So, does this disparity in convictions prove that America’s justice system is racist? If we take this meme at face value, it would appear that it proves what Leftists, progressives, and social justice warriors have been saying – America’s justice system is racist. I found this meme on Facebook. It was shared by one of my more progressive/SJW Facebook friends. In his opinion, this disparity in sentencing is proof of something. Truth be told, did not say what he believes this to be proof of. Knowing him like I do, I believe I know what he was hinting at with his Facebook post. I strongly believe that my friend thinks that the disparity in sentences between these two woman shoes that America’s judicial system in inherently racist and guided by systemic white supremacy.
Crystal Mason Arrest and Conviction
Let’s first take a look at Crystal Mason of Texas. Going only by the information in the meme, we are to believe that this poor African-American woman didn’t know that she wasn’t allowed to vote because of a previous felony. For her crime, a judge in Texas gave Crystal five years in prison. What makes it worse is that this poor woman didn’t know that she wasn’t allowed to vote, according to the meme.
Terri Lynn Rote Arrest and Conviction
According to the meme, Terri Lynn Rote of Iowa tried to vote for Donald Trump twice in the 2016 election. This is illegal. Instead of the five-year sentence that Crystal Mason received, a judge in Iowa ordered Ms. Rote to be on probation and pay a $750 fine. At face value, the meme seems to imply that Ms. Rote got a much lighter sentence than Ms. Mason for a similar crime.
Most Popular Social Media Memes
Admittedly, I tend to get pissed off when I see memes such as this one shared on Facebook. These memes are hardly ever 100 percent accurate in their depiction of events, yet they tend to be wildly popular. Here’s why: The information presented in them almost always appeals to the confirmation bias of the person who shares the meme. In case you’ve forgotten what confirmation bias is, here’s a refresher:
- Confirmation Bias: The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. (Also called “confirmatory bias” or “myside bias.”)
In layman’s terms, if you already believe that our country’s justice system is inherently racist, then this meme will confirm what you already believe. You’ll have no need to research the situation any further; instead, you’ll click “share” and slap some type of angry, virtue signaling rant with it. Your post will no doubt get likes and shares from people who share this bias about America’s legal system. Unfortunately, this is both ignorant and intellectually lazy.
Social Media Political Memes
The biggest reason why this meme is bullshit is because it offers a classic apples to oranges comparison. Despite how much Ms. Mason and Ms. Rote’s crimes appear to be the same, they are not. Facebook has no shortage of these “apples to oranges” comparisons and all the socio-political ramifications that this implies. While few people take the time to research the facts before they click “share,” I’m happy to break this meme down for you.
Here are eight reasons why the Crystal Mason/Terri Lynn Rote meme is bullshit:
- At the time of her election crime, Crystal Mason of Fort Worth was on probation for a 2012 tax fraud conviction. (She pleaded guilty to inflating returns for her clients.) She was on community supervision at the time of the election, thus wasn’t eligible to vote under Texas law.
- No article I read indicated that Ms. Rote had had any felony convictions prior to her arrest for election misconduct. Generally speaking, judges tend to be more lenient toward first-time offenders than they do for repeat offenders.
- Ms. Mason’s five-year sentence might be the remainder of her time left to serve on the previous charge, or it could be an enhanced sentence due to her previous conviction. (Newspaper articles on the subject were unclear as to which.)
- Ms. Rote could have had better legal representation than Ms. Mason. A competent attorney could hammer out a plea agreement such as the one Ms. Rote received: two years probation and a $750 fine.
- Texas and Iowa likely have different sentencing guidelines for these crimes, which would add to why there is such a disparity between the sentencings of these two individuals. Further, the Washington Post reported that Texas is “cracking down” on voter fraud. This also probably played a factor in Ms. Mason’s sentence.
- According to Ms. Mason’s attorney, no one, not even her probation officer, told her that being a felon on supervision meant she could not vote. The meme makes a point of saying this, perhaps to make Ms. Mason appear to be the victim of a racist judicial system.
- Just because Ms. Mason says that no one told her that she couldn’t vote doesn’t make it true. I mean, she was originally convicted for tax fraud! (The meme’s creator seems to take Ms. Mason’s word as gospel.)
- Ms. Rote told authorities that her crime was a “a spur-of-the-moment thing” when she passed a satellite voting location. She also said that she didn’t know what came over her at the time. Why was this not mentioned in the meme? The meme’s creator definitely considered it a priority for Ms. Mason. (Like Ms. Mason, Rote’s excuses might also be lies told in a hope to lessen the perceived severity of her crime.)
I Hate Social Media Memes
So, is our justice system inherently racist? If it is, this meme doesn’t prove it. Social media memes are bad because the content in them is often deliberately deceptive. These things are designed by clever people who know how to play to people’s emotions and cognitive biases, particularly confirmation bias. Despite glaring inaccuracies, fast and loose “facts,” and a rather obvious agenda, people believe these memes. They share them as “proof” the righteousness of their causes. If you’ve gotten this far, I hope that this blog post will at least convince you to look into these things a bit deeper. Do your research. If the meme holds up to the rigors of fact, then by all means share it. If it doesn’t, then I wouldn’t recommend sharing it. You wouldn’t want someone like me saying that you’ve been played for a fool, would you?
About J.P. Ribner, Indie Author
J.P. Ribner is the author of the Viking fantasy adventure series, The Berserker’s Saga. Currently, the saga features three novels – Legacy of the Bear, Prophecy of the Bear, and The Berserker’s Return. He’s also in the process of editing Wasted Youth: A Flint Punk Rock Memoir. Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, J.P. now lives in the Metro Detroit area with his wife and three sons.