A thief walks into a bank. He goes up to the teller, hands her a piece of paper on which he’s scrawled “I have a gun, give me your cash.” The teller immediately gives him approximately $3000USD in cash. The thief then strolls over to a seat in the lobby and engages the security guard in small talk. He tells the guard “I’m the one you’re looking for.” The police and FBI are called.
But alas, this story is much too plain, and while it’s unusual for a thief to remain at the crime scene and wait to be arrested, the media needs a more interesting angle in order to grab readers’ attention, right? Let’s dig deeper.
Earlier that day, the robber had an argument with Dido, his wife of 33 years, over a broken dryer. Sick of her shit, he hatches a plan to rob the bank with the goal of being sent to jail. He writes out the note “I have a gun, give me your cash” in front of her, while telling her that he’d “rather be in jail than at home”…A thief walks into a bank.
But wait, did we mention that he was 70 years old? Or that he had the most hilarious, most innocent motive for robbing a bank? We’ve all felt like jail would be better than the wife at some point, amirite?
The news articles based on this story seem to beg us to read between the lines of what is usually ortherwise dryly reported as a regular old crime. One look at the headlines, plus a deeper analysis of the narrative, and there are motives much more sinister than “highlighting an interesting/unusual angle” to tell the story.
The first mention of this particular incident by Kansas City Star, local news agency of Kansas, where the crime took place. Thief remained at the crime scene, was caught on camera, chatted with the security guard, but thanks to legal semantics, it’s still just alleged.
The Washington Post hilariously outlines the choices available to white privileged persons.
The humor continues as Huffington Post emphasizes that the robber was just waiting for the police.
Reuters joins the fun, categorizes the bank robbery under “Oddly Enough”.
It must be so hard to be a white man, guys. You try so hard to go to jail, why, you think of the worst crime you could possibly commit besides murder, armed robbery, and they still refuse to send you to jail? They just send you back to that darn hellhole to live with your pain in the ass wife again, gosh darn it! What does a guy gotta do to get some damn freedom in this country?
Unfortunately, not everyone’s dreams being a convict can come true. On Friday 2nd September 2016, Lawrence John Ripple was arrested for robbing the Bank of Labor and taken into custody at the Wyandotte Detention Center, Kansas City. By Wednesday 7th September, a judge released him from prison.
While USA Today reports that he was indeed released from jail mere days after the heist, Reuters sings a different tune. According to their article, records showed that he was no longer at the Wyandotte County Detention Center on Wednesday 7th, but a spokesman from the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s office claimed that he had been moved to a federal facility in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Which is it? Was he transferred to another prison, or was he sent home?
Most sources state that he was actually sent home.
But why would the “spokesman” from the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s office tell a journalist that he was transferred to another federal facility, if he was actually released from jail? To cover up the blatant racial bias and shameless miscarriage of justice that this case represents. Finally, we present to you, the final verdict.
Emotional keywords abound: “Remorseful”, “husband”, “to escape wife”. This is a deliberate attempt to skew public perception in favor of a thief who was sentenced to a mere fraction of the punishment required for his offence. In the articles dated back to September, around the time when the crime was committed, several tactics were used to evoke sympathy for the perpetrator and trivialize the crime. They highlighted his age – 70 years old (feel sorry for him). They highlighted his “innocent” motive – domestic squabbles (can’t you relate?) They highlighted the humor of his extreme measures- rob a bank to go to jail to avoid wife (how funny is that?). And finally, they reported the crime with an undertone of lightness and literal jokes to downplay the gravity of the situation, and completely avoided mentioning the weapon. The words ARMED ROBBERY, GUN, ARMED THIEF are never used. The only inclusion of the word gun is in the citation of what this thief scrawled on the note to the teller “I HAVE A GUN, GIVE ME MONEY”. So we actually may never know if he really had a gun or not, because either this detail is irrelevant, or more than likely because it’s better if we assume he was unarmed.
Pre-verdict, the tone had already been set for the coverup.
Now, in this Kansas City Star article dated June 13th 2017, the final sentencing for Lawrence Ripple is announced to the public: supervised probation, a little community service and a meager fine. For his two felony counts of robbery and aggravated robbery, one source estimates a typical minimum of 37 months behind bars, another source suggests a maximum sentence of 20 years.
So they release the more sophisticated, yet ridiculously cliched excuses for an unjust sentencing. They claim that heart surgery left him depressed and unlike himself. They go further, citing health issues, remorse, and an unlikeliness to reoffend. Several key players came to the conclusion that this man deserved mercy: both his attorney AND federal prosecutors begged for leniency, the freakin’ vice president of the bank supported it, the bank teller forgave him for “frightening” her, and ultimately the judge approved this whole charade. Remember the spokesman from the sheriff’s office who covered up the fact that Ripple was released from jail? Clearly they’re all on the same page with this guy, and we can’t help but wonder what about him inspires such compassion.
It would be easy to conclude that he simply “got lucky”, or his age played a major factor in the sentencing, or it was a stupid mistake that did not warrant years in prison. However, we must analyse this case against the backdrop of police brutality and how the criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates and criminalizes people of color, often for comparably minor offences, or in spite of much more significant motives. This idiot robbed a bank because he wanted to go to jail. Some people steal milk from a corner store because they need to feed their baby. Yet “mercy” and “leniency” is rarely ever granted to them, and neither is the excuse of “mental illness.”
Countless white criminals have been spared heavy sentences due to being influenced by “mental illness”, even for mass murderer, such as in the cases of Dylan Roof and James Holmes. Blacks and Hispanics are not so lucky, or should I say, mentally unstable. The disproportionate use of this particular justification to explain away criminal behavior can lead only to two possible conclusions. The first is that Blacks and Hispanics are physically less susceptible to mental illness than their white counterparts, despite the same obstacles such as poverty, physical ailment, family issues etc, and despite their added difficulty of being a minority in the US. The second possibility is that this is a loophole specifically used for white people to get nothing more than a tap on the wrist when they commit crimes. Can a black man ever rob a bank and blame “depression” over heart surgery and be let off the hook? Why, he would have more likely been shot on sight and this story would have never graced our hearts and minds with it’s comedic genius.
The role of remorse in judicial decisions remains controversial. It is accepted that “assessment of remorse, as well as judicial decision-making in general, must be altered for defendants with mental illness”. So,if remorse as a basis is entirely subjective, and its relevance is magnified in the case of “mental illness”, if mental illness is a typical justification of criminality for white people, then a judge’s perception of remorse could also lean in favor of white people.
Unlikeliness to reoffend?
Ripple’s “unlikeliness to reoffend” is directly linked to the claim that he has “no criminal record”, lived a “law-abiding life”, was a “dutiful stepfather to four stepchildren” and was in “a stable relationship with his wife.” Perhaps the best way to illustrate the bias in emphasizing how much of a “good person” this guy is, would be to assess the language and background information used for a similar case involving a black criminal, where they tend to emphasize how much of a bad person he is.
But for now, let’s focus on the idea of a “criminal record”. How does one get a criminal record if one can barely be punished for armed robbery? Obviously, any delinquencies or even crimes that Lawrence Ripple may have committed in his life could have just as easily been swept under the carpet, by virtue of him being an…otherwise…good person. This rhetoric is severely flawed, especially when we consider that it may be rooted in the fallacy that white people are more likely to be “good” and people of color are more likely to be “bad.”So for white people, errors in judgement, public outbursts, juvenile delinquencies, general human flaws and major crimes are more likely to be overlooked against the backdrop of their whiteness/goodness, while for people of color it is taken as evidence of their true nature and they are punished with the full force of the law.
May the statistics speak for themselves.
In essence, this case turns out to be a perfect example of how a particular demographic is routinely given the benefit of the doubt,shown leniency, offered forgiveness, and spared the full force of the law. According to the same Kansas City Star article, both the lawyer and the prosecutor in Ripple’s case admitted that it is “extremely uncommon for a person convicted of bank robbery to receive a sentence that doesn’t involve prison time.” Thanks to the work of thought leaders such as Ava Duvernay in her film The 13th Amendment and Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow,it has become increasingly evident that the North American justice system is little more than a redesigned caste system of different strokes for different folks. The media, in turn, often plays the role of legitimizing racial bias for public consumption by sugarcoating or demonizing illegal activity as they see fit. The gravity of the crime depends on the ethnicity of the criminal.
Editor-in-Chief at The Black Revolution Blog