Commentary: Josh Brent’s Light Sentence Mocks Justice for All in America

Ex-Dallas Cowboy defensive lineman to serve just 180 days for driving drunk and killing a friend.

Posted: 01/29/2014 10:30 AM EST

Where is our outrage here? We’ve spent almost two weeks complainin’ about how thuggish Richard Sherman was. But regardless of how bad a dude Sherman, the smack-talking defensive back for the Seattle Seahawks, was, he’s no killer.

We can’t say the same for Josh Brent, a former defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys.

But we can say these two truths about Brent: He’s a drunk, and he got the kind of justice that all guilty Americans dream of. For how does a killer get 180 days in jail?

For the better part of 30 years, we have railed against drunk drivers. We have seen the horrific photos of the carnage a drunk leaves behind him; we’ve heard the TV spots that tell us: Drive drunk, you go to jail.

Yet 180 days isn’t the kind of punishment that fits the crime; it mocks justice; it shows justice can be bought — bought with the fat bankrolls that allow a guilty man to hire the best attorneys, men and women who will fight for his freedom even when he should not be free.

We ought not begrudge a Black man for spending whatever he can to stay out of prison, because prison is not a place any man wants to waste a minute of his life; so he fights for his freedom.

And Josh Brent, a repeat offender, fought hard. In the face of overwhelming evidence of his guilt, he walked away with a light sentence that could not be explained. He killed a man in December 2012, and I guess the fact the man, Cowboys teammate Jerry Brown, was Black meant his death didn’t amount to much.

In America, we have witnessed verdicts that defy logic. The O.J. Simpson murder trial in the 1990s comes to mind. To a lesser extent, the George Zimmerman verdict last summer does as well, but it had more to do with a heinous state law than jury or judge incompetence. Or, perhaps worst of all, is the intoxication manslaughter conviction in Texas in which a drunk teenager driver killed four people and won’t spend a day behind bars.

Such miscarriages of justice don’t stick with us the way our obsession with a football player’s post-victory bravado does. Nor do they make us step back and reassess what really matters in our lives.

The assessment, however, should be simple. What matters is the safety of the people we love; our health — physical and financial; and, to most Americans, our faith — in God, in our country and in our criminal justice system.

When the latter betrays us, we are lesser people because of it. We begin to have reasons to question just what the hell this American way is. We can’t shake from our minds how unjust 180 days in jail and a $10,000 fine are for a drunk’s decision to jump behind the wheel of his Mercedes S600, crash his car and kill his passenger.

A long stretch in prison won’t bring Jerry Brown back. Instead, it would serve as a warning to anybody else who gambles on driving drunk. To lose that gamble should cost a man a high price – higher than what men and women often get for shoplifting or other petty crimes.

A drunk should not be able to buy his freedom with slick lawyering and pleas for forgiveness. We all forgive, but we can’t forget that we might have been on the road the day Brent drove drunk. He could have killed us, just as he killed his teammate.

That’s where our obsession with arguing about what’s bad should be about. For if anything in life was thuggish or bad, it would be more of what Brent did than what Sherman said. 

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Follow Justice B. Hill on Twitter: @jbernardh

 (Photo: AP Photo/Pool/LM Otero, Pool)

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