Imagine a black couple, minding their own business on a public street, suddenly set upon by four white, alcohol-fueled, women in their mid-20’s who proceed to viciously assault the black woman at length, all the while shouting profane racist insults. They kick the victim repeatedly in the head and body, pull out some of her hair, and leave her not only bruised and battered but so traumatized that, more than a year after the attack, she suffers from panic attacks and flashbacks, can’t keep her job, and is still undergoing counseling.
A clearcut incident of racist violence, right? An open-and-shut case in court, particularly if the entire attack was caught on video. But now imagine that the judge in this case lets the four perpetrators off the hook with only suspended sentences. His reasoning? He buys their attorney’s defense that they weren’t accustomed to alcohol, since they are Christian fundamentalists strictly forbidden to drink. He also accepts the outrageous argument that they may have felt that they were the victims of unreasonable force from their target’s partner, who tried to defend her from the attack.
An impossible scenario, you say? There is no way the attackers would not be charged with a hate crime and given jail time. There is no way a judge would excuse drunken, violent offenders simply because their Christian beliefs made them unused to drunkenness, nor would he consider the victims’ self-defense a mitigating factor in the attackers’ motivation.
And yet such an unthinkable miscarriage of justice actually happened in London, England. To understand how it could be possible, all you need do is change up some key details in the above scenario – the attackers were black Somali Muslims, and the victims white.
Ambaro and Hibo Maxamed, both 24, their sister Ayan, 28, and cousin Ifrah Nur, 28, attacked 22-year-old Rhea Page, who helps care for people with autism and learning difficulties, as she walked to a taxi with her boyfriend Lewis Moore, 23, after a night out. As Moore struck back, they yelled “kill the white slag” [slut] while kicking her as she lay on the ground. It was all captured on CCTV video here.
“We were just minding our own business,” Page said,
but they kept shouting “white bitch” and “white slag” at me. When I turned around one of them grabbed my hair – she literally wrapped her fingers in my hair – then threw me on the ground. That’s when they started kicking me. They were taking turns to kick me in the head and back over and over. I was lying on the ground the whole time, crying and screaming. It was terrifying. I thought they were going to kill me. I honestly think they attacked me just because I was white. I can’t think of any other reason.
Defense attorney Gary Short managed to think of another reason. In a jaw-dropping feat of courtroom chutzpah, he explained away the attack this way:
They’re Somalian Muslims and alcohol or drugs isn’t something they’re used to.
Being drunk is something that people, except alcoholics, generally aren’t “accustomed to,” and in any case that wouldn’t justify a violent, racist assault. But Judge Robert Brown bought it. And he apparently also bought the defense’s subtle suggestion that the assault was somehow instigated, or at least perpetuated, by Moore – for defending her from their assault: “Although Miss Page’s partner used violence,” the attorney said, “it doesn’t justify their behavior.” Presumably, Page’s boyfriend should have engaged the Muslim women in interfaith dialogue rather than physically intervene.
Astonishingly, the women were not charged with racial aggravation. In the understatement of the year, Judge Brown told them “This was ugly and reflects very badly on all four of you,” and said normally they would have done jail time. The charge – assault occasioning actual bodily harm – carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. But because they are Muslim, this situation isn’t “normal.” Instead, he handed the attackers suspended sentences and 150 hours of unpaid work.
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