18-year-old Andrew Boeckman, who was found in possession of 1,185 indecent images of children, as well as videos of a three-year-old being raped and children being forced to have sex with dogs, was spared jail and handed an 18-month suspended sentence last month for ten counts of possessing child pornography. The privileged Eton schoolboy has been permitted to use his mother’s maiden name (Pickard) on legal records so as to protect his identity and defend his wealthy family’s reputation. Mysteriously, all references to the name Boeckman have now been removed from the internet, and previous articles on the case have also been taken down.
This case smacks of Brock Turner, the white 19-year-old Stanford student who, having been convicted of three charges – penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object, penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and assault with attempt to rape an intoxicated person – was given six months in county jail, of which he served only three. The prestige of these young white men and their families has protected them from receiving the extent of legal punishment they might otherwise have been given – it has been described by some as “peak wealthy white privilege.” Boeckman’s father, Phillip J Boeckman, is a successful lawyer with clients including Goldman Sachs and J P Morgan. Turner was expected to compete in the next Olympic Games, the judge’s light sentence reflecting the nature of his prestigious position at Stanford University.
One of the greatest issues the public have taken with Turner’s case is the media coverage. ’All-American Swimmer Found Guilty of Sexually Assaulting Unconscious Woman,’ ‘Ex-Stanford Swimmer Brock Turner’s Jail Term Decried as Too Lenient,’ ‘Former Stanford Swimming Star Gets 6 Months in Jail for Sexual Assault.’ These promote an image of Turner as bright and successful, and are usually accompanied not with his mugshot, but by his smiling yearbook photo and shots of him swimming. Compare these headlines to the New York Central Five Case, in which five black teenagers were wrongly charged with the attack and rape of a white woman in Central Park: ‘Teen Wolfpack Beats and Rapes Wall Street Exec,’ ‘Female jogger Near Death after Savage Attack by Roving Gang,’ ‘”Wilding” Teens Held in Rape.’ Images used were unflattering, close-up face shots of the defendants leaving court in handcuffs. They each spent between six and thirteen years in prison in a tragic miscarriage of justice, the evidence for which was seriously lacking and not corroborated across sources. The media representation reflects the sentence given – and both on a larger scale represent the institutional racism within American in the huge disparity between the treatment of accused criminals.
Compare the cases of Boeckman and Turner to the case of Brian Banks, a former NFL player recently signed by the Atlanta Falcons. Aged 16 in 2002, he had committed to play for The University of South California football team (having been recruited by a number of colleges), which formed one of the most competitive football programs with the highest rate of success in getting players drafted into the National Football League from any university. A vastly successful career lay ahead of him. Then, in 2002, Banks was falsely accused of raping a classmate. There was no evidence to support the claim and no witnesses aside from the girl involved. The examination of the accuser’s body revealed no traces of semen or any internal damage, despite the fact that she claimed he had ejaculated inside her. The defence pointed out that the location in which the rape supposedly took place would have had people constantly passing through, and was easily within hearing distance. It would have been virtually impossible to commit the crime in the location. Despite this, Banks was convicted to six years in state prison, followed by five years on probation.
Boeckman’s pornographic files were discovered on his personal computer. With almost 2000 images and videos, there is no denying the nature and severity of his crime. Similarly, there is video footage of Turner’s assault. There were multiple witnesses, two of whom held Turner down when he attempted to flee the scene of the assault who all confirm the allegations. Examination of the victim’s body revealed lacerations and dirt on and inside her genitalia. There is virtually no debate over what occurred that night; the evidence is overwhelming. Yet the expected fourteen-year sentence was not given on the basis that it would severely impact Turner’s future – he had been expected to swim in the next Olympic Games – and as a result of his age, being only 19. Boeckman’s family prestige and wealth, in addition to his age, seem likewise to have been taken into account in considering the weight of his sentence.
Despite the promise he showed as an athlete, despite his age, and despite the lack of evidence, Banks wrongfully served five years in prison and five years on parole. Despite the overwhelming evidence, despite his more mature age, and despite his complete lack of any remorse, Turner only served three months, because he showed “promise”, and because the system wants to protect him: like Boeckman, he is a white, wealthy man with potential power. These men receive unfairly favourable treatment at the hands of the justice system and the media, organisations that do not seem to care about the impact heavy-handed sentences might have on young black men.
Although Banks’ lawyer might have been wrong in advising him to plea no contest, she was right about the imbalanced mindset of the people he would face. It’s time for our justice system to face up to their severe short-comings, to deliver sentences fitting the evidence provided, to start discriminating between right and wrong based on the case in hand, not on the colour, class, or prestige of the accused.