Sunday 23 October 2016

White, rich and male is ultimate get-out-of-jail card

The athlete's trial for the murder of his girlfriend is a tale of how celebrity trumps justice

Published 10/07/2016 | 02:30

Reeva Steenkamp feared Pistorius's anger - and she had good reason to. But was justice done by his receiving just a six-year sentence?
Reeva Steenkamp feared Pistorius's anger - and she had good reason to. But was justice done by his receiving just a six-year sentence?

Is it over yet? The sorry, celebrity charade that the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius turned into? Probably not. Word is that the "Blade Runner" may yet be able to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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The ludicrous, laughable "extension" of the original sentence of five years, handed down to him in 2014 (of which he only served a year before leaving for luxurious house arrest), could turn into a mere 52 weeks more of incarceration - despite his conviction being upgraded to murder last year and despite the fact that murder is supposed to come with a 15-year sentence in South Africa.

He would have gotten more time if he had stopped to steal his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp's phone before he killed her. Or at least he would have, if he had been black and poor and a nobody.

Then there's the distinct possibility that Pistorius may only actually serve one year of this sentence before returning to his comfortable house arrest, where he will be able to continue his Olympic training.

He believes his public needs him. In a ludicrous TV interview before his sentencing, Oscar said piously: "I would like to believe that if Reeva could look down upon me that she would want me to live that life."

Bullshit. If Reeva is indeed looking down at him, she's more likely to be thinking, "Why did you have to kill me, you murdering bastard!"

This is a tale of privilege. Not just of white privilege, but of celebrity privilege, male privilege, the privilege of wealth and position and stardom. And it stinks.

Increasingly, racism, patriarchy and celebrity trump justice - not just in South Africa, but everywhere.

The primary concern of the black, female judge Thokozile Masipa - who was also, we should remember, responsible for the manslaughter sentence back in 2014 - was for Oscar and his suffering. Perhaps she was concerned that anything else would look biased in favour of her race and gender.

"The life of the accused will never be the same," she said.

Unlike Reeva who has no life.

"He is a fallen hero who has lost his career and been ruined financially," she said.

Unlike Reeva's family who have lost a daughter and sister and are ruined in every way imaginable.

At the sentencing hearing last year in Pretoria, her father Barry said: "I talk to her. She is with me all the time... It's devastated us. I had a stroke. I wouldn't wish it on another human being."

"He cannot be at peace," said Judge Masipa about Oscar.

Unlike Reeva who most certainly is at peace. Because Oscar Pistorius murdered her. With four high-calibre bullets through a bathroom door behind which she was most certainly hiding from him (neighbours testified they heard a woman screaming), her phone with her, terrified by yet another of his rages.

You'd almost wish that there was an afterlife from which Reeva could return to haunt her killer. Because this didn't come out of the blue. Despite the crocodile tears, the woe-is-me, the nauseating self-pity, the attention-seeking vomiting, the pseudo remorse, Oscar Pistorius was well-known for his temper, for his love of guns, for his recklessness, for his belief that the rules didn't apply to him.

This was also a man who had a history of violent abuse.

A former girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, called him "angry and possessive", said she "feared he would kill her" and once hid his gun when he was in a rage. Weeks before she died Reeva texted him: "I'm scared of you and how you sometimes snap at me." She said; "Every five seconds I hear how you dated another chick… yet you get upset if I mention ONE funny story with a long-term boyfriend. You… throw tantrums in front of people."

It's not surprising that meDespite all the evidence showing that Oscar was a deluded, jealous, angry, selfish, misogynistic, lying, paranoid, spoilt and violent young man, Judge Masipa chose not to believe what the rest of us concluded - that there had been a fight that night between Oscar and Reeva and that he knew damn well who was behind that door when he fired those four shots.

Now, just imagine if an ordinary black man, or even a white woman, behaved as Oscar did. If we heard in court that they were jealous, unstable, violent, addicted to guns, prone to abusing their partners?

And if we saw them being evasive, hysterical, making contradictory statements - which only the kindest of us would not call blatant self-serving lies - would we find excuses for their crime?

Would we give them the benefit of the doubt even if we found them to be a "poor and contradictory witness" as Judge Masipa did Pistorius?

Of course we wouldn't!

If it was an unknown black man, there would be little surprise or interest, just a mandatory life sentence. If it was a woman there would be salacious condemnation of her character, much debate and discussion about women who kill and… a mandatory life sentence. And so wealth and talent, race and gender once again trump justice.

This is not new. There is a long history of people of privilege, who committed serious crimes, escaping justice. Roman Polanski has lived a free and fulfilling life, despite being charged with the sexual assault of a minor in 1977. In 1987, Matthew Broderick drove on the wrong side of the road when he was on holiday in Northern Ireland, hitting a car with a mother and daughter - both of whom died from their injuries. The charge of causing death by dangerous driving was replaced with "careless driving" - and he received a fine of $175.

Chris Brown bit, punched, choked and threatened to kill girlfriend Rihanna, but escaped with a suspended sentence and community service.

Then there's Jimmy Savile and Bill Cosby who believe that their status makes them invincible and unanswerable to justice. And, of course there's the most infamous celebrity race case of all time, the circus that was the trial of OJ Simpson.

So, while race matters, celebrity, privilege and gender matter more. It may be a white man's world, but if you're wealthy and famous enough, then it can be your world too.

Sunday Independent

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