Criminal Justice

Federal Prosecutor Says the Presence of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Money Must Mean There's a Drug Deal, Then Claims He "wasn't trying to interject race" Into the Case

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: White House photostream

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. 

NEXT: Peter Bagge on Al Capp

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  1. That picture with that headline – just wonderful. Well played.

    1. It is a great juxtaposition. But it also feels like an epic alt-text fail.

      1. like he messed up the punch line of a great joke. I was something like “Drug Deal” when I hovered my mouse over it. Peter, you fail.

        1. Can’t be a drug deal – there are too many white people in the picture.

      2. SUDER-MAN SMASH!

      3. This is one of the few photos that needs no alt-text. Given the headline, it speaks for itself.

      4. Hugh Akston| 2.26.13 @ 10:40AM |#

        ….it also feels like an epic alt-text fail.

        “first you pay the italian man, then i give you the shit…just play cool”

  2. No alt-text?

    “Yo, bitch, gimme some o’ dat sweet Living Constitutionalism.”

    1. Jeeze, guys, the HEADLINE’s the alt text!

  3. Well, it’s not legitimate or sufficient for evidence or anything but, sorry, seems like a legitimate thing to ask a guy from whom you are attempting to elicit testimony about a drug deal. Does it matter that it is perfectly true?

    1. It’s not true. There are plenty of situations where AAs and Hispanics get together and exchange cash for reasons other than drug transactions.

      1. Bags full of cash? Why of course; happens all the time.

        1. Yeah, it kinda does – landscapers buying plants from nurseries for example.

          End of the day payouts to day-laborers.

      2. come on, Tulpa. You see a group of guys and a bag of cash; no red flags at all? The same might apply with a group of white guys, too, but stereotypes are based on some truth, regardless of the wise Latina’s pearl-clutching.

        1. If you see a group of guys with a bag of cash and/or a suitcase full of drugs, the first thing a smart person thinks is “set up” and runs like hell.

          Seriously, how many times is there an actual bust between real drug dealers and real drug buyers anymore?

          1. and set-up is a legitimate red flag. Intinct alone should scream at you “stay away.”

      3. There are plenty of situations where AAs and Hispanics get together and exchange cash for reasons other than drug transactions.

        Yeah. In my wife’s family, it’s called settling the check at the Cheesecake Factory after Sunday brunch.

  4. Come on, guys. It’s META alt-text.

  5. Someone get a drug dog in that room STAT.

    1. Drugdog says “Alert!”

  6. If only these people were just racist, we could solve that problem. But it is worse than that. They don’t just think blacks and Mexicans are presumed to be in a crime, they think everyone is. If you have a large wad of case, you are nothing but a criminal in the eyes of federal law enforcement.

    1. Exactly. Carry a lot of cash? It will be taken during a traffic stop, and probably logged into evidence as roughly 40% of what it was. The rest just vanishes. Funny, that.

      1. It’s the Civil Forfeiture fee.

        1. It’s in the social contract, you nitwits!

          /Kos kid

        2. It’s part of the price we pay for a civilized society, although I guess you’d prefer that we were Somalia.

          1. My brother was telling one of his bribing cops in Bolivia stories, and one of the people there was like “Thank god we don’t have that here.” I laughed at her, and said “Yeah here you gotta bribe the cop, the judge, the clerk, and then to get the points off your license you have to give money to the judge’s dumbass brother in law who runs a driving clinic.”

      2. That’s if it makes it into evidence at all.

        1. Cash? What cash? Burden of proof is on you, buddy.

  7. 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.

    I bet the wise Latina’s non rebuke rebuke really upset the prosecutor.

  8. “tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation”

    She’s right, but I’m bothered that I agree with the Wise Latina.

    Racist ?

  9. Sotomayor said she agreed with the rest of the court that technical mistakes by Calhoun’s trial attorney ? “Inexplicably . . . Calhoun’s lawyer did not object to the question” ? meant his petition should be denied.

    Money buys competence and competence buys justice in this country.

  10. “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?’?”

    1) OK – blacks AREN’T good at basketball. Jews AREN’T good with money. Chinese people are EXCELLENT drivers. Italians AREN’T more likely to go into the cement business. White pople AREN’T racist.

    2) “Feldman,Salvatore,and Smith. A Jew,an Italian,and a regular American. Now thats what I call a balanced ticket!”

    /Archie Bunker

  11. Every story on the guy neglects to say what President nominated him to hos position. I wonder why…

    1. Probably because he was an AUSA and therefore wasn’t nominated by any President.

      1. Oh, thanks for the info. I assumed his position was an appointment.

        1. Yeah he’s a professional bureaucrat civil servant. Remember when making bureaucrat a career instead of a four or eight year sinecure was going to make the government accountable?

  12. a moment of clarity and then right back to wise latinaing.

  13. “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?’?”

    Funny how everybody is ignoring the larger question of why the fuck exactly it matters if people want to exchange money for goods.

    1. Oh, fine – try to drag us back to reality.

      I’M NOT GOING! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME, SLAVER!

  14. Everyone knows that blacks and Hispanics lack the intelligence and discipline required to pursue college degrees and professional jobs.
    Isn’t that the point of Affirmative Action? To acknowledge their inherent inferiority and treat them accordingly?
    So of course when you see blacks, Hispanics, and money, you know that there must be drugs involved. It’s not like these poor inferior people could have acquired that money legally.

    /tolerant liberal

    1. No. Affirmative action is meant to redress institutional and social barriers to minorities being upwardly mobile. It was never meant to promote less qualified candidates over more qualified ones.

      1. yes, tony, we know what it was MEANT to do. Pray, tell. What does it ACTUALLY do?

        1. Make a bunch of underqualified white people feel entitled to bitch about all the privilege brown people get in this country?

      2. Intentions are more important than results.

  15. What’s really being implied is that people who are not part of a large hierarchical government sanctioned organization could possibly amass any significant sum of money except via illegal means.

    That money- you can’t have that.

    1. That’s just the way they justify it. What it really means is that if you have the last word in violence, you have license to steal. Who can stop you?

  16. The only thing missing from the picture is a bag of money.

    1. Believe you me, there are millions in that room.

  17. If found in the right kind of place in the right kind of neighborhood the prosecutor wouldn’t be far off the mark.

    It’s wrong to assume so straight forwardly as he had done, but depending on some other facts it probably would be stupid to not think that.

    We should just decriminalize the stuff pronto though.

  18. I believe Ken at Popehat was the first “media outlet” to identify Sam L. Ponder in the context of Sotomayor’s statement.

    1. That guy’s kind of a dick.

  19. They even have the Italian mobster overseeing everything in that picture as well.

  20. Bongani Charles Calhoun, who is African American

    No shit.

    /Assistant U.S. Attorney Sam L. Ponder

  21. What we have in the picture there is a textbook “hand-to-hand”.

    Obama and Sotomayor are exchanging the dope as the picture is taken. The Justice at the right side of the picture is the lookout, and Scalia is running the corner and just gave the signal OKing the exchange. You can always tell these gangs from the way they dress alike, so the rest of the Justices must be the muscle.

    1. Put a hyphen in “OK-ing”.

      Us dyslexics had issues with your original. Thought it was a reference to Obama as King = OKing

  22. More proof the Supreme Court doesn’t give a fuck about the Constitution.

    They refused to hear a challenge to the 2008 FISA Amendments.

    Fucking authoritarian cocksuckers.

    1. The ruling says they can’t preemptively strike down an unconstitutional law and that someone would have to be illegally listened to and know about it to have standing.

      I could use a legal explanation from one of the lawyers on here, because this makes no sense to me.

      1. They can’t strike down a law until it’s been challenged, so they are waiting for someone to find out they’ve been illegally wiretapped and then sue over it.

      2. I hear you, sloopy. I don’t *pretend* to understand this stuff.

        The only “explanation” that “makes sense” to me is that until the law has a concrete case it goes as an “ongoing investigation”. 8-(

    2. Without proof that the law would directly affect them, Americans can’t sue, Alito said in the ruling.

      Also, any proof you might need is classified, and you can’t see it.

      1. “Wiretapping is victimless crime. Like punching someone in the dark.”

  23. When your first name begins with “bong”…good luck!

    1. I guess that explains what happened to Tong Foo. But now I wonder if Tiggy is a government stooge.

  24. This is why it’s great to be a white female out walking her yappy lil dog if I want to initiate a less-than-legal transaction. A cop could drive right by and probably wouldn’t even look twice.

    1. I know that major drug dealers started using more non-stereotypical folks to run their drugs across country years ago. Middle age professonal types.

      1. Somebody ought to file a civil rights lawsuit against them for discrimination.

  25. It doesn’t freak anybody out that this guy’s appeal would have been heard by the Supreme Court if only his lawyer had made a contemporaneous objection to the racially charge statement?

    1. Oh, it probably freaks out *Calhoun*.

  26. “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?’?”

    Says the cop to the new class at the police academy.

    1. “Sir, with all due respect — don’t you mean ‘go ON in your head’?”

      1. On. Off. As long as you shoot all the dogs you’ve done a good job.

  27. Fucking authoritarian cocksuckers.

    Nonsense. They just had to destroy our freedom in order to keep us free.

    But they didn’t enjoy it, so we’ve got that going for us.

  28. someone would have to be illegally listened to and know about it to have standing.

    If you know about it, you are forbidden to tell anyone, because that would be a breach of national security.

  29. It was never meant to promote less qualified candidates over more qualified ones.

    So, it was merely an “unintended consequence”.

    That’s perfectly alright, then.

  30. Ponder can say he was not attempting to interject race into the legal case,but he surely knew he could not also control how others would perceive his dubious comments…

    The other issue’s to us is not just how Ponders comments could have easily caused a possible innocent Calhoun to be wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit at U.S. tax payer$ expense …

    Who can justify the obvious poor defense legal representation that never was not bright enough to even object to these Ponder court comments ?

    Why the sitting judge never advised the Calhoun jury to strike Ponder comments from the record is also troubling ?

    The most tragic event of all of these legal horror’s is our U.S. judicial system denying a possible innocent imprisoned Calhoun his right to a new trial based on a filing deadline ?

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