Brock Turner was sentenced on Thursday to six months in a county jail for raping a woman after a college party in January 2015, even though he was facing up to 14 years in a state prison. What many deem to be a light sentencing for the crime has also led to criticisms of his defense strategy in court, with many wondering why it took so long for police to release Brock Turner's mugshot. After a heated social media frenzy over the weekend, the Santa Clara County’s Sheriff’s Department in California finally released Turner's booking photo late Monday afternoon. There had been some confusing back and forth about the release of the photo, since the sheriff's department had claimed that it was up to Stanford University's police, where the rape took place and where Turner was a freshman at the time, to release the photo.
The official reason for the delay in released Turner's mugshot is, according to officials, the age old excuse of "bureaucracy," like when the FBI comes in to take a case over from the SVU unit in an episode of Law & Order and everything gets so confusing. That's a nice of way of looking at it, but many onlookers to the trial and sentencing have suggested that the delay in the release of Turner's mugshot had everything to do with privilege. I'm thinking that that might be a better answer.
Turner was caught behind a dumpster raping a semi-unconscious woman who was later brought to a hospital. In the days following the attack, his athletic and academic career at Stanford University where he was a student at the time, was usually the highlight of the headlines and reports covering the assault. The victim, who read a moving letter in court to her assailant before his sentencing, explains it best. She describes reading an article about her own rape, which she didn't remember:
Until today, photos accompanying coverage of the rape, the trial, and his sentencing have been paired with images of Brock smiling, in yearbook or Facebook photos obtained by the media. This is, in many ways, an example of white privilege and how it gets in the way of prosecuting rape for what it is. Because images are powerful. The victim has remained anonymous, except for her moving letter which has now been shared across social media platforms millions of times.
But the image of Brock as a confused young man who had too much to drink and couldn't decipher what counted as meaningful consent prevailed. By all means, he might have been all of those things, too. But it doesn't change the fact that he raped someone and his defense attorneys used a specific image of Brock to fight his case. The judge determined that incarceration would have a "severe impact" on his life. His father, too, read a tone-deaf letter to the court about how his son just didn't know what he was doing and deserved some leniency. Because he is just a smiling, educated kid, with a lot of life ahead of him.
Many criminals don't enjoy the privilege of savvy attorneys and families who can pay for them. Mugshots are a way for police to catalog criminals but they are also the most common image accompanying any report of any crime. Mugshots make people look suspicious, it fuels public opinion. No one is smiling in a mugshot — people look scared, shocked, tired (which always ends up looking like guilt, whether they are or not, in many cases) in mugshots. No one looks guilty in a yearbook photo. A mugshot of Brock Turner accompanying the coverage this past year might not have changed the outcome of his eventual verdict and it will never justify the victim's trauma. But at least it would have been fair.
That Brock's booking picture was withheld is telling. There are many examples of mugshots being released when persons of color are arrested, despite their age or the severity of their charges. White (and wealthy) criminals somehow get their yearbook or family photos next to the details of their alleged crimes. It's racist, plain and simple.
If there is one thing to be thankful for when it comes to this case, and even this is a stretch because it's infuriating all around, it's that it's shone some light on how pervasive rape culture and white privilege can be. That's not a lot, and won't do anyone any good now in the Stanford case, but it's something to think about the next time you read the news. Maybe we shouldn't use mugshots, or any image at all, at all when reporting or trying crime in court. At least then, "innocent before proven guilty" would be left up to the facts.