Portugal, May 2016
I live in the same county as the Stanford rapist,
his victim, the judge, the D.A. and the probation officer, all key players in a scenario that has been played out thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of times in the United States, but for some reason has now blown up the internet.
The scenario has to do with privilege. White privilege. Ivy league privilege. The privilege of wealth. Of athletes. Privileged people.
The outrage over this case is becoming part of the national zeitgeist. It’s not often that happens with rape cases, and there have been so many even more callous than this one. What’s different this time?
Was it the letter the victim wrote?
My heart goes out to this victim. Completely. Still I didn’t find the letter as impactful as others did. It was long, rambling, unfocused and didn’t bring up any emotion for me, not on its own. I’ve heard and read far more impactful victims’ statements. But since others, including reporters, seem to think it was impactful, their reading it on air kept her point of view alive. As it should be. So did that make the difference? I don’t think so.
Here’s what it really is, I think, that made a difference: the statement made by the perp’s father. The one that said his son’s probation was far too high a price to pay for “20 minutes of action.”
If EVER you wanted to read something that vividly lays out the clueless, tone deaf nature of people who have lived a privileged life, there you have it. Oh, that, and the similarly tone deaf letter his mother wrote. And the one the ex-girlfriend wrote. Those two were frosting on the cake, so to speak. The cake was the father’s ridiculous letter.
Now, I don’t for a minute think that father meant “action” as it “sex.” I think he meant “20 minutes out of his life.” Because surely he wouldn’t have meant action as “sex.” Could he be that stupid? But of course, in today’s world everyone must have their say and his reflected how completely clueless he is anyway, which added to the outrage. What was crystal clear, though, is that his father didn’t feel his son should take any responsibility for his actions. That alcohol was to blame. There was no apology. No recognition by son or father that the assault was wrong. No taking of responsibility. And THAT was why the outrage, I believe.
Let’s talk about the judge for a minute.
I’m pretty sure he didn’t give this case more thought than any other on his docket. Cases like these: Stanford athlete, bright future, one mistake—-they pass by his bench all the time, his and so many others. Especially in Palo Alto. And I’ll bet they are all treated pretty much the same. After all, this is probably a “good kid” as in white, privileged, being educated at a spectacular university. So why ruin his life? That’s how the system has worked. Forever.
Suppose the rapist had been black. A high school dropout. With a public defender. What if the victim happened to be a black prostitute who was not plying her trade that night, but in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Would this have played out the same way?
The obvious (and sad) answer is NO. We KNOW that to be true.
So yes, sympathy for the victim, no sympathy for the perp, scorn for the father.
But the bigger issue here is the thorny problem of privilege when it comes to the justice system. Or any system, really, because I can’t think of one that doesn’t have a double standard depending on someone’s status in society.
I’m glad to see all the attention on this case, but it really doesn’t amount to anything unless the system changes.
It’s overdue for an overhaul. One that would actually make it “justice.” So let’s review what is probably happening and then what should happen:
I would bet that judges who have given sentences like this in cases like this are now thinking twice, and that’s a good thing. The judge is either going to face a recall or not be re-elected this fall and I think that’s a good thing. Ironically, he probably has thought many times when sentencing, “sometimes people have to serve as an example.” Yes. Let this judge’s problems and the publicity on this case serve as a cautionary tale for other judges who simply go along with the system with no thought about its inequality. Judges are now on notice: let there be no more knee-jerk sentences. Consider every case more carefully from now on.
Humans are always going to be human. We’ll make mistakes. But our justice system is there so that big-magnitude mistakes that hurt others –crimes–like rape–can be punished.
Now, I wish that prisons actually rehabilitated prisoners. That’s not what happens. Hard core criminals get harder. Medium core criminals usually move up a notch, too. Clueless white rapists? Well, not so sure they’ll fare so well. They just might get their own justice. Perhaps.
By the way, penal reform is also overdue. Our penal system is pretty ineffective–often working at cross purposes with its so-called intent– and even barbaric. But it IS our system. Right now. But back to justice.
The justice system needs to treat people equally. All people, whether they’re a prestigious school’s athlete or a drug dealer from the ghetto. It’s supposed to happen. It should happen.
But it doesn’t.
So, how do we make justice happen?
We start by calling attention to injustice, just like we are doing now, all over the world, even. But we can’t let up pressure. Let’s see, how long has it been since Sandy Hook? And how quickly did our outrage fade? And what has happened?
A big fat nothing.
This stuff tends to flare and then, over time die down. Let’s not do that this time. Let’s keep the pressure on. Let this judge’s sentencing rationale serve as cautionary note to other judges. Let this father’s ridiculous defense of his son serve notice to parents that our society requires convicted kids to take responsibility for their actions and we must excoriate parents who allow them to blame the victim, alcohol, youth or anything but themselves.
I’m not a fan of recall except in the most extreme of cases, but I AM a fan of not re-electing someone who has made bad decisions.
The problem with all this is that we get tired. Tired of every Trayvon Martin who is murdered. Tired of every shooting massacre. Or bombing.
We get tired.
But we can’t get tired. We can’t afford to get tired. Our society can’t afford for us to get tired. Privileged people should not get a pass based on that privilege. Not any more.
Change is needed.
Got some ideas? I’d like to hear them in the Comments.