TAMPA, FLA. -- Critics are questioning whether a rapper who threw a kick at a fan in 2015 was railroaded in a Polk county courtroom Wednesday, and whether racism played a role in the sentencing of Kevin Gates.
Gates, 30, was caught on camera kicking a fan in the front row at a performance a little over a year ago.
On Wednesday, he was not only convicted of battery by an all-white jury, but his swift kick also got him a swift sentence of six months in jail.
Imagine, said Jay Harris of Tampa, who knows Gates’ music, if every time someone who threw a kick during a school brawl or even a Black Friday melee had to spend six months in jail.
“That's the case, you'd be locking people up for 6 months every damn day,” said Harris.
But a Polk County jury of six white women convicted Gates of kicking a female fan during a Lakeland concert in 2015. Gates had claimed self-defense.
The judge sentenced the 30-year-old entertainer, whose pants the woman had tugged on twice, to six months behind bars.
“Six months for that wasn't necessary,” said Harris. “And why would you have a jury of all white women?”
“She did him first. She touched him,” said Rosemary Green who criticized the sentence having watched the video.
It didn't take long for the Internet to light up with similar comments, including questions about whether Gates had been unfairly sentenced because of he's African-American.
The subject of institutional racism has been prevalent this year, even making its way into the presidential campaign.
In an advertisement from Hillary Clinton earlier this year, she said, in part:
“Something is just fundamentally broken when African-Americans are more likely to be arrested by police and sentenced to longer prison terms for doing the same thing that whites do.”
The difference here, say legal experts, is that once inside a courtroom, juries have to follow the letter of the law.
“When he kicked her. That's a battery,” said Tampa defense attorney Eric Taylor.
Personally, Taylor doesn't think Gates deserved six months. But Taylor is also a former prosecutor. The video and the law, he says, were clear-cut in this case. In any county. With any jury.
Given sentencing guidelines and Gates' past criminal record, the judge, says Taylor, could have given Gates a year behind bars.
“I don't see an element of race in the case,” said Taylor. “I only see you have a video right there. The video seems to be pretty clear.”
There's no question in Taylor's mind that institutional racism is still a big problem.
But in this case, he believes justice was at least color- blind.