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Black Teens Charged For Abusing Disabled Man. White College Student Does The Same — But Walks Free

What does it say when white football player John R. K. Howard gets a slap on the wrist for committing a crime that’s even more horrifying than a similar offense carried out by four black youths? Business as usual in America.

(Content warning: sexual assault)

Four days ago, on January 5, four black teenagers from Chicago, Illinois, were arrested after kidnapping a developmentally disabled white man and violently beating and torturing him on Facebook’s live video streaming service. Shortly after the broadcast, the teens — Jordan Hill, 18; Tasfaye Cooper, 18; Britney Covington, 18; and Tanisha Covington, 24 — were picked up by Chicago police and loaded with charges, including battery.

From here, we know how this will play itself out. In an interview with Fox News, former House representative and current conservative news pundit Newt Gingrich leaped on his hobby horse and descended into a pious rant, where he argued that “If this had been done to an African-American by four whites, every liberal in the country would be outraged and there would be no question that it is a hate crime.”

To be fair, Gingrich was reacting to a remark made by local investigators about the nature of the crime that transpired between these black teens and this disabled white victim. Investigators are still not sure if the incident should be classified as a hate crime, even though the teens can be heard using racial slurs to insult the man. At this, Gingrich cries foul.

However, there are two other sly assumptions to his reaction. The first is that black American citizens have not, and will not, hold their own accountable for heinous behavior such as this. The second assumption, which is much more discreet, is that there’s a legal history in this country of the courts absolving black suspects of activities deemed as criminal — guilty or not. Both of these hovering assumptions, to be sure, are resoundingly wrong.

Probability does not factor into this scenario. Without question, if you know anything about the relationship between blacks and the American criminal justice system, then you can be certain that each of these black youths will face his day in court, stare down the barrel of a guilty verdict and stand to hear his sentence pronounced — all with due diligence. Their trial will be hastened and their punishment swiftly effected. And the majority of black people in this country will not bat an eye about the outcome.

Related: Officer Sentenced To 4 Years For Tasering White Teen; Police Killed 92 People In 2015 With No Penalty

All this we know. It is as much a fact — a racialist, sociological fact — as the physical law of gravity, Einsteinian kinematics, or the rising and setting of the sun.

However, can we say the same about how justice is delivered when the racial tables are turned?

Our country just passed sentence on the Obama Era by electing a white man to presidential office who openly mocked a disabled reporter.

But even more grisly is this recent story out of Idaho of a black disabled football player who was attacked by a gang of his white teammates. According to reports, John R. K. Howard, Tanner Ward and an unknown player each faced felony charges for sodomizing their black victim with a coat hanger.

Prior to this onslaught, the white players had bullied the teenager for months, calling him such names as “Kool-Aid,” “chicken-eater” and the N-word. Howard, who was described as “the ringleader” of the attack, reportedly “posted a Confederate flag on the plaintiff’s computer and demanded he learn and recite a racist song titled ‘Moonman Notorious KKK.’”

What happened to them when they went to trial? While we don’t know the fate of Tanner Ward and the nameless accomplice, it’s been reported that Howard was given a plea deal. He will serve no jail time, will not be required to register with the state as a sex offender and is only obligated to fulfill 300 hours of community service. Court adjourned.

Meanwhile, the full weight of our justice system awaits those four black teens. It is inescapable. And our mainstream media outlets, without missing a beat, are more focused on the obscene behaviors performed by black bodies, as opposed to lives lost at the hands of white bodies.

Ask yourself this, readers: What does it say about your country when a white youth who coordinates an even more horrifying act against a black victim in a similar situation gets a mere slap on the wrist?

The answer is not difficult to come by. It says business proceeding as usual in America.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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