Enrique Tarrio, the leader of Proud Boys and a participant in the January 6th unrest, was sentenced to a 22-year prison term. Tarrio was convicted of seditious conspiracies, but he wasn’t present at the Capitol. He pleaded with the court for leniency, but it didn’t come.
The same wasn’t true for a Black Lives Matter protester who set fire to a pawn shop after looting it in May 2020. Montez Lee, who appeared on video proclaiming that he was going to “burn this ***** down” ended up killing Oscar Stewart, who found himself trapped in the blaze. Stewart, who died of smoke inhalation, left behind five children.
You would expect a harsh punishment for Lee’s criminal record. The DOJ became his biggest advocate.
The government sentencing memorandum to the judge states the following.
Mr. Lee has stated that he was on the street to protest police violence against blacks, and this is a credible statement. There is no reason to doubt it. Mr. Lee acknowledges, in an appropriate way, that he could have “demonstrated in a more peaceful manner,” but that “he was caught up in the fury” of the mob, after watching as a Black man his peers suffer under the police. Anyone who watches the news knows that many people in Minnesota suffered the same fate. Many people seemed to be looking to take advantage of the chaos or disorder for personal gain, or to commit random acts of violence. Many people also appeared to be angry, frustrated, and disenfranchised and were trying to express their feelings in unacceptably reckless ways. Mr. Lee seems to fall into this second category. Even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the great American activist for nonviolence and social injustice, said in an interview with CBS’s Mike Wallace, in 1966, that “a riot is a language of the unseen.”
It’s almost impossible to express my feelings after reading this. Let’s forget for a minute about libertarian arguments in favor of shorter prison sentences. Even if this is a position that the DOJ holds, it does not follow that policy in all cases. This can be seen by the many sentences that are handed down even to non-violent defendants of January 6th. We can only judge the DOJ based on its current policy, which is to demand harsh sentences for many of those it prosecutes.
The DOJ decided that Lee’s motives were pure in this case despite the fact he had looted a store and then burned it down, killing a five-year-old father. In an effort to get a lighter sentence for Lee, the prosecution went as far as quoting Martin Luther King Jr. The judge did not only comply with the DOJ request but even exceeded it by sentencing Lee to 10 years of prison.
It is impossible to square this circle, except by assuming that the DOJ will make sentencing decisions based solely on politics. Why should someone who killed a man receive less prison time than someone who has never touched anyone? Let’s forget Tarrio, who many might say is responsible for the violent acts that took place. Other January 6th defendants received lengthy sentences despite doing nothing violent or causing anyone to act violently.
Why did they not get the benefit of the doubt of simply being “caught up” in the mob? Why did their motives of speaking the “language of the unheard” not get judged in a positive light by the DOJ?
No one has any faith in the federal government.