Brock Turner's Sentence May Outrage You — But It's No Excuse For Vigilante Justice
Aside from Gonzalo Curiel (of Donald Trump's "textbook definition of racism" insult fame), Aaron Persky, who oversaw the Brock Turner rape sentencing, is arguably the most talked-about judge in the United States — and he is almost certainly the most hated. Last week, the Santa Clara County Superior Court judge sentenced Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, to six months in jail. Over the past week, Persky has been widely criticized by many for issuing a punishment that they view as far too light for the crime Turner was convicted of. Prosecutors had asked for Turner to get six years behind bars, so the wave of criticism is not exactly unexpected.
Outcry and denouncing the sentence is certainly permitted. No wonder the anger has only grown more vociferous as more details — like the letter from Turner's father that his son was facing "a steep price for 20 minutes of action" — were made public. The sadness has grown as well, as the victims's letter also made the rounds online. She stated in her letter: “I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.”
Yes, fury and a desire for change is one thing, but Reuters reported Wednesday that some of Persky's critics had turned to death threats. "Because of all the Brock Turner stuff, people are acting poorly," supervising attorney for the Santa Clara County Public Defender's office Gary Goodman told Reuters. "They don't like the sentence." In an article published Tuesday in The New York Times, Goodman said, “People have been calling the court and leaving messages, and if someone answers, they say, 'Tell your judge he can go to hell, and I hope his kids get raped and he rots in hell.'" He added that Turner is "getting threats over this, him and his family, from all over the country. Is that right?”
Regardless of how outraged one feels about Turner's sentence — and people have reason to feel disappointment and anger — there is absolutely no excuse for citizens to make such violent, repugnant threats against a judge for doing his job, even if they don't agree with how he's doing his job. It horrifies me that people even need to be reminded that vigilante justice is never the answer. Specifically, if you don't agree with a judge's sentencing on a sexual assault case, in what way do you think that telling him that you hope his children are raped is an effective means of conveying your disappointment and actually affecting any sort of improvement?
If one is so upset with Persky's ruling, then sign a petition or join Stanford Law Professor Michele Dauber's campaign to recall him. Turn to civil and legal means. There is no place in a democracy for the personal harassment of Persky to be commendable, let alone permissible. Moreover, for those who truly care about advocating for sexual assault victims, such harassment is completely ineffective and only detracts from Turner's actions and his victim's powerful letter.
It may not be popular to defend Persky, but this kind of treatment of him is unacceptable. If you care about creating effective sexual assault reform, harassing and threatening judges is not the way to do it. This should be obvious in a 200-some-year-old democracy, but apparently it's not.