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  • Writer's pictureJ. L. Day

Two Women, Same Crime, Same State, Different Outcome

In Florida, white 21-year-old Leslie Brooke Messina hit her ex-boyfriend with her car. Around the same time and in the same state, Hispanic 18-year-old Yazmin Pasley tried to hit her boyfriend with her car. Despite the relatively same ages and situations, the ways these two crimes were handled by the media and the criminal legal system were far different.

 

The Story: Messina


In the sparely written Messina article, of which there was only one templated story distributed across a couple of local news sites, little is given on the context of the incident. Nonetheless, there are still attempts to present Messina as a "crazy ex-girlfriend". Primarily, this assessment is based upon the inclusion of an accusation of pet abuse by Messina. This specific detail appears unnecessary to the larger story unless its purpose was to present Messina in a certain light. Indeed, a story that described the initial argument as over "a disagreement concerning the victim's pet" would have expressed just as much without implying that Messina beat her ex's dog.


The Story: Pasley


The stories describing Pasley's crimes are notably more prevalent, varied, and detailed. In this article, much more detail is given on a very similar crime to Messina's. Granted, there appear to have been additional witnesses to this crime, in contrast to the Messina case. Similarly, similar "crazy ex" stereotypes are prevalent. High emphasis is placed on Parley's conduct and rhetoric.

 

The Charges


Here are the charges brought against each woman:


Messina: "aggravated battery-use of a deadly weapon", released on a $1,000 bond following one night in jail, Nolle prosequi announced [simply put, charges dropped]


Pasley: "domestic violence-aggravated assault with a deadly weapon", "leaving the scene of a crash involving damage to unattended property", "leaving the scene of a crash involving injury and reckless driving", sent to jail but current status unknown


Messina, who is white, had her singular charge dropped by the state. Pasley, who is Hispanic, faced three charges for a very similar crime. Remember, Messina also left the scene of the crime and actually hit her ex (Pasley hit a bench with her car). It is also important to remember that both of these crimes occurred in Florida. Two woman, same state, same crime, different race, 3x the charges for the Hispanic woman.


It is impossible not to see this as an issue of systemic racism by the state. Should one even attempt to argue that class plays the more important role here—although class information is not readily available in this case—the close relationship between race and class makes this argument moot. In other words, perhaps Messina had a family who could afford to hire legal representation who could push the state towards the nolle prosequi determination. If she did, this economic privilege came as a result of her race.

 

Conclusion


Overall, these two cases outline both the ways in which gender and race are handled by the modern media and criminal legal system. The media was most focused on the gendered aspects of these crimes. The "crazy ex" stereotype was most prevalent in their description of both stories. Race plays a role as well. The amount of description and overall expansion of the story in the Pasley case follows the pattern in American media of over representing Hispanic people in crime stories. Unsurprisingly, race becomes even more pronounced in the considerations of the criminal legal system, where the singular, dropped Messina charge is difficult to be explained in any other way.


Such marked difference in similar cases should be the bedrock of arguing for the systemic overhaul of the American approach to crime. However, when the gender and racially disparages so prevalent in the system are pointed out, they are often ignored. Continuing to highlight stories such as the ones here—and their signifiant differences—is important to keeping the conversation going.


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