“What’s the Long Beach assault?,” I wondered. (I wouldn’t have had to wonder if I had read Rachel’s post back in January). A short google later, I knew that on Halloween of 2006, a mob of black youths1 beat the crap out of three young white women. One of the young women received severe injuries to her skull and eye, and all three are suffering severe trauma to this day, both physical and mental. Witnesses claim that at least one anti-white remark was shouted out, although it’s not known who shouted it (there were apparently over 30 people present). In addition, the attack caused considerable trauma to the community, making everyone (but probably white people in particular) feel less safe and less inclined to trust. In light of all that, I think whoever inflicted the beatings deserves severe punishment.
Ten black youths — one male, nine female, ranging in age from 12 to 18 (I think) — were arrested, and all but one (a twelve-year-old girl) were found guilty in juvenile court of committing assault and a hate crime.
The judge sentenced the kids to probation, house arrest, and community service. This light sentence, given the severity of the crime, has caused consternation on right-wing blogs. Rick Moore thinks its because black defendants are given light sentences, and this sort of thing could never have happened were the races reversed.
Do you know why the judge gave such lenient sentences to the offenders? If you do, explain it to me because I still do not understand.
Only the judge knows for certain, but here’s my guess: The judge wanted to give the defendants very little motivation to appeal their verdicts. That way, he’s less likely to have his ruling overturned, which is a real possibility because the evidence against most of the convicted kids is very weak.
I won’t go over every reason this case is weak — Earl Hutchinson’s post does that well. But for me, one factor is paramount: The ID procedure used by police was completely illegitimate. From the LA Times:
For the field identifications, the three victims and an 18-year-old woman, Kiana Alford, who said she had witnessed the attack, were driven separately to the parking lot where the minors were detained.
Alford would testify later that officers told her, ‘We caught the people who did this,’ and that she felt it was her responsibility to identify them.
So the police didn’t include any non-suspects in their lineup, and told the witnesses before they made their IDs that the people they were IDing were the guilty parties. It’s impossible to imagine a less legitimate ID, or a clearer case for “reasonable doubt.” And that’s just the start of the weaknesses in this case — again, see Earl Hutchinson’s post for more.3
Personally, I think it’s likely that some of the convicted defendants are guilty, and others are innocent. But I could be wrong. But what I believe is beside the point; the point is, no one should be convicted in a courtroom without sufficient evidence.
* * *
So how does this compare to the Billy Ray Johnson case? Drydock implied that it’s very much like the beating of Billy Ray Johnson, but with the races reversed. But I don’t see it.
It’s true that both cases involved a despicable and probably race-motivated beating. And both involved slap-on-the-wrist punishments that are inappropriate given the seriousness of the crimes. But that’s where the similarities end.
In Billy Ray Johnson’s case, the local community (or at least, the local white community) seemingly wants the case to quietly go away, and the crime isn’t seen as very serious. In Long Beach, there is tremendous pressure from an enraged community to see people convicted and punished for the crime.
In Billy Ray Johnson’s case, there is no doubt about who did it. In Long Beach, there’s a great deal of doubt — and despite an enormous lack of compelling evidence, a conviction was pushed through the court system.
In Billy Ray Johnson’s case, members of the local white community (including a former mayor and a jury foreman) have been blaming the victim for the crime against him, and claiming that he wasn’t significantly harmed. I haven’t seen anyone, white or black, make those claims about the Long Beach case; the controversy isn’t over whether the crime was bad, but over whether the convicted youths were railroaded without sufficient evidence.
* * *
I think a more legitimate comparison could be made between the Long Beach case and the famous Central Park Rape case of the 1980s, in which — responding to a community’s desperation and anger after a white woman was attacked in a park — a group of black youths were convicted of rape, despite a lack of legitimate evidence against them. In both cases, a genuinely horrible crime happened; in both cases, there was enormous pressure from the public for arrests and convictions; and in both cases, police used lousy procedures to concoct a case against a group of poor black youths who didn’t have the resources (economic or cultural) to effectively defend themselves.
A comparison could also be made between both those cases and the Duke rape case, of course. In all three cases, the police used biased and unfair procedures in their investigation; and in all three cases, there was enormous public pressure for arrests and convictions.
But let’s not overlook one enormously significant difference: None of the accused Duke men have been found guilty in a courtroom. And — unless a genuinely damning case is put against them in a court of law (which seems unlikely) — none of them will be found guilty. The kind of railroaded conviction that happened in the Central Park rape case, and which I strongly suspect went on in Long Beach, simply doesn’t fly when the defendants are white and rich.
If the accused men in the Duke case are innocent, of course, then they’ve suffered unjustly,4 and I don’t pretend that’s all right. But I’m also not going to go along with the pretense that being unjustly accused and found guilty isn’t much worse than being unjustly accused and acquitted.
Conservatives imply that looking at these cases shows that white institutional power — and racism — are myths. But what I see is that the system pretty much works the way it’s supposed to for white defendants, or at least for white defendants with some money; for us, the system doesn’t convict without sufficient evidence. That’s simply not true for black defendants. And that’s why comparing these cases convinces me that institutional racism is still treating non-whites like crap, and still matters, and still needs to be fought.
(Hat tip to Happening-Here).
- “Youths” is a word that sounds weird and police-y to me. But I can’t think of another word that covers people ranging from age 12 to age 18; 12 is too young to be called a teenager or a young woman, and 18 is too old to be called a kid. [↩]
- By the way, the theory that the justice system systematically gives lighter sentences to black defendants — which is what I think Hecubus and Rick are implying — is exactly the opposite of what the statistics show. [↩]
- There is one solid piece of evidence — a phone belonging to one of the victims was found in a car that some defendants were in. But even if you think that’s enough for a conviction, it should only apply against whichever defendant had the phone, and isn’t evidence against the defendants who were never even in the car the phone was found in.
It’s also been reported, via an anonymous leak, that a victim’s blood is on another defendant’s pant cuff. If that’s true, that’s pretty damning. But since the judge refused to accept this evidence — which was introduced by the prosecution two weeks after the trial began — it can’t legally be held against any of the defendants. [↩]
- I don’t know what happened at Duke, or if the accused men are guilty. But from what I know, barring some amazing new evidence, there’s not enough evidence against them to justify a conviction.
Nor do I deny that the Duke Lacrosse team seems to have a lot of racist misogynistic scumbags. But being wrongly accused of rape is not a legitimate punishment for being a racist misogynistic scumbag. [↩]