A lawyer friend posed this thorny question yesterday: “How many Black men have been falsely accused of rape and spent half their lives in prison for crimes they didn’t commit?”
I couldn’t answer his question with a hard number. I didn’t know. My friend really didn’t want a definitive response; his mind was already made up. He was looking for a weighty conversation about white male privilege and racially disproportionate sentencing in the criminal justice system.
The question surfaced after we learned that a Santa Clara, California judge ruled that Brock Turner, 20, a champion swimmer at Stanford University, will only serve a mere six months in jail for three felony counts of sexual assault when prosecutors were asking for six years.
The ruling against Turner was far too lenient for the charges against him and Judge Aaron Persky, who handed down the notable slap on the wrist, should be recalled.
Meanwhile, Turner’s father, Dan Turner, had absolutely no compassion for the woman his son raped, and said in a letter to the court that his son should not serve any jail time.
He argued that his son had already suffered “anxiety, fear and depression” as a result of his arrest and trial — “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”
But what about the anxiety, fear and depression the victim may be suffering? What a callous attitude that certainly sums up rape culture — men who rape and fathers who are steadfast apologists for their rapist sons.
It wasn’t simply an “action,” – it was forcible rape, and yes, Brock Turner is suffering for good reason: He was found on top of an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on the campus of Stanford University in January 2015 where witnesses held Turner until police arrived.
Turner’s father added: “I was always excited to buy him a big rib eye steak to grill….Now he barely consumes any food and only eats to exist.”
And Turner’s childhood friend, Leslie Rasmussen, also wrote a letter to Persky blaming Turner’s jail time on political correctness.
“I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next 10+ years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him,” Rasmussen wrote. “…Where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.”
Rasmussen’s argument is pedestrian at best and twisted at worst. There was no question of Turner’s guilt; there were no extenuating circumstances; there were plenty of eye witnesses, and there was no case of mistaken identity.
The victim also alleged that officials didn’t want to derail Turner’s swimming scholarship and his chances of joining the prestigious summer Olympics. I believe her. It all comes down to privilege, a privilege bolstered perhaps by Judge Persky — who also happens to be a Stanford University alumnus.
Privilege? Listen to the words of the victim. She wrote a 7,244-word account of her assault — which has been read by more than 5 million people on BuzzFeed.com, which now includes me.
“If a first-time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be?”
Persky, in a head-scratching statement defending his ruling, said he worried that more jail time would have a “severe impact” on Turner, who was convicted of raping the young woman outside a fraternity party.
Turner had faced up to 14 years in jail for his crime and Perksy, a Stanford University alumnus, let Turner off the hook. Persky seemed more concerned about Turner’s emotional well-being than he was about the 23-year-old victim of sexual assault. His ruling was inexcusable.
“Even if the sentence is light, hopefully this will wake people up,” the victim said in her statement. “I want the judge to know that he ignited a tiny fire. If anything, this is a reason for all of us to speak even louder.”
Ask Brian Banks, a gifted high school football player who had dreams of playing for Southern Cal — an innocent black man accused of rape when he was 16 years old. By the time his accuser recanted her testimony in 2012 — proving that Banks was innocent — he had already served five years in jail.
“It was like I was not even in the room,” Banks told the New York Daily News this week. “I felt like I wasn’t a human being. I was a number.”
In the case against Banks and Brock Turner, the American justice system failed miserably. But the privileged Turner got a sweet deal: And he could be home savoring a juicy rib eye steak by Christmas Day.