Jasmine and Brock: A Tale of Two Convictions Against Body Autonomy

Image via Change.org
Image via Change.org

By Vanessa Leigh

Content Warning: This article discusses sexual assault, police brutality, and violent hate crimes.

Convicted Rapist Brock Turner

You’ve probably heard of Brock Turner by now. On January 18, 2015, Carl-Frederik Arndt and Peter Jonsson, two Swedish students attending Stanford University, were riding their bikes on campus when they saw Brock Turner on top of a partially dressed woman behind a dumpster. Suspicious of what was going on, they asked the man what was happening. Turner stood up, exposing the unconscious woman, and ran. As Carl chased and detained Turner, Peter stayed with the woman, who remained unconscious until authorities arrived.

Carl and Peter told police they witnessed Turner “aggressively thrusting his hips into her.” Brock Turner was arrested. The Mercury News reported that “Turner was convicted in March [2016] of three felony counts: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. …. One of the three felonies he committed—assault to commit rape—is considered a ‘serious crime’ under the California Penal Code and carries a mandatory sentence of two years in state prison, when combined with the other two felony offenses. But the law allows judges to deviate from the mandatory sentence for certain crimes by making a finding of ‘unusual circumstances.’” Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Turner to six months in jail, not prison.

Upon sentencing, Turner’s father, Dan Turner, wrote an open letter about how his son’s life had been ruined by “20 minutes of action.” Turner wrote that Brock likes to eat—especially ribeye steaks—and is a “very good cook,” but now can hardly eat and only consumes food “to exist.” “His life will never be the one he dream about and worked so hard to achieve. …That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 years of life.”

Turner was free on bail for the 16 months after his arrest. He received many letters of support from friends, some of whom have taken back their support, and it took 16 months for his mugshot to hit the media. We have been forced to see his face all over the news every day.  

And what about her, the woman also forced to see his face every day? The person whose life Brock’s 20 minutes of action, has changed forever. The person who Dan Turner and Brock Turner never acknowledged during the entire trial. The woman who Brock Turner raped.

The woman, the victim, the survivor who had become a sidenote to the life story of Brock Turner finally had the opportunity to face her rapist. She read her statement, which has since gone viral and driven many readers—including myself—to tears. We finally heard her pained, brutalized, poignant voice. For the first time, the truth about her rape was revealed. It was devastating to the victim, and temporarily consequential to the rapist.

According to the Daily Beast, “up to Brock Turner’s rape of an unconscious woman in 2015,the elite college reported 26 rapes on campus in 2012, 2013, and 2014, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education, or about one sexual assault every 14 days.”

“Stanford has for years faced criticism for its handling of sexual assault and sexual harassment,” The Huffington Post reported. “Five federal investigations target the prestigious school for its handling of such cases, more than any other U.S. college or university. “

This normalization of rape on campuses and in society at large; this casual acceptance of sexual predators; this preferential treatment of privileged well-connected rapists; and the victim blaming most of all constitutes rape culture. Depending on the legal system, clearly, will not help us forward to a consent culture.

In a recent article about singer, Kesha and her lawsuit with Sony, we reiterated how we have to consider more than just legal recourse to tackle building a consent culture. Author Kira Rakova wrote:

“…The importance of alternative forms of justice, including restorative justice, cannot be minimized. For marginalized folks, these types of setting may be of particular importance because they are grounded in support systems that are often non-existent in the legal setting. Moreover, community accountability has been shown to be effective in not only calling out perpetrators of violence, but also supporting their transformation and education. In other words, community-based interventions are often more effective than the legal system in reducing cycles of violence (although I certainly do support all individuals who want to report). All of these considerations must also be part of the larger discussion on privilege and power within the larger discourse on sexual and domestic violence.”

In a statement, the survivor said, “I remain anonymous, yes, to protect my identity. But it is also a statement that all of these people are fighting for someone they don’t know. That’s the beauty of it. I don’t need labels, categories, to prove I am worthy of respect, to prove that I should be listened to. I am coming out to you as simply a woman wanting to be heard. Yes, there is plenty more I’d like to tell you about me. For now, I am every woman.”

For now, we can support the survivor who faced Brock Turner in court, and in effect all survivors and victims of sexual assault and rape, by retweeting #20MinutesofAdvocacy, a video of  NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray, actress Cynthia Nixon, and Gracie Mansion staffers reading the survivor’s statement in its entirety. Because it is her story that is important. It is her story that needs to be heard. It is her story that is to be believed. It is her experience we need to honor and respect and be catapulted to make change. You can also tweet your advocacy for consent culture and your truths about rape culture under the same hashtag #20MinutesofAdvocacy.

The sentencing of Brock Turner is legal. But you can sign the viral Change.org petition to recall Judge Aaron Persky for the disturbingly short sentencing Turner received that perpetuates rape culture.

Social Activist and Youth Advocate Jasmine Abdullah

You now know about Brock, but do you know about Jasmine? Last week, Jasmine Abdullah, also known as Jasmine Richards, became the first Black person to be convicted of attempted lynching. Vox reported, “Activist Jasmine Richards, a 28-year-old black woman and founder of Pasadena’s Black Lives Matter chapter, was convicted of felony lynching, a technical term in California penal code referring to the taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer.Jasmine was arrested two days after trying to intervene on behalf of someone she believed was being harassed by police.

Los Angeles District Attorney Janet Lacey was up for reelection and unopposed on the same day Jasmine was sentenced—June 7th. Lacey chose to pursue the felony lynching charge, which carries a sentence of one to four years in prison. In her closing argument, Lacey compared Jasmine’s actions to those of the Ku Klux Klan. Thirteen percent of Pasadena residents are Black, and not one Black person was on the jury.

Jasmine is a young activist in her west Northwest Pasadena community, and is very vocal around social justice and against police brutality. She mentors youth in her community and was very influential in bringing Black youth together in advocating against gang violence. It’s believed that authorities targeted her because of her leadership skills and ability to organize youth after protesting the police killing of Kendrec McDade in 2012.

Jasmine has been sentenced to 90 days in jail (not prison), with 18 days credit for time served, a stay-away order for Pasadena Park, and three years of probation. Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists remind us that this is a victory, considering the possible four years of imprisonment Jasmine was facing. A BLM member identified as Professor Radcliffe was among many BLM activists outside of the Pasadena courthouse interviewed by  AJ+ reporter Dena Takruri. Radcliffe attributed some of the credit for Jasmine’s reduced sentence to pressure against the prosecution via a petition against sentencing her any prison or jail time which was signed by over 100,000 people. Radcliffe also credited the presence of hundreds of people from various organizations supporting Jasmine in and out of the courtroom.  

The legal system has been highly successful in diminishing the lives of Black people by non-Black citizens or police. This has been the case ever since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was founded in 2013 when George Zimmerman walked away a free man after killing a young, unarmed, Skittle-carrying teen, Trayvon Martin. The crime of having black skin put Martin on trial for his own murder.

#BlackLivesMatter founders Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza answered the question we as Black people were all thinking: Do black lives matter? And case after case, trial after trial, murder after murder, we have to remind ourselves that they do. That Jasmine Abdullah matters. That we matter. The legal system insists that justice is plausible, but it is through the law, time and time again, that Black bodies have been invalidated.

The law is increasingly being used to intimidate and instill fear in protesters everywhere. Loyola Marymount University Associate Professor Angela James of Black Lives Matter, speaking to AJ+ live at the Pasadena Courthouse, reminds us that the purpose of lynching laws was “to not only to punish the offender usually for the crime of daring to resist oppression, but it was also to warn communities away from standing up for their own rights and their own humanity. The [Black] bodies were left swinging for a reason, and that was to oppress political and personal freedom. This is what happened today.” These bodies were left swinging because of the lynchings—literally, white mobs abducting and hanging Black people from trees—in the United States from the 1890s to the 1960s. Jasmine has figuratively been lynched. We’ve been warned.

Professor James’ analysis of this warning to Black Lives Matter (BLM), and to all anti-oppression movements, tells us that Jasmine Abdullah is BLM’s first political prisoner. When your personhood and body autonomy is challenged because of the color of your skin, gender, gender appearance, or any other part of your identity, and when the law is used and abused to do it, what is there to do?

Black Lives Matter has no intention of being intimidated. Living in fear is no life at all. Another  petition to overturn Jasmine’s felony conviction has been started and groups are gathering to strategizing their next steps.

We are in a political climate where a presidential candidate is openly running on a platform of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. We continue to witness more and more violence by the police against civilians and have reason to fear not just the police, but the criminal justice system. Just this week, the Gothamist reported an incident where a man, David Rivera, was threatened with a gun after he dared to video police officers allegedly beating one of his neighbors. When he refused to close his door and stop filmingwhich is legalpolice arrested him, took his phone, and he spent two days in jail. Rivera works in surveillance and had security cameras throughout his apartment that documented the entire incident. As a result, all charges were dropped.

But what if there had been no cameras?

We’re witnessing new laws created to criminalize lawful protest, like the Blue Lives Matter law. This law makes police officers a protected class, and anyone who targets them faces increased fines and penalties. This, in effect, makes targeting police and other public safety officers a hate crime.

How do the police, officers of the court, judges, and citizen juries define targeting? Is it anything like how District Attorney Lacey and a jury of 12 white people define and convict a Black woman of lynching? Imagine what Jasmine’s sentence would have been if a Blue Lives Matter law were in place in Pasadena, as they may soon be in Tennessee and already are in Louisiana? Why shouldn’t we believe that the interpretation of the word “targeting” would be as willful and arbitrary as the definition of “lynching” in the precedent set by Jasmine Abdullah’s conviction?

In a recent op-ed, Tavis Smiley said it best:

In truth, there is no war on cops. This is but another example of a public policy solution chasing a political problem. FBI data show that last year was one of the safest for police in more than a decade. The preliminary numbers (the full report is due out in the fall) indicate that 41 officers were intentionally killed by civilians in the line of duty. That total is down by 20% from the year before. The number of officers killed in unprovoked and ambush attacks remains at near historical lows. Compare that with the more than 1,100 civilians killed at the hands of police in 2015.

The police, the court, and 12 white jurors who convicted Jasmine objectified her as a young Black super-predator. The victim of the (latest) Stanford rapist was seen as an object ripe for the taking. Neither of these women was seen as a person. Their impending tragedies were the result of ingrained racism, fear and not just the normalization of rape, but the excused indifference to it. Each of these women’s personhood was decimated, aided and abetted by the justice system.

What has happened to Jasmine Abdullah, an advocate for her community who has done no harm to anyone, is criminal. What Brock Turner has done, without remorse to this woman who represents thousands upon thousands of rape survivors, is unforgivable, and yet he will serve six months—three months with good behavior—for being caught in the act of raping a woman. In the end, who are these police and officers of the court protecting? Who is being protected, and who is being served?