Judge Sentences Man to Write Essay on Lynching


This is a rather disturbing story. 19 year old Matthew Herrmann was arrested in January for luring a black student into a house, putting a noose around his neck, calling him a nigger and threatening him with a knife, all to get him to stop talking to a white girl. And he was allowed to plead guilty to a much lesser charge and get a bizarre sentence:

Herrmann had been charged with felony counts of committing a hate crime, but a judge on Wednesday agreed to a plea deal that lets him off with two years of probation for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.

Criminal Court Judge James Linn said that Herrmann would also have to write an essay on the history of lynching in the U.S. and then read it in a “peacemaking circle” with victims, family, clergy and school counselors.

Herrmann doesn’t seem to have any understanding of the problem:

They didn’t give me a word count,” Herrmann told the Chicago Tribune. “I guess I’ll just do a three-page average paper that I would do for school.”

But the teen also said that the entire incident was “largely” blown out of proportion.

“Because as the judge said, he didn’t even feel it was a racial thing,” Herrmann pointed out. “He felt it was a personal thing.”

I don’t care what the motivation was, there needs to be jail time. This sentence is absurd.

Comments

  1. Larry says

    Now who could possible consider his actions racially motiviated? I mean, that’s crazy talk!

  2. says

    I don’t care what the motivation was, there needs to be jail time. This sentence is absurd.

    In light of the other posts on this blog about the problems with the criminal law system and the prison system in the US, are you sure?

  3. kenbo says

    Since the perp has to read it out loud to everyone, perhaps he should have been sentenced to a Power Point presentation on lynching instead of a term paper. Or write a one-act, one-person play on his crime and perform it for them. Or perhaps an interpretive dance number?

  4. karmacat says

    I agree the judge and the punishment are inappropriate. However, I always found writing essays painful and would think a place like jail would just be more relaxing

  5. says

    I am reminded of the old story of the food vendor who sued a man for walking by every day and enjoying the smell of the food, but purchasing nothing. The judge agreed that this was unfair, and sentenced the passer-by to allow the food vendor to smell the contents of his wallet.

    A “justice system” in which judges are able to implement their own quirky, solomonic, “justice” cannot be fair or impartial – no matter how cute and funny it may seem to be. This judge should be reprimanded.

    I wouldn’t have had the guy write an essay. I’d have convened a firing squad, marched him up against the wall, offered him a last cigarette, and then had the noncom yell “FIRE” as the squad fired a volley of blanks.

  6. doublereed says

    At first I thought it was because he was being treated as a child, which would be fine. But Nineteen years old???

    But in general, I think more rehabilitory practices are a good thing. I don’t think jailtime would necessarily be productive.

    Although, I will say that if it was a black guy doing that to a white guy, you bet that the sentence would include jailtime. They would have thrown the book at him.

  7. eric says

    I always found writing essays painful and would think a place like jail would just be more relaxing

    Oh sure. If you forget all that rape and violent assault you’re going to receive. And the fact that a felony conviction now excludes you from many good school and many good jobs (and, for us older fogies, possibly ends our careers, putting our family’s livelihoods in jeopardy). Also forgetting that many people come out of far more violent and anti-social than they were coming into it, and yes, you might end up being one of them.

    Other than that stuff, yeah, relaxing.

  8. janiceintoronto says

    Unfortunately, judgements like this give plenty of good ammunition to the folks who push for mandatory sentences.

    Madness…

  9. says

    Better than prison, if this is a first offense then a bunch of community service hours (i.e. several weeks worth) in a place where he would be forced to work with and interact with a bunch of minority people would seem to have been in order, coupled with a course of counselling.

  10. neonsequitur says

    It’ll likely turn out to be a very “cruel and unusual” experience for everyone who’s forced to listen to this young man reading his essay out loud. I’m thinking that’s gonna be a real howler.

  11. frog says

    Will the judge be grading the essay? If it’s just a lot of bullshit that doesn’t demonstrate the guy learned anything, will the judge make him do it over?

    As a “Dude, you are ignorant if you don’t understand the problem here, so we’re going to force you to get an education” approach, I can understand this. It should include some punitive aspect as well (community service, fines, perhaps a short jail stint), but I can imagine what the judge is trying to do.

    But if it fails to have the desired effect, i.e., cause the perpetrator to say, “Oh shit, what the hell did I do? That is AWFUL!” then it’s a serious miscarriage of justice.

    And I definitely agree with the folks upthread who think this never would have gone the other way if it had been a black man committing a similar crime on a white man.

  12. eric says

    frog @13:

    As a “Dude, you are ignorant if you don’t understand the problem here, so we’re going to force you to get an education” approach, I can understand this.

    I can’t. Its assault with a deadly weapon (maybe two charges: one for the knife, one for the noose). Okay, let me modify that. I could see the essay AND somethnig like community service. But there’s no way this guy should get out of some reasonable punishment. He threatened strangulation and forced the victim to put a noose around his own neck at knife point. You really think an essay is an appropriate response to that?

    karmacat: nope, I didn’t realize that. Sorry I misinterpreted.

  13. says

    I’m sure that the young man was just joking. It was a FUCKING JOKE, can’t you people take a joke? JESUS! Some of my best friends are people I fakelynch!!

    I would have volunteered to slap that smarmy fuck stupid, and the kid as well.

  14. says

    I’m all for creative sentencing, but…. no.

    You don’t hold a black guy at knife-point, threaten him with death (or bodily harm), put a noose around his neck (an act explicitly meant to refer back to lynchings, and very clearly meant to terrorize the black community*), and get off with a fucking essay about the history of lynchings.

    Oh, and “not racially motivated”, MY WHITE ASS!

    *I do believe that qualifies this incident as a hate-crime, yeah.

  15. Childermass says

    He would have been ****ed if he was the black man and the victim was the white man. I am damn sure the sentence would not have been some pathetic essay.

  16. loren says

    Matthew Herrmann was arrested in January for luring a black student into a house, putting a noose around his neck, calling him a nigger and threatening him with a knife, all to get him to stop talking to a white girl.

    This description either omits or gets wrong several details that may have impacted the judge’s decision:

    1) Herrmann wasn’t acting alone; he did this along with a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old. Both of them have also been charged, albeit as juveniles.

    2) Rather significantly, contrary to what Ed wrote above, Herrmann didn’t threaten anyone with a knife. It was the 16-year-old who did that, and he was charged with aggravated battery and aggravated assault because of it. And the 16-year-old didn’t use the knife inside the house; he followed the victim out into the street, and that’s where the knife threat took place.

    3) The girl wasn’t just “a white girl.” It was the 16-year-old’s cousin. (The house was also the 16-year-old’s house.) Was the incident racially motivated? That seems rather likely. But it centered around a family member, not just some random white classmate.

    4) While there seems to be a lot of disapproval of the sentence, you know who’s satisfied with the outcome of the trial? The victim and his family.

  17. aluchko says

    I’m actually willing to trust the judges interpretation that it wasn’t racially motivated. They article emphasizes race but the people involved didn’t necessarily care.

    What about an alternate interpretation. The victim was borderline harassing the girl, the girl complains to her cousin, who talks to his friends and they make a plan to scare off the victim. They threaten to hang him and yell epitaphs because that scares people.

    It’s certainly consistent with a racially motivated incident, but it’s also consistent with a bunch of kids being stupid.

  18. TxSkeptic says

    Oh come on now, seriously? You want jail time for this guy. All he did was false imprisonment, and threaten to lynch and stab the guy. It’s not like he was sitting around mellowing out with a blunt, now that shit’ll earn you some serious time.

  19. xmaseveeve says

    It sends out the wrong message. I find it very shocking. You don’t warn someone off with a noose. If the girl was being stalked, you go to the police.

  20. says

    @21:

    “1) Herrmann wasn’t acting alone; he did this along with a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old. Both of them have also been charged, albeit as juveniles.”

    It was a conspiracy, then? and that makes him less culpable? Cuz, y’know, THEY DID IT TOO!

    “2) Rather significantly, contrary to what Ed wrote above, Herrmann didn’t threaten anyone with a knife. It was the 16-year-old who did that, and he was charged with aggravated battery and aggravated assault because of it. And the 16-year-old didn’t use the knife inside the house; he followed the victim out into the street, and that’s where the knife threat took place.”

    The noose evaporated? Or, are you saying that a threat with a noose is of lesser import than one using a knife?

    “3) The girl wasn’t just “a white girl.” It was the 16-year-old’s cousin.”

    That is irrelevant to the legal proceedings.

    “(The house was also the 16-year-old’s house.)”

    also irrelevant.

    “Was the incident racially motivated? That seems rather likely. But it centered around a family member, not just some random white classmate.”

    makes no difference, racially motivated hate crimes can be done to family members as welll as complete strangers.

    “4) While there seems to be a lot of disapproval of the sentence, you know who’s satisfied with the outcome of the trial? The victim and his family”

    This:

    “William Merritt, Joshua Merritt’s father, told the Chicago Tribune that he and his family approved of the outcome of the trial, and expressed hope that Hermann would learn something from act of writing an essay on lynching.”

    does not contain the word, “happy”.

    @23:

    “”It’s certainly consistent with a racially motivated incident, but it’s also consistent with a bunch of kids being stupid.”

    Wrong. It was a racially motivated incident, why else use racial slurs?

  21. loren says

    @26:

    “It was a conspiracy, then? and that makes him less culpable?”

    Hermann wasn’t the one who used a knife, so yes, that makes him less culpable. From the other articles, it sounds as if the knife might not have even been used in Hermann’s presence.

    And the 18-year-old Hermann being involved with a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old also gives some context to the sentencing. The other two, just slightly younger than Hermann, were charged as juveniles. It seems that there might have been an effort to sentence Hermann and the 17-year-old similarly.

    Now what’ll be interesting is how the 16-year-old is sentenced. He was the worst offender of the three, but he also is related to someone in the state’s attorney’s office.

    “The noose evaporated? Or, are you saying that a threat with a noose is of lesser import than one using a knife?”

    Yes, absolutely. Maybe you didn’t notice in the articles, but there’s no suggestion that the noose was *attached* to anything. It’s described as a piece of rope tied as a noose. It was a threat, yes, but it wasn’t a WEAPON.

    The knife, on the other hand, IS a weapon. And threatening someone with immediate and severe harm from a deadly weapon is worse than a symbolic threat. That’s why the 16-year-old was charged with aggravated assault and aggravated battery, and the other two weren’t.

    “That is irrelevant to the legal proceedings. ”

    You don’t think it’s relevant in sentencing? It certainly colors their motivation, in that it means they weren’t just some roving lynch mob telling black guys to stay away from any white girls. Moreover, that detail is a matter of clarity, as evidenced by the multiple news articles that state she was a cousin. The Daily Best just omitted that detail, choosing only to describe her as “a white girl.”

    “This…does not contain the word, “happy”. ”

    Who said it did? I said they’re satisfied, and the article says they “approved of the outcome.” Why do you need to see the specific word “happy” to believe that they’re OK with the result?

  22. says

    Gosh, Loren, you sound a lot like an apologist.

    The guy was a fucking asshole who, even if he had NOTHING to do with the actual assaults (you admit that there were at least two) was the ADULT by law. WTF?

    The noose wasn’t “attached” to anything? Tell ya what, have somebody who’s obviously quite pissed off at you drop a noose over your head and threaten to kill you. Let me know what color your shorts are after that exchange.

    It will be interesting to see what the penalty to the “juvie” with the knife is. IANAL, but I recall a shod foot or closed fist being cited as weapons. A noose around someone’s neck is, I suspect, even tougher to defend oneself against than a knife. So, I don’t buy one weapon being more deadly than the other. Also, the use of a noose implies “malice and pre-meditation” whereas the knife may been simply a weapon of opportunity.

    You’re right about the article not saying that the victim’s family was “happy” about the sentencing. It also doesn’t say that the victim himself “approved” of the judge’s actions. I wonder why the victim wasn’t asked/didn’t speak on his own behalf. It’s not as if his father is going to be going to school with him to answer the question when it comes up there.

    My personal feeling is that the smug prick who was convicted as an adult doesn’t seem to have learned a lesson. If he’s not learning and he’s not being severely penalized for a hateful act and a crime, wtf is the point of the process.

    Well, at least I haven’t heard that it was all the victim’s fault for being a teenager who spoke to someone’s white neice, against their wishes.

  23. baal says

    “But the teen also said that the entire incident was “largely” blown out of proportion.”

    I don’t even….
    It was assult, likely kidnapping, death threats and the mere mention of a noose let alone putting one on the guy invokes a very nasty bit history. I wasn’t at trial and almost certainly am operating under a limited understanding of the facts but this looks like a lot more than an ‘oopsy.’

    The harm here is far from speculative – it’s being terrorized* in a racially offensive fashion along with a laundry list of otherwise separable charges.

    *actual terror, not ‘code orange at the airport’ terror.

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