*Three recent incidents perfectly illustrate why it is fair to say that racism still exists in American society.
Ashley Harrison has been charged with reckless endangerment for firing a gun, Mamadou Diallo has been charged with murder for killing someone attempting to sexually assault his wife, and Brock Turner was sentenced to six months incarceration after being convicted of sexual assault.
In case you were wondering Harrison is a woman of color, Diallo is an Muslim immigrant of African descent, and Turner is a white college aged man.
Many can only perceive racism when someone is blatantly discriminated against because of their religion so these situations would not set off any alarms. So let us establish some facts. Harrison’s fiancée was attacked and shot while he sat in a car next to her. She fired a gun in response to scare away the assailant. Diallo returned home after his wife was able to get away from her attacker and call him. Diallo then beat the would-be rapist with a weapon of some sort. Turner engaged in a druken encounter with a young woman while she was unconscious.
At some point officials in law enforcement decided that Harrison and Diallo deserved to be taken into custody based on their actions. What is noteworthy here is that these are the same kinds of actions that conservatives constantly declare are reasonable. Harrison used a firearm to protect herself; Diallo reacted to someone trying to harm his wife. What else would reasonable people do in those situations?
Institutional racism is when companies or organizations, or organs of the government treat people of color differently. That is what has been going on here.
On the other hand Turner did something that most people do not do. He took advantage of a woman sexually and was given a pass. The justification given by the judge for reducing his sentence to the length of summer vacation was that a longer sentence would have had a “severe impact” on him according to the judge. Again this is how institutional racism works – Turner was treated a certain way because the judge looked at him and saw a certain kind of person.
Possible mitigating factors: the killer of Harrison’s fiancé was running away, the possible rapist of Diallo’s wife was no longer in their apartment but in the hallway, and Turner’s victim allegedly gave her consent to go home with him. Furthermore I usually defer to those with much more experience in a field; in this case lawyers and law enforcement officers who have seen many more of these situations than I have. Nevertheless the I believe racism is still present. If the situation was a white woman firing a warning shot into the air after seeing her fiancé get shot the conversation would be about how her gun protected her from being the second victim. In fact I’ve seen that story already. If a white man had beat up someone on the street outside their home after that person attempted to rape the white man’s wife, we would be talking about the sanctity of his home. Similarly black men who commit anything in the realm of sexual assault are generally not given sentences on the short end of the spectrum.
I recognize that an arrest is not an indictment, and not a conviction. So the only hope is that the criminal justice professionals in Chicago and New York change their opinion about the danger that Harrison and Diallo pose to society.
But if the events surrounding Turner are any indication – when his own defense attorney implied that he expected a longer sentence – I won’t get my hopes up.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.