Here’s something you may not know: As a percentage of its total population, Virginia’s incarcerated class now ranks 12th in the nation, with one out of every 89 adults currently living in prison. This number far outstrips the national average, and represents a 58 percent increase since 2000. In that same period the number of property crimes in Virginia remained relatively flat, while violent crimes declined only slightly. (Although it should be noted that the Old Dominion’s crime stats are well below the national average, and have been for quite some time.)
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has yet to weigh in on the Colonial Forge High School “Banana Man” fiasco. Is it only a matter of time?
Now, most politicians could care less about prison overcrowding—and even fewer lose sleep over the fact that some minor drug offender might spend decades behind bars. The two biggest champions of prison reform in Virginia are probably Bobby Scott, the longtime U.S. Representative from Newport News, and Senator Jim Webb, whose effectiveness on the issue is blunted by the fact that he’s retiring from Congress next year.
In fact, it’s safe to say that—with Bob McDonnell in the governor’s mansion and Ken Cuccinelli at the Commonwealth’s top cop—Virginia’s prison system is likely to get more crowded, not less, over the next few years.
Cuccinelli, in particular, seems intent on increasing the scope and reach of his crime-fighting activities. Whether it’s harassing a respected University of Virginia climate scientist to determine if he “knowingly used false data and shoddy studies to obtain grant money,” or petitioning the General Assembly to allow Virginia’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit to carry guns and special badges, the Cooch sometimes gives the impression that he’d like to run our fine Commonwealth the way Muammar Gaddafi ran Libya.
All of which brings us to Banana Man. If you missed the highly entertaining story, it goes something like this: During a Colonial Forge High School football game in Stafford, a high-spirited (and reportedly autistic) student named Brian Thompson ran down the sidelines dressed in a giant yellow banana suit. Video of the event (readily available on YouTube) shows that his appearance engendered much excitement and loud exclamations of joy (“Banana Man! It’s Banana Man!”). Which made it all the more puzzling when cops rushed to the sidelines, grabbed the fruit-bedecked 14-year-old, handcuffed him and shoved him in the back of a police cruiser.
Not only did Thompson receive a 10-day suspension for what amounted to a completely harmless prank, but a number of students who protested by wearing “Free Banana Man” T-shirts to school had their shirts confiscated, and were forced to attend school on Saturday as punishment.
Look, we realize that this is just one goofy incident, and has little or nothing to do with the macro trends that are putting an ever-growing share of the American populace behind bars (three strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentences, post-9/11 “zero tolerance” policies, etc.), but come on! Have we really reached a point where a skinny black kid in a banana suit has to be treated like some sort of national security threat?
Although we suppose it could have been much worse. If Colonel Cuccinelli had his way, there probably would have been an armed “Costume Chaos Protection Force” surrounding the field. Who knows what kind of tragedy might have resulted?