A few things caught my eye this week that had me shaking my head. Justice. A simple word we all understand, right? And yet … our court systems these days seem to struggle with the meaning of the word. But then, this is the Reign of Trump, where up is down, green is red, lies are truth, and ‘alternative facts’ rule the day.
Shane Piche was a school bus driver in Watertown, New York, entrusted with hundreds of young lives every day. Then one day last summer, Shane took one of the students who rode his bus home, plied her with alcohol and raped her. Piche pleaded guilty to third-degree rape (what, there are degrees of rape???) and last Thursday came before Judge James McClusky of Jefferson County Supreme Court.
Judge McClusky lightly slapped Shane Piche’s wrist and basically told him not to do that again. Shane will not spend a day … not a single day … paying for his heinous actions, not a single day in prison. The judge ruled that since it was his first offense, aw shucks, let’s just let the boy go. McClusky sentenced Shane to 10 years’ probation and he must register as a level 1 sex offender. Level 1 is the least restrictive, meaning that Shane can move anywhere he wants and his address will not be made public.
I’m not the only one who is angry, for the judge’s office has been bombarded with phone calls and a petition calling for his removal from the bench has garnered, as of this writing, 69,795 signatures, including my own. On reaching 75,000 signatures, the petition will be presented to New York’s commission of judicial conduct, a panel with the power to discipline judges in the state.
Judge McClusky was elected to a 14-year term in 2011 that will not end until 2025.
Then there was Michael Wysolovski who met a 15-year-old girl in an online forum for people with anorexia. She lived in North Carolina, he lived in Duluth, Georgia, and she told him she was unhappy at home and wished to come live with him. In May 2016, after turning 16, she walked out and met him by the side of an interstate highway.
I will spare you the details of the abuses he heaped on this young girl, except to say he raped her, kept her in a dog cage, withheld food as punishment, and a variety of other cruelties for more than a year. When she tried to leave, he stopped her, even going so far as to install a floor-to-ceiling gate that prevented her leaving her room. In 2017, the victim was able, once again through the anorexia forum, to contact a young woman, tell her of her plight, and send a picture of the view from her window. On this information, police were able to locate her and Wysolovski’s home was raided and he was arrested in June 2017.
Wysolovski pleaded guilty last Thursday to first-degree cruelty to children caused by “excessive physical pain during sexual intercourse” and interstate interference with custody. Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Timothy Hamil did give Wysolovski a ten-year sentence, however after being given credit for 8 months served in the county jail, the remaining portion of the sentence was reduced to probation. Like Shane Piche, he will serve not a single day in prison.
And last, we have the case of Doe v Mckesson in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. DeRay Mckesson is a high-profile, Baltimore-based Black Lives Matter organizer. On July 9, 2016, Mckesson had organized a peaceful rally to protest the killing of Alton Sterling by police 4 days prior. The protest was peaceful until somebody threw a small rock at police, slightly injuring an officer who is identified only as John Doe. Mckesson and some 100 other protestors were arrested that day, but the officer sued Mckesson, claiming “loss of teeth, a jaw injury, a brain injury, a head injury, lost wages, ‘and other compensable losses.’”
In his 17-page complaint, John Doe alleged that “Mckesson did nothing to prevent the violence or to calm the crowd” and that he “incited the violence.” His claim that Mckesson incited violence was based on a single-sentence statement that Mckesson had made to the New York Times:
“The police want protestors to be too afraid to protest.”
Not exactly ‘fighting words’, are they? That was the core of John Doe’s argument. In September 2017, a federal district judge rightfully threw out the case, stating that those words “do not advocate—or make any reference to—violence of any kind.” Case closed, score one for justice. But … not so fast …
John Doe filed an appeal, naturally. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sat on the case from late 2017 until last week, when, out of the blue and without allowing oral argument, the panel reinstated the lawsuit. The court said that “Mckesson breached his duty of reasonable care in the course of organizing and leading the Baton Rouge demonstration.”
The Fifth Circuit panel’s decision is clearly wrong under the law as it now stands. There can be no liability, civil or criminal, for speech that “incites” violence unless the defendant can be shown to have intentionally urged violence, knowing that listeners would likely respond immediately with violent behavior.
Ironic, isn’t it, that Mckesson is being held accountable for the actions of another over whom he could not reasonably be expected to have control, and yet just over a year later, in August 2017, white supremacists Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Heather Heyer was murdered and many more seriously injured. Nobody even suggested a lawsuit against Kessler and Spencer.
Jason Kessler (left) and Richard Spencer
Now, I want you to look at the pictures of these three men. The first two were given a slap on the wrist, no prison time, for terrible crimes against young girls. The third is being condemned for a minor incident caused by somebody else. Now, look at the pictures of Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer. Compare them to the picture of DeRay Mckesson. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Note for Scott Lawlor: All the men on this page are white with the exception of DeRay Mckesson, who is African-American.