It often feels like going through the criminal justice system as a white person is like being able to go through the express lane at a grocery store no matter how many items are in your shopping cart. It’s more than a feeling, actually, because regardless of what white suspects are accused of—be it a robbery, sexual assault, violent hate crime, etc.—data has shown time and time again that they enjoy more leniency than Black suspects accused of the same crime. And the age of the offender doesn’t change anything.
It’s why Brock Turner was able to rape an unconscious woman when he was 19 and be sentenced to a paltry six months in prison—a sentence he only served half of—while Kalief Browder, at 16, was jailed at Rikers for three years for allegedly stealing a backpack and was made to endure beatings from prison guards and inmates and 400 days in solitary confinement, which ultimately led to his suicide.
And it’s why a white teen accused of a racist attempted murder has just been released into his father’s custody after initially being held without bail.
According to NBC 10, the white 14-year-old accused of trying to drown a Black teen in a pond in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, while another white teen called the Black victim “George Floyd” has been identified as John Sheeran. On Monday, Sheeran’s attorneys argued that he should be released pending trial, and the judge presiding over the case agreed. Sheeran, who was indicted on charges of attempted murder and assault with a dangerous weapon, was ordered to stay with his father, stay away from any witnesses involved in the case, report to probation regularly, and wear a GPS monitor.
More and more, this case is looking like one where the presumed wide-eyed innocence of white youth will protect the accused. Sheeran is being tried as a “youthful offender,” which, as NBC reported, is “a designation that gives Massachusetts prosecutors discretion for seeking an adult sentence for children between 14 and 17 years old who are charged with a felony and when other criteria are met, including a charge that involves the infliction or threat of serious bodily harm.”
Sheeran’s lawyer, Kevin Reddington, told the Boston Globe that the charges his client faces are “over the top” for what amounted to “horseplaying” that “got out of control.” Now, obviously, Reddington is just doing what defense attorneys do, but his downplaying of what Sheeran is accused of highlights the aforementioned presumption of youthful innocence enjoyed by white youth offenders. It isn’t “horseplay” if one of the kids involved is saying he was attacked and multiple witnesses are corroborating that he was being held underwater while the other white kid laughed and called him George Floyd. As we previously reported, one of the white teens also allegedly “picked up a stone, threatened the victim with it” and called him the N-word. Only in a youth camp run by the KKK would something like that be considered “horseplay.”
Well, at the Klan camp and also in the American “justice” system.
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