Oscar Pistorius: The problem when justice is not blind

By Kagure Mugo

Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend. Oscar Pistorius cried in court. Oscar Pistorius came to court with no legs. Oscar Pistorius looked adequately sad and spoke about how Reeva would prefer him to do community service rather than go to jail. Pistorius doesn’t want to have his life end because he killed someone, because that is for lesser, darker mortals.

Frankly, the right course of action is to throw them all in there together and let them ‘Hunger Games’ it out.

This should not seem surprising, considering the touching ideas about Pistorius that are thrown about within and without the courts. There are notions of him being a ‘fallen hero, with a lost career’ and sounding like a doting aunty. Judge Thokozile Masipa stated that Pistorius was ‘genuinely remorseful’ because he had tried to contact the Steenkamp family unsuccessfully to apologise for shooting their daughter. Apparently his supposed ‘This is totally my bad. Totes sorry’ WhatsApp messages should be a reason for him to get less jail time.
Frankly, the right course of action is to throw them all in there together and let them ‘Hunger Games’ it out.

One must also not forget the prerequisite conversation that always surrounds violent white men surrounding mental health. And why not make him walk around on his stumps for good measure? Really tug at those heartstrings? This man should not suffer too harshly for his ills – and it seems the judicial system agreed. According to Judge Masipa he was ‘a fallen hero who has lost his career and been ruined financially. He cannot be at peace.’

Looking at the various aggravating and mitigating circumstances, it would seem the mitigating circumstances won out, with Judge Masipa stating that a lengthy jail term would not serve justice. She sentenced Pistorius to six years in prison for the fatal shooting of Reeva Steenkamp in 2013. This is less than half the usual minimum 15-year sentence he should have received after an appeals court upgraded his conviction to murder in December 2015.

What the Judge’s words boil down to is that the justice system should support him and society should stop demonising him. This is not about gender-based violence. It is not even about violence in general, as Pistorius was not, in her words, ‘a violent man’.

The sentencing is part of the general global theme within the justice realm that states: ‘If you are a white man with a modicum of success and a decent bank account, you are able to look the law in the face and go “Not today, Satan.”’ Sometimes you do not even need the success or hefty bank account – just a gun, a badge and a black person with a handful of CDs to shoot at.  As a white man, all other facts pale in comparison.

Crime and punishment

This is not a new thing. White men (and OJ Simpson) have been tap-dancing out of court to the tune of Lady Justice’s death march for centuries.

This is not a new thing. White men (and OJ Simpson) have been tap-dancing out of court to the tune of Lady Justice’s death march for centuries.

The Oscar Pistorius case has long been compared to that of Jub Jub,who, in 2012, was also convicted of culpable homicide. Many have already taken to social and traditional media to compare the sentencing to others, such as the case heard in May that saw three rhino poachers receive 15-year sentences, and the 12-year sentenceSindisiwe Manqele got for killing rapper Nkululeko ‘Flabba’ Habedi. There is also the case of the two men who got a hefty 15 years each for robbing an SABC crew. This is not a new thing. White men (and OJ Simpson) have been tap-dancing out of court to the tune of Lady Justice’s death march for centuries.

This is a worldwide phenomenon. The #StanfordRapist case also echoed a similar flaw in the system, seeking to look at how the impact of the justice system could have a negative impact on the perpetrator rather than how justice could be served, simply because the perpetrator occupied a certain space within society.

It would seem that punishing these men for what they do is not a form of justice but simply society being ‘petty.’ In the Stanford Rapist case the young ‘promising athlete’ was handed down a six-month sentence after being convicted of sexual assault, while an almost identical case saw the assailant convicted and sentenced to five years. The only difference is he was a black man. The same judge later handed out a sexual-assault sentence to another perpetrator that saw the Latino man given a sentence long enough to allow him to start a book club.

stanford-rapist-ex-letter__oPt

During the sentencing of Pistorius, Justice Masipa spoke about the need to keep public opinion out of the courtroom. However, it seems that how the public perceives you is one of the key factors when receiving a judgment. As a white affluent man public opinion is historically on your side. You have a bright future, you have already learnt your lesson, you possibly have a mental illness.

To sum up, your blame is minimal. The justice that one can receive according to one’s race, gender and geographic location is something that needs to be addressed, not only within the justice system but also within society. To see the levels of engagement with the two trials (Pistorius and the Stanford rapist), the rhetoric that surrounds them shows the imbalanced way in which we see convicts, and leaves their victims increasingly vulnerable.

This is not to mitigate the wrongs done by other people, nor is it a call to release all black and brown men from jail while we start again. Frankly, the right course of action is to throw them all in there together and let them ‘Hunger Games’ it out. The problem is instead one of privilege, racial imbalances and mishandling of gender-based violence in the application of the law.

First Published on This Is Africa.

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