On June 10, singer Christina Grimmie was shot and killed by a white man who then killed himself. There was no security at Plaza Live, the venue where Grimmie was performing. Orlando police chief John Mina said, in a BuzzFeed interview, "This isn't a crowd that you would suspect would be carrying guns into an event like this." What goes unsaid is that there is a crowd "you" would suspect would be carrying guns into a different kind of concert. At a rap concert, for example, security is always visibly present. There are often metal detectors. This kind of security is simply a reflection of this country's overall attitude toward race and crime.
When black men commit crimes or are alleged to have committed crimes, we immediately learn of their every misdeed from the womb forward. We see their mug shots. We are treated to a recitation of statistics on race, criminality, and incarceration rates. Rarely are these men seen as human, treated as human. They are not sons, fathers, brothers, or friends. They are not men. Instead, they are criminals, and worse, there is no hope for their redemption, there is no possibility that they are anything more than their misdeeds, their mistakes.
Black men receive sentences that are 20 percent longer than white men's sentences for the same crimes. There are disparities along racial lines for all issues related to sentencing, including who gets life without parole for both violent and nonviolent crimes and who is sentenced to death.
Even when black men are victims of crimes, they are scrutinized and treated as criminals in waiting. Black boys in particular are never allowed to be boys. Manhood is ascribed to black boys because we are part of a culture where innocence and blackness are seen as antithetical. Look at Trayvon Martin. Look at Tamir Rice. Look, even, at the preschooler who climbed into the Gorilla World exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. A gorilla from the exhibit, Harambe, was killed in order to save the boy, and immediately afterward speculation began about why he entered the enclosure, as if there could be a reason beyond a child's curiosity and naïveté.
White men who commit crimes don't have to suffer such indignities. Instead, they get the Brock Turner treatment. Turner—someone convicted of sexual assault—who was sentenced to a paltry six months in county jail for the crime of rape. He will likely serve only half that sentence. In justifying the inadequate jail time, judge Aaron Persky said, shamelessly, "A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others."
This is how whiteness works. Turner is seen as human, as a victim in the crime he committed. He is a "good young man." He is allowed to have both a past and a future and this past and future are worthy of consideration. His crime is a mistake, not a scarlet letter, not a reflection of his character.
Brock Turner assaulted a woman behind a Dumpster in an alley. His victim was unconscious. He lifted her dress. He removed her underwear. He penetrated her without her consent. Turner took at least one picture of her breasts with his cell phone. Brock Turner was only stopped because two passersby noticed him and intervened. Before Turner committed this sexual assault, he had tried to kiss the victim's sister, who rejected him. Twice. That's when he found the victim, who was drunk and alone, and before long, unconscious. Brock Turner's crime is revolting. His crime is deliberate.
The victim wrote an eloquent and impassioned statement about her experience, about how she has suffered, about the repercussions of Brock Turner's crime. Her words were not enough to overcome the power of Brock Turner's whiteness.
In the aftermath, Brock Turner is remorseless for everyone but himself. He doesn't seem to understand that he has committed a crime. In his statement to the court, he was preoccupied with how his life has been changed. He states, with flagrant arrogance and immaturity, "I wish I never was good at swimming or had the opportunity to attend Stanford, so maybe the newspapers wouldn't want to write stories about me." He says this as if he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, as if he is a victim of his blessings and good fortune, as if the true travesty here is the damage to his reputation. That sort of deluded attitude is what whiteness allows — a haven from reality and consequence.