White, male and with prospects. This seems to be the passcode for receiving a lenient sentence for a potentially horrific crime
On June 2nd, ex-Stanford University student Brock Turner was found guilty of three offences, including the attempted rape and sexual assault of an unconscious person. Outrage followed when Turner received the lenient sentence of six months in county jail, after the judge determined that a prison sentence would have a ‘severe impact’ on Turner’s future.
It’s clear things are seriously wrong when a rapist’s future success is given more consideration than the serving of justice to his victim. While the judge sat thinking about how a prison sentence would affect this former all-American swimmer’s career, his victim, who was so intoxicated that she only regained consciousness hours after the event, told the court and Turner: ‘I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt’. Turner’s victim suffered sexual assault, yet apparently it’s Turner’s future that will be most seriously impacted …
If that’s not bad enough, Turner’s father penned a letter defending his son, stating that Turner should not have to serve a prison sentence for ’20 minutes of action’. To minimize the crime committed is abhorrent; it may have lasted only 20 minutes for the offender, but for the victim, the assault can last a lifetime. That’s a lifetime of fear, anger, confusion, and pain that is being overlooked in the interests of a young, white male with a promising future.
In an attempt to convince us all that Turner is just a good guy who made a little mistake, his mugshot was not initially released. Alongside the articles reporting his trial you’ll see yearbook photos of Turner grinning in a suit and tie, looking anything but a sexual offender (who denied his crime despite running away from the scene after being spotted). This is not accidental. Mugshots exist for a reason; they allow us to keep a record of certain types of people, and ensure that, by capturing a criminal’s identity, they cannot escape their crime. By refusing to present Turner’s mugshot alongside the reports of his crimes, the press is attempting to prevent us from seeing him as he really is. The whole thing stinks of privilege.
If you’re not convinced that Turner’s representation in the press is a result of white man’s privilege, here’s another example: an Iowa paper faced a barrage of criticism after what appeared to be racially biased reporting. The newspaper reported a story about three white suspects who were arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen items, and the article featured the yearbook photos of the men. On the same day, the newspaper reported the arrest of four African-American men regarding burglary, however this time, mugshots of all four men were published. In addition to this, the white suspects were described as ‘wrestlers’ (despite their wrestling hobby being irrelevant to their crime), rather than as criminals. The newspaper claimed that the discrepancy was due to the fact that in order to obtain mugshots, a formal request must be made, yet they clearly made the effort to obtain the mugshots of the black men.
As long as we allow the ‘impact’ on the future of an offender — someone who knowingly damages the life of those they assault — to take precedence over attaining justice for their victim, we cannot call our justice systems fair. As long as we allow someone to be exempt from true punishment simply because they are white, male, and have good prospects, we cannot say that we truly respect those who do not fit that criteria.