Members Only | December 10, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Why didn’t the system ever hold Jeffrey Epstein to account? Because he was the system
The ongoing trial of Epstein's partner Ghislaine Maxwell reminds us it’s impossible to remove the politics of race and class from the equation.
The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell is underway. She’s accused of taking part in the most serious crimes with Jeffrey Epstein. Given the wide ranging implications of all of those potentially embroiled, the supremely powerful and wealthy, you’d think the episode might be generating more headlines. At the moment, though, it’s not.
And the fact that it’s being treated almost like any other news story is a poignant reminder that there is one rule for the most influential and another rule for everyone else. The way in which the entire scandal has so far played out clearly reflects how the dynamics of privilege, power and race operate in today’s society.
The entire reason Epstein and Maxwell were able to carry out their crimes for so long, plain and simple, is because Epstein was an incredibly powerful wealthy white man, who moved in similar circles, while being protected by those who looked like him.
The lack of coverage proportionate to the reality and gravitas of the story is one thing. And who knows, perhaps that might change.
But the entire reason Epstein and Maxwell were able to carry out their crimes for so long, plain and simple, is because Epstein was an incredibly powerful wealthy white man, who moved in similar circles, while being protected by those who looked like him. And, of course, no one doubts that Epstein likely had dirt on many of them, too.
Had Epstein been Black or Muslim or both, committing a fraction of the crimes with a fraction of Epstein’s bank balance, the scope and nature of the coverage would be very different indeed.
There’d probably be sweeping generalizations made by the press and pundit corps about Epstein’s race, religion and so on. People would be asking if there were anything endemic culturally within the white community that contributed to his crimes and questioning whether the white community as a whole is doing enough to weed out other Epsteins that it might harbor. There would be demands by some that white men everywhere issue an apology on behalf of Epstein.
This hasn’t happened, as well it shouldn’t, because people don’t commit crimes because of skin color. Only stupid people think that.
Epstein’s skin and wealth meant he received a relative pass by the justice system and to a large extent the media, up until his death. Until that point, so many of the stories about Epstein referred to his rape of children and minors as “sex crimes” or “sex with underage girls,” etc.
And let’s not forget, when Epstein did eventually face a couple of charges in 2008 related to procuring a minor for prostitution, he only served 13 months behind bars, in a private section of prison while allowed to leave jail often, under an extensive work release program.
Bear in mind that in America, thousands of Black and brown people languish in jail often for decades for very minor crimes. Sometimes we later learn that they are innocent altogether. Epstein was free to continue ruining lives after a year. Talk about a mockery of justice.
The system afforded him the ultimate privilege of choosing to leave this world without ever facing real justice while denying his victims with some measure of closure.
At this point, some will claim that Epstein’s ability to carry out his crimes over many years, while evading justice, is more about wealth and powerful connections than his white skin. They might even claim that the reason Epstein was untouchable was because, as has been claimed by some, that he was “intelligence.” But it’s not the case.
Take a look, for example, at the relative slap on the wrist that the January 6 insurgents have so far received in what the FBI described as an act of domestic terror.Those people were not billionaires, nor did they maintain connections to the highest echelons of power. What they were armed with was their white skin and all of the privilege it entails. And there are many other examples. We all know it.
Epstein had the armory of wealth, class and whiteness. The system is almost tailor-made for the likes of him. And to put it bluntly, the system never held Epstein to account fully in his lifetime, because for all intents and purposes, Epstein and Maxwell were that system.
As if this point had not been illustrated enough, the last few days produced a spectacular development in Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial. A photo was shown in court that seemed to depict Maxwell and Epstein relaxing at Balmoral, the British Queen’s private Scotland residence.
Which reminds me, if you need another similar example of how the system favors men like Epstein, look no further than Prince Andrew. It’s not just that he’s a royal, which is the reason he has thus far evaded accountability. After all, Meghan Markle is a royal, too, and has all but been hounded by the Anglo-American press over the last few years because she’s a Black woman – to the point she’s thought of suicide.
Prince Andrew is from the same privileged bubble as Epstein. That’s why they were buddies. So, as Maxwell’s trial continues, remember it’s impossible to remove the politics of race and class from the equation.
Many people doubt Epstein took his own life in 2019 before he faced trial. But even if you assume the official narrative is true, the system, which should have been watching him 24-7, afforded him the ultimate privilege of choosing to leave this world without ever facing real justice while denying his victims with some measure of closure.
Richard Sudan covers human rights and American foreign affairs for the Editorial Board. Based in London, his reporting has appeared in The Guardian, Independent and others. Find him @richardsudan.