A Black Woman’s Life Was Ruined by a WhatsApp Image She Didn’t Even See

I don’t want to believe that when people of color are excessively punished for the flimsiest crimes, it’s related to race. I tend to over examine situations because I don’t want to be accused of pulling the race card. But sometimes there’s just no other reasonable explanation. These were my thoughts when I read the story of now disgraced African-Caribbean Police Superintendent Robyn Williams.

To make a long story short, Williams was one of several people on a WhatsApp group who received an unsolicited sexual image of a child. She never opened it, but her life is now in complete and utter shambles.

She had a stellar service record in law enforcement, is one of the most senior officers in all of Britain, had actually been given an award by the Queen. Word had it she was on the fast track to Scotland Yard. Further, there was no evidence that she opened the offensive image. Yet, all of that meant absolutely nothing. By the end of a litany of convictions, her career was ruined, and she is now on the registered sex offenders list – again, for having done nothing beyond be on a social media contact list.

The judge had the audacity to say: “It is a complete tragedy you find yourself in the position you now do.” I’ll say. It’s always a tragedy when a black head is on the block because it seems like there’s never a chance that the person holding the axe is going to do anything except swing away.

Why is a black body so much more deserving of harsh, often excessive punishment than any other? It’s infuriating. The judge purported to be sympathetic calling out his belief in her decency, yet he still “sentenced her accepting she had no sexual interest in children.” According to him, he had to improvise a sentence because of the “very unusual circumstances” of the case.

So, you had to ruin this woman because the situation was novel? No, you didn’t. Williams devoted her entire life to upholding the law. There was no precedent to support the bevy of convictions that were piled on her head. She was basically convicted by a jury for the suggestion of impropriety, for the suggestion of a crime. Did I mention that Williams is now a registered sex offender?

How is that even reasonable? I can’t help but come back to her exemplary service record, and the fact that there was no proof she did anything wrong. Yet, she’s ruined anyway.

To add insult to injury, she was sentenced to perform 200 hours of unpaid work with her job after 36 years of “stellar” service. What the hell is it with people and unpaid work? Does it make sense when someone’s career is in utter ruin to force them to work for free in addition to turning them into a criminal? Way to kick a sister when’s she’s already down. Granted, none of the articles I read said explicitly that she was fired from her job, but I think we can safely call that a done deal, if not now then soon.

It’s maddening. In any situation where there is a possibility vs. punishment, if the alleged perpetrator is black, you’re going down, hard, regardless of the evidence. There is no slap on the wrist. There is no consideration for extenuating circumstances. That privilege seems to be eternally reserved for people who are not of color. For black folks, it’s just, well, let’s pile it on. We need to make an example.

I shudder to think what black people would be able to accomplish if we were afforded the same level of privilege as our fairer skinned fellow humans. What would the jails, what would society look like, if we were afforded the same opportunity for leniency? But reputation and performance are often irrelevant – like, they literally count for nothing beyond a judge’s meaningless lip service on the heels of a ruinous series of convictions – when they’re attached to a black body.

That said, there are other lessons here.

First, people, stop sending fucked up images around via social media. Don’t just assume that somebody wants to see something questionable, like evidence of frickin’ pedophilia, no matter how outraged you are. It’s disgusting, presumptuous, and in cases like this one, distributing disturbing media is in fact a crime.

According to an article in The Guardian, “in England, cases have already established that messages sent on WhatsApp can be subject to disclosure during legal proceedings.” Admittedly Jennifer Hodge, the hapless idiot who ruined her sister’s life – did I mention that part? Sorry. It’s like the hits keep coming, right? – actually had a half way decent reason for sending her the image. Williams was a decorated member of law enforcement. Thus, she had the power to do something about it.

But not knowing she was doing something wrong, Hodge also sent it to 16 other people on her WhatsApp contact list. What was her reason for sharing it with them? Did she need consensus to confirm that personal outrage was justified over evidence of child abuse? Good grief.

Stop sending people unsolicited shit. Period. I don’t care if it’s a Christmas Tree chain letter. You are annoying people, potentially harassing them, and you may be exposing them to extreme risk. The law doesn’t care that you didn’t know you were doing anything wrong, that your intentions were good because you wanted a criminal caught. Hodge can confirm that. She and her partner, Dido Massivi, who initially gave her the image, were convicted right along with her poor sister.

My heart goes out to Williams. There’s talk of an appeal and signatures being gathered in support, but I have a horrible feeling, she’s screwed. I wonder if anything happened to the person who took the image of the child. You know, the real criminal?

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