Friday, 13 February 2009

I'm hearing white privilege all over this

Bruce Emery charged after a teenage boy, stabbed him, and killed him. He's been convicted of manslaughter (funny - it looks like a murder to me), and sentenced to four years and three months in jail.

I agree with Maia - jail solves nothing, jails are brutalising institutions that should be abolished. But here's the rub. Normally, the sentence for stabbing someone is between five and seven years jail, but it can be reduced to three and a half years in mitigating circumstances.

According to the sentencing judge, these are mitigating factors:
- Emery's family standing;
- the fact that he supports himself in the community.

Emery's lawyer argued that his client was an upstanding member of the public, he had three young children, and no prior criminal record.

So there you have it. Being a white middle class man is a mitigating factor.

35 comments:

Julie said...

I agree that this doesn't seem fair, in that it is inconsistent with what someone who didn't fit Emery's demographic would get. I thought the facts sounded like they fitted the definition of murder, in terms of recklessness, but of course I didn't hear all the evidence that the jury did.

Emery's life, and the lives of his family members, has been made significantly worse by this killing. I'm not sure that prison is going to achieve much.

Four and a bit years doesn't seem just, in the broader context of sentencing, though. And I understand that the victim's family are very angry indeed.

The ex-expat said...

The difference in reaction between his case and say that of Bailey Junior Kurariki (where just being an accomplice warrants spending forever in jail) is breathtaking.

artandmylife said...

yep - Sounds like White Privilage to me too. Paint on a wall is NOT worth a life EVER. Saying that I actually know people who think Emery was justified which horrifies me just as much

Anna said...

I'm always stunned to hear standing in the community cited as a mitigating factor - I think it makes a crime less excusable, not more.

I completely agree with Maia's reservations about the justice system, but with all it's imperfections, the current system is (in theory at least) not supposed to capitulate to what are basically social prejudices. Whatever justice system we might have in an ideal world (perhaps a rehabilitative, not punitive one) would surely not exhibit favouritism to priviledged groups. That should be repugnant to everyone, regardless of where they stand on justice issues.

Giovanni said...

Standing in the community is a shorthand for belonging to the middle class or upwards, white or otherwise. And being a member of these classes is a notorious extenuating circumstance. Curiously, jail is all about deterrence and restoration (read: "avenging crime") when it is applied to the proles, but as soon as we deal with white collar crimes or a case like this, it goes back to being rehabilitative, and obviously upstanding citizens can be rehabilitated more quickly, can't they?

Interesting to read it against the show that National made the other day about building more Spartan prisons, without the luxury of big televisions or even - gasp! - underfloor heating.

Anonymous said...

I was quite sympathetic to Emery when I first heard about this case last year . I too would be mad as hell if some toe rag tagged my property, so I can understand his anger.

However he chased two kids, while carrying a knife, for over one hundred meters, before confronting them. These are not the actions of someone just protecting their property, they are the actions of an agressive & violent man.

It was interesting to read what some of his neighbours said about him, he sounds like a bully, short man syndrome with a chip on his sholder.

I take exception that he should get a lessor sentence because of his standing in the community, if anything he should have known better and receive a longer sentence.

Emery can count himself to be very lucky that he didnt go down for murder, and I really hate to say this, but If the taggers had been a couple white kids, Emery would have been doing life for murder.

Hugh said...

I find that 'short man syndrome' comment rather unpleasant, actually Anon. I'd appreciate if if you'd retract.

As for Emery, I realise it's enshrined in centuries of jurisprudence and all that, but really, why does manslaughter exist as a separate crime to murder? There's no separate crime for non-premeditated assault, theft or fraud, why is murder so special?

Anonymous said...

Hugh, You may find the term "short man syndrome" not to you liking but I wont retract it. I've had way too much experience with "short men" especailly "tubby short men" more often than not they have a big problem with tall men like myself.

Murder is the deliberate killing, manslaughter is the unintentional killing.

ie murder I decide to kill my wifes lover and beat him to death; manslaughter i decide to teach my wifes lover a lesson, punch him in the face to give him a black eye, he falls over hits his head and ends up dead.

Hugh said...

Anon, that's your prerogative.

As for murder/manslaughter, that's exactly my point. Every other crime is based on the effects felt, not the mindset of the perpetrator. Whether or not you set out to assault somebody, it's still assault. I understand the technical legal distinction between murder and manslaughter, I just don't understand why it exists.

Anna said...

The spartan prisons thing annoys the bejesus out of me. Have it's advocates never considered that a large number of people can't watch a small TV, or that underfloor heating might be more efficient, cheaper and safer than other sorts which might be used in a prison?

And given that everything on the telly is shite, a bigger screen doesn't equate to much of a treat. It's certainly a pretty crap treat compared to, for example, being able to be with your children as they grow up.

I'm just amazed that people think prisons are luxurious places.

Giovanni said...

Word on that Anna. I believe the standard complaint is "they're better than hotels". But apart from how risible the claim is, would you like to spend a few years in the same hotel room? I don't think so. And it so betrays how fond some people are of the punishment side of the equation. You want to rehabilitate people? Start housing them decently. And that includes, yes, recreational facilities. And heating.

Brett Dale said...

Is there a pattern of similar sentences in man slaughter cases such as this?

Psycho Milt said...

Suddenly everyone on the left wants to be Garth McVicar? What's that all about?

I'm not seeing any white privilege here, unless there's some precedent involving a Maori property owner and a white tagger in which a longer sentence was given. Class privilege at best.

Anna said...

Brett, I've no idea what sentences for manslaughter usually are - since manslaughter covers such a potentially broad array of circumstances and levels of culpability, it's probably hard to work out what's comparable. The news tonight gave two examples to suggest Emery got off lightly, but it wasn't exactly scientific. One was Bailey Junior Kurariki, who got seven years, and the other was a boy racer who was racing another vehicle, and that other vehicle hit and killed someone - two and a half years for him.

Psycho, Garth McVicar's stupidity is the only crime I have zero tolerance for. I think the purpose of this post is to point up an inequity in the system, rather than to defend the system.

Hugh said...

Milt, a Maori person is much less likely to be middle class than a Pakeha person.

Rochelle said...

As for murder/manslaughter, that's exactly my point. Every other crime is based on the effects felt, not the mindset of the perpetrator. Whether or not you set out to assault somebody, it's still assault. I understand the technical legal distinction between murder and manslaughter, I just don't understand why it exists.

Actually killing someone is the only crime I can think of where the mindset of the perpetrator is relevant to what charge, rather than whether there is a charge at all.

To commit theft, fraud, assault etc, there has to be a mens rea (mental ingredient) to the charge, ie intent.

To be charged with killing someone, the only relevance of intent is whether you are charged with murder or manslaughter.

Psycho Milt said...

Well OK, let's go at this another way:

The view on this thread and over at the Standard seems to be that this guy has received a lower sentence because he's white and middle class. Well, that's possible - I don't know what was in the sentencing judge's mind. But when discussing factors taken into account in sentencing, consider these two:

1. The person to be sentenced killed someone while in the process of committing a crime against them or others.

2. The person to be sentenced killed someone while taking action against a perpetrator in the process of committing a crime against him or others.

The first is a very strong aggravating factor that really ought to kick the sentence up towards the maximum. The second is a significant mitigating factor. If you want to demonstrate "white privilege" or "institutional racism" in this case, the first thing you're going to have to do is establish a pattern of Maori=heavy/White=light sentencing that isn't explained quite simply by those two factors.

Hugh said...

Milt, the fact that the sentencing judge explicitly stated in his judgement that he was taking into account Emery's family standing and support for himself in the community isn't evidence for you that he took these things into account?

Alison said...

Apparently even this isn't enough leniency for some people; Garth McVicar is out today saying that Emery shouldn't have received any jail sentence, since Pihema Cameron's family need to take responsibility for their role in the death "by letting a 17 year old roam the streets alone".

Turns out that in McVicar's mind, Maori are expected to take responsibility for their own criminal actions... and everyone else's.

I knew that was his point of view, I just didn't think he'd have the audacity to make it so explicit.

jeff said...

No White privilege here only liberal white guilt because the black kids didn't get away with it. I don't think you could call Emery "middle class" Judging on where what he did to earn a living hes more working class. I seem to remember years ago a couple beat to death their small child (cant remember the names), they were convicted of manslaughter ans received similar sentences to Emery.

Psycho Milt said...

Milt, the fact that the sentencing judge explicitly stated in his judgement that he was taking into account Emery's family standing and support for himself in the community isn't evidence for you that he took these things into account?

Of course he took those things into account. But how are they evidence of class or race privilege? Is it not possible for Maori or proletarians to be in good standing in their communities?

Alison said...

I'm a little confused where the examples of Emery's "good standing" are though - there were plenty of comments from neighbours that made him sound intimidating and aggressive.

And yes, while it's possible for Maori people to be viewed as upstanding citizens, it seems the bar is set much higher. In Emery's case it pretty much seems to come down to "he's a pretty average kind of guy who hasn't done anything like this before".

Hugh said...

Milt, I expect you would agree that having a good income makes both factors much easier. It's not a case of being directly rewarded for being middle class, more a matter of being rewarded for things that are far easier for the middle class to achieve.

Psycho Milt said...

"Good standing in the community" just means the cops have no idea who you are because you've never caused any trouble. It doesn't require significant amounts of money to achieve. In this particular case, it also takes into account the fact that the perp would in fact still be unknown to the cops if he'd been left in peace, ie he didn't start it. "Good standing" really isn't that big a deal.

Deborah said...

It's worth rereading Peggy McIntosh's essay, "White privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack", and thinking about whether the same mitigating factors would have been taken into account had Emery not been white.

Julie said...

Readers may be interested in Psycho Milt's more lengthy take on this and related topics at his own blog.

Julie said...

And there are two posts in general agreement with Deborah's post at The Standard, the first from Tane (and there's some pretty vile stuff in the thread) and the second from Steve Pierson, who compares Bailey Kurariki and the Emery case.

Julie said...

But wait there's more! Tim Selwyn argues that the Crown should appeal Emery's sentence.

And that short man stuff wasn't really necessary. Some of my best friends are short men and none of them have yet tried to invade Russia.

AWicken said...

I find myself wondering what criteria Garth McVicar uses to identify the degree or cause of "frustration" that legitimises killing people.

What if his wife refused to cook the man some eggs? Some men might find that frustrating... oh well.

Defending one's home from arsonists or burglars who might be armed - I can *see* that point of view. But a freaking "tagger"?! (they use the term "tagger" because few people know when to stop spelling graffittee - including me:)

Oh, an as an over-25 male who finds that most of his colleagues are a bit taller than him, I would like to say that I can be a complete prick sometimes. However, tall people who use the term "short man syndrome" in a patronising manner are usually, in my experience, deserving of the effort required to look for a step ladder and finish the discussion.

Lucy said...

The spartan prisons thing annoys the bejesus out of me. Have it's advocates never considered that a large number of people can't watch a small TV, or that underfloor heating might be more efficient, cheaper and safer than other sorts which might be used in a prison?

I remember reading that and thinking that probably what's going to happen if they take away big-screen TVs is that fights will start and a pecking order will emerge over who gets to sit closest to the small TV. Seriously - do the National gvt think that prisoners have them in their cells, or something? (Which would be a story if they did, but I somehow doubt it.)

Julie said...

MacDoctor disagrees with Deborah's post as well. This issue really does seem to be dividing people along left/right lines. I am looking forward to seeing what Idiot/Savant thinks, if he writes about it.

Hugh said...

Fun fact = Napoleon wasn't short.

Psycho Milt said...

I think we're looking at an old/young divide as much as a left/right one. I'm a leftist, and 30 years ago would have easily identified with Cameron and not at all with Emery. What a difference a few decades makes: now I own property, which was earned through the sweat of my brow and of which I'm justifiably proud and which I don't care to see people fucking with for no reason; now I've suffered the depredations of criminals on a number of occasions and appreciate how infuriating it is; now I've spent decades happily paying taxes to provide free education, healthcare, welfare benefits and other social services so that no-one in our society ever actually needs to fund their existence through crime, and witnessed the fact that a lot of people will just commit crime anyway; and now I've spent time in a place where I saw genuine poverty, genuine hardship and genuine "white privilege," and found it safer than my own country; all of the above have contributed to me now empathising with Emery in a way I couldn't have when I was 20, but there's nothing particularly "right-wing" about it, it's just a function of age and experience.

A delaration in the interest of avoiding confusion: none of the reasons mentioned above for feeling empathy with Bruce Emery is offered as an excuse for killing someone or as a mitigating circumstance in sentencing, merely to assist in thinking about why some people are so strongly backing one side or another in this.

Julie said...

Luddite Journo has an absolutely fantastic post on this matter which I strongly recommend.

Hugh, Hitler was short though, right? (Hope I didn't just Godwin this thread)

Thanks for explaining your reasoning Psycho Milt, I appreciate the effort you are going to on this thread. I can identify with most of your list of factors too, to varying degrees, as a homeowner who has been burgled, had my car broken into several times, lost treasured and irreplaceable possessions to thieves, had the garden set alight one night when we were out, has paid taxes also for many years, and has travelled a bit in poorer countries (although not lived there as you have done). I did feel oddly safer in Vietnam than I usually do in NZ. But I think a lot of that is down to other factors than an actual reasonable assessment of the varying crime levels on my part.

I can't feel sufficient empathy with Emery to understand how a supposedly mild-mannered person with no anger management issues loses control sufficiently to chase two people he was scared of down a street, at night, with a knife, and then, accidentally or not, stab one of them when he had already got them away from his threatened property. It doesn't all compute, from my point of view.

Ben said...

"Normally, the sentence for stabbing someone is between five and seven years jail, but it can be reduced to three and a half years in mitigating circumstances.

According to the sentencing judge, these are mitigating factors:
- Emery's family standing;
- the fact that he supports himself in the community.

Emery's lawyer argued that his client was an upstanding member of the public, he had three young children, and no prior criminal record.

So there you have it. Being a white middle class man is a mitigating factor."

When you're a hammer everything is a nail isn't it?

He runs an upholstery business, is married to an Indonesian women, has young children, had no prior record, convicted of manslaughter...therefore, he must have received a light sentence because he was white?!!

Of course if he too was Indonesian like his wife, or Maori those mitigating factors would not have applied and he would have received a harsher sentence?

If you do a counterfactual, changing the race of offender/victim I think it still seems a fair sentence:

If he wants to isolate race as a factor he needs to hold other factors, like social class, constant.

So instead the comparison would be:

A 53 year old Maori business man Mr Tapsell is at home with his wife of 20 years and young daughters. His wife is preparing food for an indonesian church the next day. He lives in a poor white suburb and is the owner of an upholstery business he runs from home. His garage is regularly tagged.

About 11pm he sees someone tagging his garage door of his home and business.

There are two, identities disguised by hoodies. Mr Tapsell isn’t anonymous. They know his property and therefore who he is. He hurries downstairs, grabs a fishing knife, gives chase. He is dressed in shorts and T-shirt, his feet bare.

There is an altercation. The knife had a 14cm blade but penetrated 5cm, so it’s hard to say it was some frenzied attack. Mr Tapsell claims he was defending himself.

Mr Tapsell is convicted of manslaughter. Mr Tapsell had no prior criminal record.

Judge John Parata sentences Mr Tapsell to 4 years 3 months in jail. Judge Parata notes the danger of using knives.

Mr Tapsell’s lawyer sought a sentence of home detention. He also sought donations to help his family. Mr Tapsell did not qualify for legal aid, his business had to close and he had exhausted his finances on his defence.