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Sunday, May 9, 2021

At the sentencing of a Harlem ‘rapist,’ middle school students say they were targeted for racism

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But the feelings of isolation felt by hundreds of young people in Harlem weren’t limited to mourners outside the courthouse. The sight of a state prosecutor, who went by only his first name, being punched in the face during the three-day sentencing process often felt like a violation of the students’ civil rights.

“I would have liked to see a different judge in this case,” said Ricky Little, a 2015 graduate of the Harlem Village Academy charter school who was there when Williams was arrested last fall.

“I would have liked to see a judge who could see through the smears of his own race,” he said.

The trial stirred heated debates over the city’s police-brutality laws, race and class.

“Just sentencing for no reason, that had to be the simplest thing to do,” said Devonta Jefferson, another 2005 graduate of the academy.

Students called on the judge to place Williams on probation for a year and reject the guilty plea for which he entered on Wednesday. Williams — who is black — was convicted of first-degree criminal contempt, a misdemeanor, after he attended the trial of Dominique Hurd, a white college freshman who attended a 2011 Harlem Village Academy dance recital and posted videos of it on YouTube. Hurd’s videos, which set her singing to hip-hop music, went viral and caused a media frenzy, but ended with no criminal charges being filed. Williams testified that he wanted to shame Hurd into behaving.

“The police allowed him to sucker-punch him and they let that happen,” said Raven Maysonet, a 2015 graduate who was also at the court house on the day Williams was sentenced. “They thought, ‘Oh, that’s just his way. He’s a rapper,’ but we know that’s not how it works.”

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