The three UCLA basketball players confined to a hotel after being arrested on suspicion of stealing from a high end retail store in China were facing an uphill battle in their quest for justice, if history was any indication. Not only could freshmen LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley be sentenced to as many as 10 years in prison for shoplifting, but the overt racism Black people experience in Chinese society could also be carried over into the courtroom.
It was not immediately clear if the case, which is being investigated by Chinese authorities, would advance to a trial. However, in China, “Black people are often regarded suspiciously, too, and considered as all coming from Africa, regardless of their actual origin,” according to a report by InterNations, a nonprofit organization that serves as a network and guide for Americans in cities around the world.
Beyond the very real prospects of racism, China also has a “deeply flawed criminal justice system,” according to the South China Morning Post. When pairing the two factors of discrimination against Blacks with a shaky legal experience, the outlook seems grim for the student-athletes.
So shaky, in fact, it would seem that judges in China don’t have much discretion, as Chinese courts have a 99 percent conviction rate against all defendants, the Telegraph reported. Perhaps worse yet, Chinese politicians and academics have previously referred to China’s criminal justice system as being “typically Marxist,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The UCLA team was in China to play a game against Georgia Tech, which had three of its own players questioned before police released them without charges. Their game was scheduled for Friday.
In the meantime, the players have been remanded for at least 20 days to a hotel in Hangzhou — the same city from where they allegedly stole sunglasses in a Louis Vuitton store.
Suspicions of racism aside, their stay there could actually end up being much longer.
“According to Chinese exit law, a case must be fully resolved before the suspects are allowed to eventually go home,” William Nee, who works for Amnesty International and is an expert on China, told CBS News. “It could be days, it could be weeks, it could be months, theoretically speaking even years until they are allowed to leave China.”
Still, racism in China looms large. including the recent instances of a Chinese museum featuring an exhibit that compared Black people to wild animals and a Chinese messaging app automatically translating the phrase “Black foreigner” as the N-word.
That can’t be comforting to three Black American teenagers on hotel arrest in the middle of eastern China.
“I’m scared for him,” former NBA player Devean George told TMZ about Ball. “You gotta be real careful when you’re doing stuff overseas.”