man charged with participating in a drug conspiracy, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam L. Ponder, a federal prosecutor from Texas, strongly suggested that the presence of African Americans, Hispanics, and a large amount of money ought to provide a pretty strong signal.
"You've got African Americans, you've got Hispanics, you've got a bag full of money. Does that tell you — a light bulb doesn't go off in your head and say, 'This is a drug deal?'?" he asked Bongani Charles Calhoun, who is African American, during cross examination. As Reason 24/7 noted yesterday, Calhoun had told authorities that he simply went on a road trip with friends and did not know they intended to purchase cocaine.
Calhoun's lawyer didn't object to Ponder's remark, and Calhoun was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison. Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor took the opportunity to issue her own stern objection to the prosecutor's remark. Without naming Ponder directly, Sotomayor released a statement accusing Calhoun's prosecution of having "tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation" and declared that the High Court's decision not to hear the case should not "be understood to signal our tolerance of a federal prosecutor's racially charged remark."
Despite having explicitly connected the presence of African Americans and Hispanics to drug activity, Ponder tells The Washington Post that he "wasn't trying to interject race" into the case.