It has recently come to light that four young people in Chicago brutally assaulted a disabled young man. They filmed the entire incident on Facebook Live and broadcast it for all to see. He was reportedly kidnapped, forced to drink toilet water, and was beaten repeatedly. Brittany Covington, Tesfaye Cooper, and Jordan Hill are 18. The last offender was Covington’s 24-year-old sister, Tanishia Covington. This crime was particularly heinous because of the fact that the victim was attacked not only for his disability, but for his race, as well purportedly supporting a different political viewpoint to the offenders.
This crime is horrible and must be punished.
In October 2015, three young men in Idaho assaulted a disabled young man. John R.K. Howard, 18, and Tanner Ward, 17, were charged as adults with felony counts of forcible penetration by use of a foreign object. A third teen was charged as a juvenile. The history of their interactions with the victim included racial slurs, taunting him because of his race and disability. The victim and the offenders were on the same high school football team. The young men forced the victim to sing racist songs, and beat him on prior occasions. The prior harassment ended in these young men holding the victim down and inserting a metal hanger in the disabled victim’s rectum; they then kicked it repeatedly. The victim has now been institutionalized; it is not a stretch to conclude that it is partially because of this despicable crime.
The prosecutor in this case argued that this was not a sex crime, and that the racial component was not as bad as it seemed. The defense attorney and the prosecutor reached an agreement that would include probation as a punishment with no prison time; there is also the opportunity for the charges to be reduced to a misdemeanor at a later time.
Justice in the United States is about equity. What is fair is fair; similarly situated crimes with similarly situated defendants should receive the same outcome. If probation was good enough for someone who inserted a metal hanger in the rectum of a disabled person, then it is only fair that for teens in a different part of the country who beat and kidnapped a disabled person to receive the same punishment.
The defendants in Chicago are of the same age group; if the argument is that the Idaho offender has room for rehabilitation, then it stands to reason that they should be offered the same opportunity.
Both crimes are hate crimes based on race; both are an assault against persons with disabilities; both involve the humiliation of victims who are vulnerable and must be protected.
Neither sets of defendants have prior criminal convictions.
As such, similar situations deserve a similar outcome.
Are you outraged yet?
You should be.
To be abundantly clear, not for one minute do I think either set of defendants deserve probation. I believe that the defendants in Idaho should receive prison time, with supervised release at the end of their prison term; the same goes for those who did those evil deeds in Chicago. But the reality is, if we are a country of fairness and equity, then all outcomes should be equal. We must be mindful as a criminal justice system and as a society of the standards we set. If one crime is “worth” a specific punishment, then in the name of fairness, equity and justice for all, anyone who is charged with a similar set of circumstances with a similar background must receive the same. For instance, offenders who violate and murder a child face life in prison nationwide, generally receiving long sentences.
It’s just like the old saying goes — “what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.”
It is up to us as the voters and as citizens to make sure that the law is enforced equally. Prosecutors are elected; so are mayors, governors, sheriffs and other local officials that play a role in the criminal justice system. Those who are not elected are appointed by an official who will stand for election. If we don’t agree with the sentences that are being imposed, we should be taking that anger to the ballot box. If you are perturbed by the potential outcome in Idaho, the plea has not yet been accepted. It is scheduled to be heard on February 24, 2017. There is still time to put pressure on the Idaho Attorney General as well as the presiding District Judge Randy Stoker to come to an equitable outcome. If that plea changes, it would then be fair to send the Chicago 4 to prison.
Are we a country of equals? We have now been presented with the ultimate test.
Two groups of defendants, similar crimes, what’s the difference?