Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Justice in America: The Importance Of Brock Turner’s Whiteness // Four videos that answer some of the questions about the Stanford rape case

The narrative surrounding Brock Turner, from day one of his arrest, has been all about his “potential.” A Stanford student, a champion swimmer with Olympic aspirations, only 20 years old with no prior convictions — the concept of Turner’s potential has been at the center of his defenseIt’s Turner’s potential that kept the police and most media outlets from sharing his true mugshot from the night of his arrest in 2015, a mugshot quite different than the clean-cut, wide-eyed, innocent photo from his sentencing that has been so widely circulated in the last several days. 

His potential is what inspired his father, Dan Turner, to send a letter to the judge asking for leniency in his son’s sentencing, writing: “His life will never be the one he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” 


And his potential is what ultimately moved Judge Aaron Perksy to sentence him to just six months in a California prison instead of the six year-sentence prosecutors originally asked for, because a long prison sentence “would have a severe impact on him.” Six months for a young man guilty of three counts of sexual assault. Six months for someone who assaulted an unconscious young women behind a dumpster. But potential really has nothing to do with how easily he got off.

“Potential,” in this case, is just another word for whiteness. It has been pointed out throughout this case that the framing of Turner as a star athlete with everything to lose, a young misguided man who simply needs another chance, epitomizes the way rape culture operates. We’re socialized to question the victim, use the fact that she was intoxicated to poke holes in her accusations, while bending over backwards to highlight all the “good qualities” in her attacker.  

Here, rape culture and “race” culture intersect in a disturbing, but unsurprising way. Let’s just state the obvious: if Brock Turner were black or Latino, the likelihood of him getting a measly 6-month sentence for a brutal sexual assault would be very slim. His wealth, his gender and his whiteness have played a huge role in his protection, and we must acknowledge that. It’s already a known fact that incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color, and that black convicts are more likely to receive long sentences than their white counterparts. And no, this isn’t because people of color are just more prone to crime. It’s because our highly flawed criminal justice system is steeped in racial bias

There is a long history in this country of black men being unfairly accused of rape. From Jesse Washington to Emmett Till, young black men have historically been branded as naturally predatory and sex-crazed, they’ve been found guilty by all white juries (if they even got a trial) on trumped up charges and false evidence. They’ve been lynched, executed, sentenced to lifetimes in prison. Why? Because there is no “potential” in blackness. 

When five young black and Latino boys ranging in ages from 14 to 16 at the time of their arrests were handed decades-long sentences for the rape of a Central Park jogger in 1989, no one thought of their potential. No one was concerned with how long prison terms might affect them at such young ages. No one pondered how their punishment might impact the lives they dreamed of having. They were black, and they were poor, and that was enough. 

But in the case of young white men like Turner or Owen Labrie of St. Paul’s Prep School, it’s somehow easier to humanize them, to look at their transgressions as youthful mistakes. This has always been at the center of the disconnect in how we view black and white youth. A young white man sexually assaults a girl and it’s a terrible but once-in-a-lifetime mistake. A young black boy like 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is shot and killed for absolutely no reason at all, but a few photos of him flashing gold teeth or playfully throwing up the “West-Side” sign are used as a means for justifying his death. ... read more:

At Turner's sentencing the 23-year-old woman who has not been identified read out a letter describing the turmoil and effect the assault had had on her, "Your Honour, if it is all right, for the majority of this statement I would like to address the defendant directly. You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today." Below is a video of a reporter reading out the letter."

"I thought there’s no way this is going to trial; there were witnesses, there was dirt in my body, he ran but was caught. Instead, I was told he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators. That he was going to go to any length to convince the world he had simply been confused." "I was pummelled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who had me half naked before even bothering to ask for my name."

At the hearing, Brock's father Dan Turner also read out a letter where he denies that his son did anything wrong. He wrote that it would be "a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 years of life". Turner felt that even the six-month sentence was too long and his son shouldn't have been sentenced in the first place.

The sentencing and the letters have fostered a national conversation both about rape culture and the kind of response it has in the media and online. One line of criticism is that from the beginning, Brock Turner was called a "swimmer with Olympic dreams" as if that somehow diminished the intensity of his crime. And as is pointed out in the women's letter, she was called an "unconscious intoxicated woman, ten syllables, and nothing more than that".

Another angle is the racial aspect. While people of colour are often convicted for longer terms for similar crimes, Turner was let off with relative ease… read more: