On Tuesday, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the unrest on January 6th. Convicted of seditious conspiracy, Tarrio, who was not present at the Capitol, pleaded for leniency but received none.
(For more reporting and background on Tarrio’s case, click here)
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.
Given that Lee had a long criminal history, you would think a harsh sentence would be in order. Instead, the DOJ turned into his biggest advocate.
Here’s what the government’s sentencing memo to the judge stated.
Mr. Lee credibly states that he was in the streets to protest unlawful police violence against black men, and there is no basis to disbelieve this statement. Mr. Lee, appropriately, acknowledges that he “could have demonstrated in a different way,” but that he was “caught up in the fury of the mob after living as a black man watching his peers suffer at the hands of police.” As anyone watching the news world-wide knows, many other people in Minnesota were similarly caught up. There appear to have been many people in those days looking only to exploit the chaos and disorder in the interest of personal gain or random violence. There appear also to have been many people who felt angry, frustrated, and disenfranchised, and who were attempting, in many cases in an unacceptably reckless and dangerous manner, to give voice to those feelings. Mr. Lee appears to be squarely in this latter category. And even the great American advocate for non-violence and social justice, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated in an interview with CBS’s Mike Wallace in 1966 that “we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
I’m almost at a loss for words reading that. Forget for a moment about libertarian arguments regarding shorter prison sentences. Even if one believes that as a policy position, the DOJ is clearly not abiding by that in other cases, as seen with many of the sentences handed down to even non-violent January 6th defendants. Thus, we can only just the DOJ by its current position, and its current position is to demand harsh prison sentences for many, many individuals it prosecutes.
In this case, though, the DOJ single-handedly decided to judge Lee’s motives as pure despite the fact that he was looting a store before he burned it to the ground, killing a father of five. The prosecution even went so far as to quote Martin Luther King Jr. in an attempt to gain a shorter sentence for Lee. Sure enough, the judge not only met the DOJ’s request, but he surpassed it, sentencing Lee to just 10 years in prison.
There is no way to square that circle except to assume the DOJ makes sentencing judgments based purely on politics. Why would someone who literally killed a man deserve less time in prison than someone who never laid a hand on anyone? Forget Tarrio for a moment, who some might argue is responsible for violent actions that occurred. There are other January 6th defendants who probably did nothing violent nor caused anyone else to do anything violent and who received very lengthy sentences.
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?
We know the answer, and it’s why no one trusts the federal government.