A missed opportunity to stir liberal outrage

Four young white men from “good families” in a small Texas town beat up a mentally-challenged black man and dumped him in a field. He’s crippled for life; none of them will serve a day in jail.
Where’s the outrage?

I’ve been on the road recently, which has cut into both my blogging and my blog-reading. So I just ran across Orin Kerr’s calmly outraged and entirely correct response to the story of four young white men in Linden, Texas, who beat up a mentally challenged black man and dumped him in a field. Billy Ray Johnson is crippled for life, and his assailants are being let off without any of them spending so much as a day in jail. Note that the District Attorney thinks the outcome was just fine.

Arvin Tseng at Rebuttable Presumption is right to say that there’s no evidence that the assailants were racially motivated. But, as a thought-experiment, mentally switch the races of the assailants and the victim; can you imagine a similarly lenient sentence? I can’t.

It seems to me, as a non-lawyer, that the 14th Amendment guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” ought to include equal punishment for perpetrators of similar acts regardless of the race of the victim. But it seems that no one has standing to sue.

Just remember this the next time someone starts preaching about the moral degeneracy of the blue states.

It also says something about the myth of the liberal media that this story had almost precisely no “legs.” Nor did it make much of a splash in Blogtown.

One thing right-wing talk radio and the rest of the VRWC sounding-board apparatus are good at is making sure that everyone hears about outrages that stir conservative emotion. Our side has no comparable mechanism. I’m grateful to Orin Kerr for pointing the story out, but it seems to me a case study in failure on the liberal side of the aisle.

Footnote Calm outrage is a very difficult voice to pull off. Orin Kerr is a trained professional; don’t try it at home.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com