Turner is the former Stanford swimmer who was convicted earlier this year of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in the middle of the night near a dumpster on campus. He tried to flee when confronted by two passersby.
On Friday, he was released after serving three months of a six-month sentence.
Turner became a case study in the privilege often afforded to young, wealthy white men. He faced up to 14 years. Prosecutors pushed for six years. Turner was sentenced to six months by a lenient judge. Now, after serving half that, he’s a free man, albeit with three years of probation.
Meanwhile, there’s another story of a promising athlete whose career withered after he was accused of sexual violence. Banks, however, was a young, black football player who didn’t come from a privileged family and a wealthy neighborhood.
Turner served just three months after being convicted of sexual assault. Banks served five years after a high school classmate accused him of rape in 2002, a charge she later recanted.
But before we go on, some context about sexual violence and the criminal justice system: Less than four in 10 rapes are reported to police, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, and just six of every 1,0000 rapists serves jail time; meanwhile, experts say false accusations of rape are extremely rare.
But Banks was an exception.
Exonerated only by a Facebook friend request
The year is 2002. Banks is a touted high school linebacker in Long Beach, California, with recruiting interest from college football powers including USC.
Then a classmate accused him of raping her in a school stairwell Banks was 16 years old. He was tried as an adult and faced up to 40 years in prison. He claimed innocence, but took a plea deal. Game over for 10 years, at least.
Banks served five years in prison and five more on probation as a registered sex offender. His accuser then sent him a friend request on Facebook and said she wanted to meet for closure. Over two secretly recorded meetings, she admitted what Banks had been insisting for a decade: He was innocent. His conviction was overturned in May 2012.
Banks told reporters at the time that he’d taken the plea deal 10 years prior on the advice of his lawyer.
“She told me I was a big black teenager and no jury would believe anything I said,” he said.
Now contrast his treatment with that of Turner.
Late one night in January 2015, two Stanford students passing by on bicycles found 21-year-old Turner on top of a 23-year-old woman on the ground near a campus dumpster. He tried to flee, but the students caught him and he was arrested.
Turner was convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault: sexual penetration of an intoxicated person, sexual penetration of an unconscious person and assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person.
But his father wrote a letter to Judge Aaron Persky in which he argued that “20 minutes of action” shouldn’t result in a long sentence. Persky himself said he feared the “severe impact” prison could have on Turner when he sentenced the former swimmer to just six months in jail.
While Banks was a teenager tried as an adult, Turner was cast by powerful people as a good kid who made a mistake.
Turner’s victim read a powerful statement in court in which she said Turner “has only apologized for drinking and has yet to define what he did to me as sexual assault, he has revictimized me continually, relentlessly. He has been found guilty of three serious felonies and it is time for him to accept the consequences of his actions. He will not be quietly excused.”
Outrage spread at Persky’s lenient sentence. The survivor’s letter prompted public statements of support from Vice President Joe Biden, among many others. But Biden and internet commenters are far from the only people disgusted by Turner’s treatment.
Banks, the falsely accused football player from Long Beach who is now a speaker and activist, sees a double standard at play.
“It definitely boils down to privilege,” Banks said in a CNN interview earlier this summer. “But I think it’s different facets of privilege. Its not just privilege by race, but it’s also privilege by money. What’s your economic background? What’s your lifestyle? What’s your upbringing? The sad part about this is Brock was sentenced based on his lifestyle, based on his upbringing.”
‘Pushed along through court as if I didn’t exist’
Banks, through his own experience, has a unique perspective.
“I was pushed along through court as if I didn’t even exist,” he said. “I was a number.”
Turner was caught in the act of sexual assault, convicted and served six months after being humanized in court as a sensitive young man who made a mistake.
Banks, who says he was rushed through the justice system, served five years for something that never happened.
As Banks himself put it on CNN following Turner’s release: “I had to live through the consequences of those actions, and I didn’t even commit them.”
Unfortunately, that’s the American justice system: Different tracks for different people, all too often based on race and wealth.
You can watch Banks’ full interview using the video embedded below it’s well worth your time.