Brock Turner’s Mugshot Was Finally Released, And Here’s Why That Matters So Much
The former Stanford swimmer convicted of raping an unconscious woman in March was sentenced to six months in jail Thursday, as well as the stipulation that he register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He could be out after just three months if he behaves himself behind bars, and the light sentence was heavily criticized as a slap in the face to rape survivors. Not only did he scrape by with hardly any time in prison, the 20-year-old convicted rapist doesn’t have a mug shot circulating the media; however, it’s extremely important that Brock Turner’s mug shot be released, and he be treated like any other rapist.
Update: Turner’s mug shot was finally released Monday. However, this article will remain as is, because it’s important to talk about why his mug shot matters and how images displayed in the media differ based on the race of the criminal.
On top of his standing as an athlete at a prestigious university, Turner had another factor working in his favor — his whiteness. Even if you ignore his almost laughable sentence for raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on Stanford’s campus in 2015, the fact that news stories about Turner are accompanied by either a school photo or photos of him in a suit for court is testament enough to the positive treatment he’s received from the criminal justice system and the public alike. The 20-year-old has now been found guilty of and sentenced for a felony sexual assault, so where’s his criminal mug shot?
Despite being convicted of heinous crimes, white male criminals are still shown in the media through graduation or other school photos, while stories about criminals of color almost always feature mug shots. There are no statistics on the prevalence of mug shot usage in the media in relation to race (go figure), but the pattern is clear. Last year, sister news sites TheGazette.com and KCRG.com published stories about two burglaries the same day — one carried out by a group of white men and the other by a group of black men. The story about the young white burglars originally showed all three men’s college photos, while the story about the four black men had only mug shots. The story about the blonde white men was eventually updated to include their mug shots, but not until a week later, when most everyone had already seen the story.
In KCRG’s defense, they said they were using the best images available at the time, which is true. This story is led by Turner’s yearbook photo because that’s all that’s out there right now. White criminals’ mug shots just aren’t released (or sought out) as often as people of color’s.
The problem goes much deeper than simply who’s mug shots are being distributed though. Crimes committed by non-white people get much more attention than crimes committed by white people. A 2015 Media Matters for America report revealed that while men of color were arrested for 49 percent of assault cases in New York City between 2010 and 2013, 73 percent of news stories on the subject were about men of color during the last five months of 2014. Not only do white men avoid having their mug shots broadcast to the world, they also tend to avoid having their crimes talked about at all.
Black men are even sometimes portrayed as criminals when they’re the victim. Sam DuBose, who was fatally shot by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing last summer, was memorialized in the media with a mug shot, while the officer who killed him was often shown in his police uniform. While white men don’t have their mug shot blast to the world when found guilty of a violent crime, black men do even when they’re the one hurt or killed.
Obviously, mug shots relay a much different image of someone than a professionally-taken university photo. Even though Turner was deemed a rapist by the court and will spend time behind bars for his crime, his photo is still portraying him as a respectable member of society. No one looks good in a mug shot (except maybe Lindsey Lohan), and the grainy quality, orange jumpsuit, and look of either distress or disdain automatically make a suspect look more guilty. While I’m not an authority on the subject, I can say with confidence that a mug shot makes a person look a hell of a lot more guilty than a nearly perfect yearbook photo.
Turner’s friend, Leslie Rasmussen, wrote a letter to the sentencing judge claiming that Turner’s conviction was a misunderstanding. “Where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists,” Rasmussen wrote. First of all, logic suggests that if a rape occurred, a rapist was involved. However, if Rasmussen is so concerned that Turner is a “victim” of too much political correctness, she should take the photos of him circulating the web into consideration. His treatment in the press has been incredibly politically incorrect, since he’s received much better treatment than a young black man would have.
Regardless of his swimming accolades, the fancy new suit he wore to court, and the fact that his dad says he’s too broken up about his conviction to eat steak (poor baby), Turner deserves to be treated like the rapist he is. He was convicted of a violent sexual assault — the media has absolutely no obligation to paint him in a positive light. In fact, the media has an obligation to paint him in the same negative light it paints rapists of color — with an unflattering mug shot.