On April 15, 2018, two white men, 30-year-old Dusty Leo and 37-year-old Maurice Diggins, were outside a bar in Portland, Oregon, when Diggins spotted a Black man and punched him in the face breaking his jaw while shouting racial slurs at him. After that, the two white men drove to Biddeford and stopped at a 7-Eleven where Diggins randomly confronted another Black man and Leo approached him from behind and broke his jaw as well.
Both white men were charged with federal hate crimes, but only one of them received an appropriate sentence while the other became a picture-perfect example of how white privilege and perceived white innocence works in our justice system.
According to the Portland Press Herald, Diggins took his case to trial and was found guilty of two counts of committing hate crimes and one count of conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen rightfully sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
Leo, on the other hand, pleaded guilty in February 2020 to one count of conspiracy and one count of committing a hate crime and was sentenced to three years in prison and three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay more than $15,000 in restitution to the victims.
Even if one were to believe Leo’s sentence was proportionate to his crimes, the judge’s reasons for giving him a far lighter sentence is likely to raise the eyebrows of Black people who have never witnessed Black offenders, especially adult offenders, being handled with kid gloves and coddled the way this white man was.
“It is very clear to me that Mr. Diggins acted because he hates Black people,” Torresen said. “He is a white supremacist. He has tattoos all over him saying the same. For you, it appears the motivation is much more complicated. First of all, I know you were intoxicated. Secondly, you were totally in the thrall of Maurice Diggins. You sought approval. You wanted to make him proud, and apparently, you did make him proud when you pounded the face of an unsuspecting Black man who did you no harm.”
I’m sorry, but are we forgetting that Leo is a whole adult? Is a man who was in his late 20s at the time of the attacks not plenty old enough to recognize the wrong in violence and racism? Did Diggins, who is Leo’s uncle, put a gun to Leo’s head and make him break a Black man’s jaw?
And what does Leo being “intoxicated” have to do with anything? Since when is that an excuse legal officials will give anyone in defense of their actions? If you can charge motorists with DUI because they bear full responsibility for making the decision to drink and get behind the wheel, then you don’t get to go with a “blame it on the alcohol” narrative when it comes to a violent racist doing violent racist things.
Torresen is acting as if Leo was a child being influenced by an adult and not a near-30-year-old following someone who is just seven years older than him.
Listen, if the judge wanted to give Leo points for pleading guilty and taking responsibility for what he’d done, that’s fine, but a seven-year difference in sentencing for someone who basically committed the same crimes Diggins did is ridiculous.
Nina LeClair, the mother of Leo’s son, also testified that “The Dusty I know is not a racist,” and that “He loves everything. He’ll take the shirt off his back for anyone.”
And this, my friends, is how whiteness works. In the minds of the melanin-deficient, even the act of a clearly racially motivated hate crime isn’t enough to definitively prove racism.
According to the Herald, the judge also allowed Leo—who has been out of custody since his 2018 arrest—to wait until November to turn himself in to begin his sentence.
Sometimes I just really hate it here.