The violence and power of interpretation.
Even if justice were truly “blind”, she’s not alone in discerning innocence and culpability. Black people in their Blackness, especially women, are made examples of, but white people in their whiteness, especially men, get pardoned and exempt by institutions and cultures mired in bias.
A California law aimed to protect people from being lynched has been used against two Black female BLM activists, Jasmine Richards and Maile Hampton, in a little over a year. Felony lynching laws were advocated for in the 1920s and 30s by Black activists and organizations so as to force the judicial system to describe and see Black people lynched as victims to rampant vigilante white supremacy and protect them from it with legislation & a felony charge. Instead, we see the law warped, accusing activists of being the perpetrator of harm against no one, much less of targeted racial torture and murder, punishing them in a victimless crime. Because that makes sense.
The fact that these two Black women were “impeding an arrest” doesn’t wash to justify the charge, either. First and foremost, the non-deadly tactics of activists to resist police and the system criminalizing & disappearing another Black life by arresting at protests is not a wrong or crime regardless of legality in the eyes of the state or white public favor. But to the point: the felony lynching law wasn’t written to protect law enforcement or to thwart people who might impede or harm them as other laws already exist for that. It was written to protect people in custody from would-be lynchings at a time when disproportionately, the victims of lynching were Black. The law thus was most likely to center a Black victim. Yet, we have heard nothing of the Black people these Black activists have alleged to lynch. The narrative has been shifted to the unrelated idea of how these Black activists undermined the authority of police, thus naming that as being on par with lynching. Like “Blue Lives Matter”, it is proof of a growing sickening trend of equating challenges to institutions of power and authority to the extrajudicial and targeted murder of a peoples. Also that people in power are goddamn clueless and childish as hell.
Meanwhile, in the case of Brock Turner, laws intended to punish and criminalized murder and rape don’t matter if a white judge or jury sympathizes with the rapist on trial. Because he has “potential” and the charge (& thus the one who brought it on him), not his own predatory, repulsive, bottom-dweller rapacious behavior, will ruin him, and he must be saved from it. He ceases to be the perpetrator responsible to his behavior and instead becomes the victim requiring protection from law originally meant to hold him responsible. His potential and perverse, newly-defined victimhood is used to justify leniency.
No one, however, cares about the talent, worth and potential of women like Richards and Hampton, nor do they believe in their victimhood or innocence because they generally do not believe Black people can be defined as such (because if they were, then that means that someone aggressed them, and they will likely be the responsible party). If Black people, especially women, succeed, it’s despite their circumstances, their race, themselves, not due to inherent potential. We are never seen as victims and if we say we are, we are immediately told we’re playing a card or trying to shift responsibility and blame to wild illogical places and peoples elsewhere, like those responsible, instead of ourselves.
Meanwhile white people, especially men, succeed regardless their character, crimes, themselves. And they’re always the victims, even to their own behavior and the law, and especially to marginalized folks attempting to hold them accountable and responsible for their own actions. Because of course they didn’t do anything to them!
Literal assaults against physical bodies matter much less than affronts, attacks or challenges to authority and power and those who wield it, especially if the bodies affronting or being assaulted are Black and/or women, and whatever necessary will be done to protect that power. In both of these situations, mental gymnastics are coupled with good ol’ white supremacy to always posit white male authority, whether Turner’s or the polices’, as victims.
Solutions to these issues, as always, run deep. In the first circumstance, I do not think we should simply remove the word “lynching” from the law. If anything, that would whitewash the law & weaponize it even further against activists. The law simply should not be misapplied to activists resisting police force and violence and, if anything, should be applied accurately to all people, including civil servants, who target, unfairly incarcerate, criminalize & murder Black people. Protecting and seeking justice for Black people targeted by white supremacy follows the original intent of the law. Using it to further target Black people in a deadly system is in and of itself lynching. However, the issue at heart is how we see and clearly do not care or protect Black lives and, in how easily bastardized legislation can be to attack Black people, in the long run it’s not how we shall be liberated. Hell, one could argue that the law being used to protect white people isn’t actually even necessarily a bastardization because the law essentially only got on the books in California after two white men were lynched for murdering a another young white man. Ultimately, I do not see these carceral methods as an overall solution as I believe our current systems are not humane nor just, nor do they care for or protect Black lives.
In the second circumstance, even if magically Turner gets a re-trial and punished to the full extent of the law, we still have to grapple with a cultural narrative of white male exceptionalism and the hundreds of other cases, past, present and future, of “good boys” with “potential” who need to be “protected” from the people they rape. We still have to deal with people like his “Only 20 minutes of action” dad and the “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” judge who protected and defended him. We must understand how that further encourages an already festering culture that allows for more rape through giving the tools (apologism, victim-blaming, slut-shaming, white male exceptionalism, a biased judicial system and media and cultural narrative and fabric) necessary to potential rapists.
We as a people are supposed to make sure justice all herself with the Jasmine Richards and Stanford University rape victims’ of the world. We should have the backs of actual victims of violence, help bring sense to the senseless and order to the chaos that is crime and violence, not merely add to the disarray that is a culture rife with bigotry, aggression, white supremacy and bias. Justice should not posit that aggressors are innocent and needing protection. It should challenge norms that give us these unjust outcomes, not reinforce them. But of course, as far as this country is concerned, that has never been the case, and these are just the most recent tales in a long history of bullshit. I have no faith or investment in a system like that.