American Courts, Media Treat Muslims Differently: Study
NEW YORK – A new study has revealed that American courts treat Muslims differently, giving perpetrators of ideologically motivated violence plot sentences four times longer than non-Muslims involved in similar cases.
“The findings of this report build and expand on existing research, and provides quantitative backing to many people’s instinctual perceptions of what has been going on in the media and in our legal system,” Kumar Rao, a fellow at ISPU and one of the co-authors of the report, told The Intercept on Thursday.
“As it relates to acts of ideological violence, there is, frankly, a double standard in how perpetrators are described in the media, as well as how they are treated in the courts.”
Rao was referring to the results of a new study titled “Equal Treatment? Measuring the Legal and Media Responses to Ideologically Motivated Violence in the United States.”
Released on Thursday by the Washington-based Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, or ISPU, the study found among perpetrators of violent plots, those who were perceived to be Muslim received sentences that were four times longer than non-Muslims in similar situations.
In cases involving Muslim defendants, the study found that prosecutors sought three times longer sentences than they did in comparable cases involving non-Muslim defendants, seeking an average of 230 months in prison, compared to 76 months.
Upon conviction, the sentences that Muslim defendants received were, on average, 211 months long, four times longer than the average 53-month sentences of non-Muslim defendants.
“What was really interesting is that in the majority of cases involving people perceived to be Muslim, the perpetrators were not acquiring weapons on their own, but were instead being provided with them by government agents — yet they were being charged more heavily,” said Carey Shenkman, also a fellow at ISPU and co-author of the report.
“Meanwhile, in cases involving non-Muslim perpetrators, you very often had people actually making explosives and stockpiling firearms. They didn’t need the FBI to go over and hand them weapons, because they already had them.”
The discrimination extended to media as cases of attempted violence by Muslims received 7 1/2 times more coverage from major media outlets, while successful plots were covered twice as much.
The report draws on public databases that compile information on acts of ideological violence attempted or carried out in the US between 2002 and 2015, including The Intercept’s Trial and Terror database, which tracks prosecutions of cases involving international terrorism.
The differences documented in the report help quantify a level of institutional bias in the legal system and media that many have argued exists in cases involving Muslim perpetrators.
“At heart, there is a question here of what we as a society deem threatening, and what we as a society are afraid of. What you often find is that when a crime is committed by a member of the dominant, privileged group in any society, it’s excused as an aberration, while crimes committed by members of an out-group are pathologized toward that group as a whole,” said Dalia Mogahed, the director of research at ISPU.
“This implicit bias finds its way into all our institutions, including courtrooms and the media.”
“It’s a self-perpetuating problem, and until we address it and stop making excuses, it’s not going to change.”