The story of how white supremacy ruins everything
When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
Sherlock Holmes, in the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
CN: sexual assault, abuse of disabled people, white supremacy
This is a hard story. It looks a hard truths and comes away with hard conclusions. It’s about violence, human agency, and systemic violence. It’s also about anti-blackness.
I found out about this story from my friend. He posted that it was so horrible that he wasn’t going to share the news article. It was on the Guardian if anyone cared to look.
And there it was, the story of four black youths who had tied up a disabled man and harmed him while yelling things about Donald Trump. It was a horrifying scene, especially when I think of how long he was there, unable to escape, and the harm he experienced like being cut with a knife on his head.
Nobody thinks this is OK.
It didn’t take long for police to identify and arrest four black young people for the crime.
Pay very close attention to what happened next.
They were charged with a hate crime.
According to the FBI website, “[t]raditionally, FBI investigations of hate crimes were limited to crimes in which the perpetrators acted based on a bias against the victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin.
So, maybe, right?
The young people in the Chicago incident were yelling, “F**k Trump,” as they harmed their victim.
Maybe someone would say it was racially motivated. It doesn’t really seem like it to me because Trump isn’t actually harmed by the action; it’s just something to say while acting out. It seems more likely to me that this person ended up being the victim because his disability made him an easy mark. The easy mark happened to be a white person.
Let’s talk about crimes in general for a second. What deters crime? You’ve heard things before like defendant is being made examples of.
Research shows a bit of a different picture though. It’s not the severity of the sentence that keeps people from committing a crime. Actually, it’s the certainty of punishment that keeps them from doing things they don’t want to be punished for.
And you would think that a horrible crime like this one carries with it a certainty of punishment, that the deterrent would work naturally as part of the package.
Astoundingly, you would be wrong.
On October 22, 2015, three white teen boys in Dietrich, Idaho, lured a black teen boy who is mentally disabled into the locker room. They pretended to give him hugs and then trapped him and anally raped him with a coat hanger.
Let me stop right there and say that the case and Chicago did not involve rape and did not involve coat hangers. In that way, it is mercifully different. Tanner Ward, a 17-year-old, kicked the coat hanger and forced it further into the victim’s body. The injuries had to be treated at the hospital.
What about the hate component? Well, the three white young men yelled the N-word, and then things like chicken-eater, watermelon, and other insults. They clearly identified race as part of the reason they targeted the victim, and yet it didn’t become a sentencing factor.
John R.K. Howard originally faced charges that were appropriate in their relation to the crime. The original charge was forcible sexual penetration by a foreign object. The district attorney reduced charges to one felony count of injury to a child. Because of the reduction, John Howard will serve no time in jail.
How can it be that people who committed worse crime were served less punishment?
Foucault observed it this way: “ The whole indefinite domain of non-conforming is punishable.” To put it simply, harsher sentencing for Blacks is a constant factor in the justice/prison industrial complex. In fact, Black males in the federal prison system face sentences that are 20% longer than that of their white counterparts.
The crime in Idaho could be reasonably judged to be worse in a couple of ways, but it’s not because of the terribleness of the crime that the perpetrators were punished. In fact, they weren’t punished at all.
The fact that these two cases had in common is that the victim was mentally disabled. In one case this warranted hate crime charges and another it didn’t. This betrays the way that prosecutorial discretion can create abuse in the system.
The non-conforming of which the Black teens can be found guilty is to be noncompliant with white supremacy and with the myth of white superiority. In the Dietrich, Idaho case, there is also a thread responding to the crime with the old adage, “Boys will be boys.”
Is brutality and preying on disabled people the best we can hope for when white teen boys are unsupervised?
The thing is, they know this story. And they know the story of Brock Turner and other white boys who have gotten away with their crimes because of this kind of logic. When there is no certainty of punishment because of the color of a person’s skin, then there can be no reasonable social deterrent.
White supremacy, and its twin antiblackness, ruin everything.