A Black woman’s unequal cost of protesting, by Julianne Malveaux
3/30/2023, 6 p.m.
The 45th president is in the news again, facing indictments in New York and Georgia for criminal behavior regarding illegally paying a porn star (New York) and election tampering (Georgia).
While Donald Trump has not been indicted, he already has wallowed in his victimhood, describing the legal proceedings as “political” and biased.
Mr. Trump’s attorneys have attempted to slow the process in Georgia by lobbing accusations against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who happens to be a Black woman. She is biased, they say, incapable of prosecuting. As usual, the 45th president and his ilk have it all wrong. And as he has done for the past 50 years, the Orange Man attempts to wiggle out of his legal challenges.
The former president has attempted to rally his troops, just as he did on Jan. 6, 2021. Fewer may be inclined to take it to the streets, given that about a thousand insurrectionists have been charged for disorderly and disruptive conduct and more. The average sentence for these miscreants was 16 months, but so far, at least five have been sentenced to more than seven years. Some were found not guilty, and many received minor sentences.
Contrast the treatment of traitorous criminals with the treatment of Brittany Martin, a South Carolina woman who participated in a May 2020 protest against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd. She was vocal with a police officer, shouting “no justice, no peace,” and, allegedly, “I’m willing to die for the Black, are you willing to die for the Blue? This is just a job for you; this is my life.”
Ms. Martin’s comments were perceived as “threats” (she had no weapon), and she was charged with aggravated breach of peace, instigating a riot, and five counts of threatening police officers. She was grossly overcharged for her verbal reaction to police violence and was sentenced, in May 2022, to four years in jail. Appeals to shorten her sentence were unsuccessful, and there is evidence that she was brutally treated in jail. She was disciplined because she refused to cut her dreadlocks for religious reasons.
Ms. Martin got a sentence of four years for yelling at a police officer. Most insurrectionists on Jan. 6, 2021, got less than a year and a half. If everyone who shouted “no justice, no peace” at a rally were sent to jail, the jails would overflow. Why was she electively prosecuted?
Ms. Martin was harshly treated and given an unfairly lengthy sentence because she was a Black woman who chose to stand up for her rights, including her right to protest. Perhaps the judge in the case decided to make an example of her. But as the former president attempts to get the misguided morons who support him out to protest, I am reminded of the unequal ways “justice” (or should we call it just-us) is meted out. Rabid white men assaulted Capitol police officers. Many escaped judgment. Others received a slap on the wrist. A Black woman fighting for Black people gets an unreasonably long sentence, and her pregnancy is imperiled. She gave birth in November 2022 while incarcerated, receiving neither justice nor mercy.
Ms. Martin has given birth to seven children, losing one to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and another to gun violence. Before her latest birth, there were four surviving children, and now five children are missing their mother, including an infant who has had no time to bond with her. South Carolina incarcerated a mother for four long years for yelling at a police officer. Federal courts are sentencing insurrectionists to much less time. In some ways, comparing federal courts to state ones is like comparing apples to oranges. Still, the contrast between Ms. Martin’s sentence and those who have done far worse is instructive.
Donald Trump may or may not get indicted or convicted, and he may or may not be forced to don a jumpsuit the same color as his hair used to be. But those of us who watch the so-called justice system are almost certain that he’ll get a break, just like his supporters, the Jan. 6 insurrectionists are getting.
Yelling is not the same as breaking into a federal building, assaulting Capitol police officers, breaking windows, and busting into Speaker Pelosi’s office. The insurrectionists excuse their lawlessness by leaning on “free speech” rights. Where are the rights of Brittany Martin and the other fearless freedom fighters treated shabbily by the courts?
The writer is an economist, author, and dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State LA.