Colton Harris-Moore, the man dubbed the “Barefoot Bandit” because of a series of crimes he committed while bare foot, is to be indicted on Nov. 15 according to a U.S. district judge in Seattle.
The 19-year old Washington native had been a fugitive in the U.S. for two years after he allegedly committed property crimes in several jurisdictions across the country. He then stole a $340,000 private plane from an Indiana hangar, fleeing to the Bahamian island of Eleuthera. There, he crash landed and was detained on July 11–on a boat that he also stole.
Harris-Moore has gained some notoriety for being able to muscle past authorities for years. But has Harris-Moores’ race caused the media to down-play his criminal behavior, turning it into entertainment? More importantly, will race play a factor in his sentencing, which could take years and, over time, sway the court’s decision toward a lesser sentence?
As most media outlets bought this story to the public, Harris-Moore was constantly referred to as a teenager, even though he is a legal adult and far past the age of reason in most states. His criminal behavior is depicted as being naïve and understandably careless. The media has been guilty of making light of victimless crimes committed by white perpetrators before. Who could forget the “Barbie Bandits,” two Georgia women who robbed several Atlanta area banks in 2007?
The media consistently referred to the 19-year olds as teens, giving the whole ordeal a humorous element, as if to categorize it as “Strange News.” The women even appeared on ABC’s 20/20, months after they had appeared in court to assure the public that they were on a righteous path; likewise, Harris-Moore assured Bahamian authorities that “his life of crime was over.”
Pundits of news media could quickly highlight that when some of the same reports involve minority suspects, they are referred to as “men” and “women,” especially those around Harris-Moores’ age.
Advocates of equal justice can only hope that the joshing manner in which the media has treated the Harris-Moore story will not transfer into the courtroom, a place where a proven racial disparity has an ugly reputation. “He’s very eloquent, obviously a very intelligent young man,” said Bahamian police commissioner Ellison Greenslade of Harris-Moore. Calling him intelligent is an overstatement, as the coincidence of his skin color is probably a large reason why it took so long to capture him. After running away from a Renton, Wa. halfway house, he is suspected of burglarizing an undisclosed number of homes, stealing several cars and boats, at least five airplanes and one weapon; these are just crimes he allegedly committed in the U.S.
It is also worth noting that during his two-year run Harris-Moore left the country twice, including his flight to the Bahamas.
This is certainly not the behavior of an average American 17-year old, even those who come from an “unstable home” which Harris-Moore claims to have driven his behavior. If only the minorities that fill our prisons could have used that excuse to sway authorities–many in the justice system would be jobless.
Several jurisdictions are preparing to prosecute Harris-Moore. Many of them are small communities, places where a minority suspected of criminal acts of any nature they would be vigorously pursued and jailed before they skipped town, let alone fled the country. This wasn’t the case for Harris-Moore, an unsuspecting white male who, by virtue of his pigment, slipped past authorities, leaving scores of DNA behind while escaping bare foot.
Sadly, the racial implications involving his detainment will likely transmit into his trial. What’s worse is that the stagnancy of our crippled court system could soften the hearts of his sentencing judge [or judges, if federal courts don’t consolidate the several cases made against him in local courts] if his innocuous façade proves successful. It’s unquestionable. Racial disparities exist in the incarceration of minorities who commit property crimes like Harris-Moore. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2008 National Crime Statistics report shows that whites, the nation’s largest race group, dwarf minorities in the number of property crimes they commit and naturally so. But examining public records and prison detainment numbers, more minorities are convicted and incarcerated than whites for the same crimes, according to Malign Neglect: Race, Crime and Punishment in the U.S., by Michael Torny.
This is true for most crimes that are unfairly tied to minorities. And yet, with accessible countering evidence, the uneducated public still believes that minorities commit more crimes than whites.
Those who believe this unfounded claim will reference prison system demographics without hesitation, forgetting that white criminals who are brought before courts often have private counsel to represent them. Disenfranchised minorities are forced to settle with public counsels, who often fall under the cliché category, “overworked and underpaid,” according to a study conducted by the Institute for Children, Youth and Families at Michigan State University.
Since being caught, Harris-Moore has tried to seem as unthreatening as possible, which, despite his lengthy rap sheet, is a ploy the public has gobbled up. This is evident from the 85,000 fans belonging to a Facebook group created in his honor.
But Harris-Moores’ actions are nothing to make light of. He victimized several innocent people during his two years of eluding authorities, and somehow he has been transformed into a folk hero – a voice of people who aren’t excused, but are held less accountable for their criminal actions than their ethnic counterparts.