Fourteen years ago, the dreams of a promising African-American football player were shattered as he sat in a courtroom patiently awaiting a sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.
Long Beach Polytechnic High School football star Brian Banks was convicted of rape back in 2002. Just 16 years old at the time, Banks was charged as an adult and received a sentence of six years behind bars. His accuser finally came forward in 2012 to recant her allegations, and the football star was exonerated for the crime.
According to the New York Daily News, Banks had served five years and two months of his sentence by that time. He also served an additional five years of parole.
Now a free man working for the NFL, Banks has been sure to follow the high-profile rape case involving Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. The college athlete was convicted on three felony counts stemming from a 2015 sexual assault on an unconscious, inebriated female, the New York Daily News reports.
Banks, along with the rest of the country, was appalled when Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to six months in the county jail Friday, for fear that prison time would have a “severe impact” on the young athlete.
“I think he will not be a danger to others,” Persky said.
According to the New York Daily News, Turner could have his sentence reduced to three months if he stays on his best behavior. He’ll have to register as a sex offender upon his release, however.
Of course, Turner’s light sentence and sympathetic treatment from the judge is a stark contrast from what Banks experienced all those years ago. Banks argues that no one ever took into consideration the effect prison would have on him, a young, Black, innocent man. He also asserts that privilege is behind Judge Persky’s mercy on the 20-year-old Stanford swimmer.
“I would say it’s a case of privilege,” Banks told the New York Daily News. “It seems like the judge based his decision on lifestyle. He’s lived such a good life and has never experienced anything serious in his life that would prepare him for prison. He was sheltered so much he wouldn’t be able to survive prison. What about the kid who has nothing, he struggles to eat, struggles to get a fair education? What about the kid who has no choice who he is born to and has drug-addicted parents or a non-parent household? Where is the consideration for them when they commit a crime?”
The football star faced 41 years to life for the rape conviction and turned down a number of plea deals for 25, 18 or nine years behind bars before the judge finally sentenced him to six years in 2002, the publication reports.
“Do I plead to a crime that I did not commit and receive a small sentence or do I roll the dice, risk my entire life behind bars for a crime I didn’t commit?” Banks said. “I realized that day, regardless of whatever my decision was, neither one of them was going home an innocent man.”
Banks also recalled that on the day of jury selection, he was told that he probably wouldn’t get a trial because “I was a big, Black teenager and the jury would be an all-white jury and they would automatically assume me as guilty.”
The New York Daily News reports that Turner, who is white, could have been sentenced to a maximum of 14 years behind bars. Judge Persky’s sentence came up short, as prosecutors were seeking a six-year term, according to Raw Story.
“You know a man is guilty, so why aren’t we unleashing half of the punishment that was unleashed on Brian Banks when he was innocent and there was no evidence?” Banks stated. “They gave me six years. They gave him six months.”
After a promising football career and 10 years of his life were snatched away, Banks is now an employee at the NFL’s Department of Operations and works as a board member for the California Innocence Project, which helped to clear his name, the New York Daily News reports. The former football star is also a life coach and delivers inspirational speeches. He said his traumatic ordeal has helped him identify with Turner’s victim in a way.
“I wasn’t physically raped, but I was raped in a sense of my freedom,” Banks said. “I was kidnapped, taken against my will, placed in a box for five years and two months. I was denied all human rights. When I screamed and pleaded and begged, it fell on deaf ears. It’s a different form of being assaulted and taken advantage of. I know what she is going through.”