Skip to main content
opinion

Rioters walk down a hallway after a confrontation inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press

Last December, a Louisiana man walked free from jail after spending 12 years of a life sentence for selling two undercover cops $30 worth of pot.

Fate Winslow, 53, who is Black, had been previously prosecuted for a few non-violent offences before he was sent off to prison, supposedly for good. Earlier last year, Derek Harris, who is also Black and a former member of the U.S. armed forces, was released from prison by a U.S. court after spending nine years of a life sentence for selling about $40 worth of marijuana.

Fair Bryant, 63 years old and Black, didn’t fare as well. Sentenced to life in 1997 for stealing a pair of hedge clippers, he had his bid to be released from jail denied last year by a 5-to-1 decision of the Louisiana State Supreme Court. The lone dissenting judge was a Black woman – her five colleagues are white males. Mr. Bryant was later set free by the parole board last year.

I reference these cases to demonstrate what American justice looks like – especially if you’re Black. Studies show that Black men who commit the same crime as their white counterparts receive prison sentences that are, on average, 20 per cent longer. The cases are also illustrative of the length of time you can spend in prison for relatively minor charges, often depending on the colour of your skin.

It is against this backdrop that we consider the pending charges and future sentences of those involved in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 – a group comprised almost exclusively of white men and women.

But first we will see what happens when the U.S. Senate gathers to consider impeachment charges against former U.S. President Donald Trump for his role in inciting the siege. If the Senate was a real court, Mr. Trump’s fate would likely not be in doubt. There is well-documented public evidence that underscores the role he played in compelling hundreds to storm the Capitol to protest an election outcome he repeatedly lied about, convincing his followers it was illegally stolen by the Democrats.

But all signs indicate Mr. Trump will not be held to account. Instead, most Republican senators plan on giving him a get-out-of-jail-free card – almost exclusively allocated to those who are white and wealthy. Sadly, most people expect this outcome, given the level of corruption and privilege that courses through the corridors of power in Washington.

The truer test will be what happens with the rank-and-file rioters themselves. What will be their destiny?

More than 180 people have been charged so far, accused of crimes including disorderly conduct, obstructing law enforcement, civil disobedience, carrying firearms and theft and destruction of public property. As yet, no one has been charged with murder or conspiring to commit murder, despite the fact a police officer died as a consequence of the attack. Many of those arrested have been freed on bail, including a white woman in her early 20s accused of stealing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s laptop and purportedly planning to sell its contents to the Russians.

Of course, you can see a Black or Muslim-American accused of such a crime being released on bail too – can’t you?

While the charges against most of the rioters are serious, they are not as weighty as something like seditious conspiracy. Charges for this crime would be applicable when two or more people “use force to prevent the execution of any law of the U.S.” I don’t think there is any doubt that’s what many were there to do – stop Congress from certifying the vote that would officially make Joe Biden president. And yet, legal experts expect few, if any, of the rioters to be charged with this crime.

It’s also unclear if any of these rioters will fall victim to an executive order signed by Mr. Trump in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, which states that anyone convicted of vandalism or destruction of historic monuments be given up to 10 years in prison. There may not be a greater example of a historical monument in the U.S. than the country’s temple of democracy.

If historical trends continue, however, it’s doubtful many of these people will be put away for long for their crimes – or as long as their fellow Americans of a different race might have been.

Let’s face it – the police response to the riot itself was a shocking display of the disgusting double standard that exists in the U.S. Judgment time for those involved is likely to be no less revealing.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.