There’s a certain numbness that sinks in when we continually witness tragedies. The United States is a big place with an equally large population, yet this doesn’t excuse the frequency with which these crimes occur. Mass shootings routinely flood news channels and school rapes appear commonplace. No one can ever give back what has already been taken away. Nothing can undo what Brock Turner’s victim suffered when he maliciously raped her. Sexual violence on college campuses has become a sickening trend that we are all accountable for ending. Justice is too frequently stymied by abuses of power that shift the blame.
The rhetoric associated with these and other heinous crimes is divisive. Making sense of these situations is made more complicated by ulterior motives and narratives. In the Stanford rape case, most of the public has united in condemnation. This response stands in stark contrast to the way the defense presented Brock Turner. His legal team positioned him as an impressionable and talented young man who got drunk and had a night of consensual sexual relations. The testimonies of the men who found him atop the victim paint a very different picture. Moreover, the 12-page testimony of the victim was released to the public and allowed millions to share in her pain. The general consensus? Mr. Turner’s 6 month punishment was lenient, permissive, and facilitated by a judge that felt more sympathy for the rapist than his victim. Comments from Brock’s father further illustrate this frightening lack of empathy. Two things help facilitate these attitudes and crimes: privilege and victim blaming.
Much is the same in the case of mass shootings. Mental illness is promoted as the cause, we collectively wring our hands, and move on. Look no further than the Washington Post poll where 63% of respondents blame mental illness as the cause of gun massacres. However, uneducated opinions are not facts. According to a study by the American Public Health Association, less than 5% of all gun homicides between 2010 - 2011 were committed by the mentally ill. Those with mental illness are statistically 10x more likely than the general population to become victims of violent crime. There is very clearly a disconnect between public perception and the reality of how the mentally ill are policed.
Was Brock Turner a mentally ill young man who snapped, a misguided youth who simply demonstrated poor judgment, or just another privileged rich kid who thought he could get away with it? The details that emerged through the course of the trial revealed his past predatory behavior and penchant for partying. The defense used a variety of excuses to shift the blame from rapist to victim. Attempts were made to disparage the victim’s reputation, create empathy toward Brock by highlighting his career as a “promising athlete,” and distort the testimonies to create doubt in the minds of the jury. Isn’t that type of victim blaming what happens in many shootings?
That’s exactly what happened in the murder of Walter Scott. A black man was murdered in cold blood, and Michael Slager’s position of power protected him until the evidence could no longer be ignored. Early narratives released by the police claimed that Scott had attempted to take Slager’s taser, and the struggle resulted in his death. The eyewitness video proved that this was completely false. Former Officer Slager was given the benefit of the doubt because Walter Scott’s prior arrest records. Slager, like Brock Turner, was initially insulated from the consequences of his actions because of his privilege. When will we finally stop being distracted by false narratives that make a mockery of justice?