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Capitol rioter Jenny Cudd's case proves white privilege defines our justice system

Capitol Rioter Jenny Cudd’s white privilege guarantees her far better treatment in our criminal justice system than if she were a person of color.
Image: Jenny Cudd wearing a cape that reads, \"Trump\" takes a photo with her phone amidst other rioters at the US Capitol's Rotunda.
Jenny Cudd and fellow supporters of former president Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include the fact that a judge ruled late on Friday to grant Jenny Cudd's request to leave the country for a pre-planned trip to Mexico.

Jenny Cudd didn’t think a little thing like being charged with two federal crimes for her role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol should stand in the way of her being allowed to travel to Mexico for a weekend retreat.

There’s nothing like employees frolicking with a Trump-loving insurrectionist to really enhance “bonding” in the workplace, right?

Cudd’s lawyer on Monday filed a motion to allow his client, who wore a Trump flag draped over her shoulders like a cape as she and thousands of others laid siege to the Capitol, to leave the country this month to attend a “work-related bonding retreat for employees and their spouses." There’s nothing like employees frolicking with a Trump-loving insurrectionist to really enhance “bonding” in the workplace, right?

Before the judge could rule on the request, a grand jury on Wednesday charged Cudd with three additional crimes, including a felony for obstructing a congressional proceeding, which carries up to 20 years in jail. Given the additional charges, you would think Cudd’s application for a Mexico vacation would’ve been denied. But late on Friday, a judge granted Cudd’s request to leave the country to attend her getaway.

As outrageous and nauseating as that ruling sounds, no one should be surprised. Cudd was simply following her instinct that as a white person she has privileges — privileges that people of color don’t.

And, painfully, she’s right — especially when it comes to our criminal justice system. As we see time and again in the news, and as numerous studies point out, white people are treated far better than people of color, from their first interaction with law enforcement through sentencing.

Cudd’s case is a show-and-tell of how bad the system is. Even before the new charges were filed, she had been facing only two misdemeanors and was released on her own recognizance, without bail, and with minor conditions — such as not being able to leave the country without permission. This despite her bragging on social media shortly after the attack, saying “I f--king charged the Capitol today," and, "Hell yes, I am proud of my actions."

Cudd’s case is a show-and-tell of how bad the system is.

She also boasted, "We did break down Nancy Pelosi's office door." And after learning Capitol Officer Brian Sicknick had died from injuries sustained during the attack, she appeared on local media declaring defiantly, “I would do it again in a heartbeat."

Compare Cudd’s treatment to that of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old Black teenager arrested in New York City in 2010 after being charged with stealing a backpack. Since his family couldn’t afford the $3,000 bail, Browder — who always maintained his innocence — was sent to jail at Rikers Island. He remained there for three years, two of which were in solitary confinement, while he awaited a trial. Ultimately, the state dropped the case. But the psychological damage he suffered was devastating. Browder took his own life in 2015.

Browder was not part of a deadly attack on our Capitol that left a police officer dead and 140 other officers injured. He didn’t brag about committing the crime he was accused of, nor vow that he’d do it again, like Cudd has. Browder was accused of stealing a backpack. How do you think a judge would have responded if he had asked for permission to head to Mexico for a four-day retreat?

Numerous national and local studies have found that the racial disparity we see between Cudd and Browder’s case is not the exception, it’s the tragic norm. Black people are routinely charged with more serious crimes than white people for the same conduct.

The chance that a Black person would have a low-level charge against them dismissed was 68 percent lower than for a white person.

We see the same racial disparity when it comes to bail. As the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative laid out, “Black and brown defendants are at least 10 to 25 percent more likely than white defendants to be detained pretrial or to have to pay money bail.” The initiative also found that “Black and brown defendants receive bail amounts that are twice as high as bail set for white defendants.”

If Cudd is convicted, history also tells us she will receive a lesser sentence than if she were a person of color. A 2017 study from the United States Sentencing Commission found that Black men who commit the same crimes as white men receive federal prison sentences on average “nearly 20 percent longer.” These disparities were found “after controlling for a wide variety of sentencing factors,” including prior criminal history.

Part of the reason for that disparity, as a 2015 U.S. Department of Justice report found, was because the chance that a Black person would have a low-level charge against them dismissed was 68 percent lower than for a white person. That means it’s far more likely that Cudd will get a better plea deal than if she were Black.

So, while while we wait to see if Cudd will be held accountable for dangerous crimes, I guarantee that the public narrative, and likely the outcome, would have been extremely different from those of the many Black and brown people who have fallen through the cracks of the justice system. And unlike so many others, there's little reason for Cudd to fear for her life as a result of being in the criminal justice system.

If nothing else, hopefully Cudd’s case gives us a chance to reflect on these inequalities so that we can start to fix them. It’s long past time that the glaring injustices of our so-called justice system be addressed when it comes to racial disparities. We must make our system fair for people of color, and we must deter Cudd and others like her from ever thinking they can storm our Capitol again and not suffer severe consequences because of the color of their skin.