Today I found out that the USC Halloween shooter was given 40 years to life for his crime. My first reaction was, “omg, that’s a long time. his life is over.” The emotion I felt was distant and dulled because I was already mentally filing it away as another sad story of a young black male throwing his life away over gang related mess. Then, I saw the picture. Then, I watched the video.
What I saw was a young man see his life flash in front of his eyes. I saw a young man see the world come crashing down around him. It was a death sentence. A fatal decision 2 Halloweens ago would now be the reason that he may never see freedom again.
It was too much for me to take. 40 years to life, for someone who had no criminal record, and didn’t kill anyone is outrageous. It is unfair, draconian, unnecessary, and just plain wrong.
The same system that let Zimmerman walk free and told a young white boy that he can’t go to prison because he’s too rich and spoiled, just struck again. The same system that told a man that raped his 3-year-old daughter that he didn’t deserve prison, struck again.
What pains me the most is the amount of people who have this “lock em’ up and throw the key mentality.” Who honestly believe that it is better to harp on this young man for the terrible thing he did and leave the criminal justice system uncriticized. Not me.
This is not about whether we should prosecute him for what he did. Of course we should. This is about why we are prosecuting him in this way as if this prison sentence does anything to solve our problems in the long run. 40 years to life doesn’t question the validity of harsh gang enhancements. The same gang enhancements that can add up to 10 years on a sentence (violent or non-violent). 40 years to life doesn’t question our overcrowded, cruel and unusual prisons. 40 years to life DEFINITELY doesn’t question the racial disparity in sentencing.
My goal is to bring nuance to our discussion of crime, gang violence, and who we deem worthy of our concern. Not every black person railroaded by the criminal justice system is going to be innocent, but that doesn’t mean we dull our sense of empathy.
Accepting his sentence as just gives a concept of retribution to the victims, but it doesn’t help us as a society. It doesn’t.
I choose leniency. I choose looking at this from all sides. I choose rehabilitation. I choose compassion and mercy. I choose fairness and true justice.
This was NOT justice. Justice doesn’t exist in a system that gives black and Latino defendants harsher sentences than white defendants who have the same or similar crimes.
What this young man did was wrong and there are consequences, but the moment we shut off all sense of compassion and empathy in favor of tough prison sentences, we lose a little piece of our humanity. Deep down, we must know this isn’t fair.