By Susan K. Smith
George Curry Media Columnist
Their names will – or should – become household names: Brian Banks and Brock Turner.
Both are athletes. Banks is Black, and Turner is White.
Both were accused and convicted of rape. In 2003, Banks was 16 and still in high school when he was accused and convicted. He spent a year in juvenile detention before his case came up and faced a sentence of 41 years to life, but a judge eventually gave him six years.
The clincher: he did not commit the rape. He served five years and two months of his sentence before he was released.
His accuser recanted her story in 2012, but by then, the life of his once promising football player had been forever altered. He missed graduating from high school and, of course, could not go to college, though he had committed to play at the University of Southern California (USC).
Turner is 20, a student at Stanford University, and a champion swimmer. He was found in the act of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, and yes, he was convicted on three felony counts of rape for a crime that happened in 2015.
But he received a sentence of only six months, though he faced the possibility of 14 years. Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky thought that prison time would be damaging to the young man. His exact words, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.” Do tell.
Not only has Turner received a 6-month sentence, but it happens to be six months with the possibility of parole. And… his father has pleaded with the court for even more leniency.
Neither had a criminal history. Both were good students. Both were star athletes. But one was Black and one was White.
The Turner sentence has sparked outrage. Literally thousands of people have signed petitions protesting the sentence and demanding that Judge Persky be removed from the bench, but it is not likely that the outrage will have any effect. People are saying that the 6-month sentence is unfortunate, but that the “system worked.”
The same system, one must suppose, that worked for Ethan Couch. The young White youth who pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter. Prosecutors sought a 20-year prison sentence, but Couch received no jail time. His attorney argued that he was sick and that his affluence had affected his ability to make good decisions – like not driving drunk.
When Brian Banks was accused and convicted of rape then sentenced to six years in prison, there was no outrage. And it actually took some time between the recantation of Banks’ accuser and his release from jail. There was no hurry, no concern about how prison and indeed this entire experience, had affected, or would affect, this young man.
Not only has Turner gotten, in effect, a free pass, but the woman whom he raped has been ignored. She pleaded for justice. Her long letter was read to the judge, to the court and now to the public, but it has been for naught.
The rich, White kid has virtually gotten away with rape.
Banks now works for the National Football League, not as a player, but in the NFL offices. He still remembers the all- White jury pronouncing him guilty and the people in the courtroom that day regarding him with disdain. Nobody, it seems, cried at Banks’ conviction and nobody cared that his life was ruined.
It is the lay of the land in these United States: justice for some, not justice for all, especially if you are an African-American male.
Someone said that Turner’s life is forever ruined. He has been ordered to register as a sex offender. He will not be able to compete as a swimmer anymore, and he probably will not be able to go to college.
Or maybe he will.
Rev. Susan K Smith is an ordained minister who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She is the author of several books, including “Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives” and “The Book of Jeremiah: The Life and Ministry of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. She is available to preach or do keynote addresses. Reach her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org