The Biases of Brock Turner and Davontae Sanford


Many people are pointing out the hypocrisy of the sentencing of Brock Turner for his rape of an unconscious woman juxtaposed against the 8 year prison sentence of a then 14 year old Davontae Sanford for crimes he was coerced into admitting to but never actually committed.  There are some who still don’t see the inherent racism and classism about these two cases.  Brock Turner received a lighter sentence because he was perceived as a high-functioning member  of society partly because he was an All-American swimmer.  Marcus Dixon, a black man who was also a star football athlete, faced the same fate, but was handed down a stiff sentence of 10  years.  It was later overturned, but why did one man get off so lightly when another didn’t?

Let’s put race off the table.  Let’s say there are no people of color and only people from different social and economic classes.  Those who are perceived to be at the top of these classes are seen as contributing members of society simply because they have wealth.  Because of their wealth, they are able to obtain the highest levels of education and procure professions that would bar those who were less advantageous.  They are able to access exclusive clubs and forge contacts with those in high positions.  Because they are educated, they are more able to navigate the legal system and have the wealth to extricate themselves out of situations that those who are poor do not.  When a man of this stature arrives before a judge, the judge unknowingly takes these biases into consideration.  A man who is poor may not cooperate, but a wealthier one will and in their minds, be able to contribute to society further upon their release.  So it is in their best judgement to give more lenient sentences to contributing members of society than those who do not.

Now, if you inject race into it, the water grows murkier.  If you are constantly bombarded with images that black people commit crimes and a black person is in court, this unconscious bias may already sway you.  If the laws are directed disproportionately toward all those who are poor, those who are poor and minorities will be more affected than those who are not.  We all carry biases, and that is okay.  What isn’t okay is the fact that we deny this.  The denial of these biases is what creates imbalances because there are no check and balances to what we feel.  It is not only because Turner is white and privileged that he is getting off and Davontae is poor and black.  It is because we unconsciously assign certain societal attributes to these classes of people and it is these biases that shape our views of them for better or for worse.  This will never change, but what can change is the acknowledgement of it.

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