Man Who Threatened Ilhan Omar's Life Sentenced To Prison — But Here's What She Wanted Instead
In March of 2019, Patrick W. Carlineo Jr. of Rochester, New York, called up Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's office and, speaking to an aide, threatened to "put a bullet" in Omar's skull.
"Do you work for the Muslim Brotherhood? Why are you working for her, she's a [expletive] terrorist. Somebody ought to put a bullet in her skull. Back in the day, our forefathers would have put a bullet in her [expletive]. ... I'll put a bullet in her [expletive] skull."
On Friday, Carlineo was sentenced to 366 days in prison, for the crimes of threatening to kill a United States official and being a felon in possession of a gun, with a chance to get out in 10 months on good behavior.
Now, if you were to hear that this was not exactly the outcome Omar had hoped for, you might assume that it would be because Carlineo's sentence — on the low end of the federally recommended 12-18 month sentencing for such a crime — was not harsh enough. In fact, it was the opposite. When Carlineo pleaded guilty in November of 2019, Omar sent a letter to Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr. saying that she wished for him to show compassion and not harshly sentence or fine Carlineo, because she did not think that would help anything.
That his threat of violence relied on hateful stereotypes about my faith only makes it more dangerous. This was not just a threat against me as an individual — it was a threat against an entire religion, at a time of rising hate crimes against religious minorities in our country.
But we must ask: who are we as a nation if we respond to threats of political retribution with retribution ourselves?
The answer to hate is not more hate; it is compassion. Punishing the defendant with a lengthy prison sentence or burdensome financial fine would not rehabilitate him. It would not repair the harm he has caused. It would only increase his anger and resentment.
A punitive approach to criminal justice will not stop criminals like Mr. Carlineo from committing a crime again or prevent others from committing similar acts. Only restorative justice can do that. He should understand the consequences of his actions, be given the opportunity to make amends and seek redemption.
While Omar is not a full-on prison abolitionist, she has advocated for sentencing reform and for restorative/rehabilitative justice to become the norm over simply punitive justice. Still, this was the kind of situation that many people would think might change someone's mind about that kind of thing, and she deserves a lot of credit for sticking to her values here. How we act when we are scared says more about our character than how we act when we are comfortable.
While Judge Geraci felt that he respected Omar's wishes — even with the plea agreement, he still had leeway to sentence Carlineo to up to three years and fine him up to $55,000 — Carlineo's attorney said he did not, saying that Omar only wished for him to have time served.
"In my view, a prison sentence is clearly contrary to the spirit of Congresswoman Omar's letter and to the views she's expressed more generally about criminal justice," said attorney Sonya Zoghlin. "It's clear she views incarceration as a last resort — a punishment to be used sparingly and only when necessary to protect the community. This is not one of those cases."
While Omar hasn't yet responded to news of the sentencing, I think it is fair to say that neither of these things were what she wanted. Twenty-nine days in a Rochester, New York, jail is far from what one might call "rehabilitative" — as someone who is from there, and who knows people who have been in that system, I assure you it is not. While 366 days is not the harshest sentence he could have received, it is also not going to be "restorative."
So let's talk about what that does look like.
The way things work in the traditional justice system in the United States is that people get sentenced to prison for however long, and then sent back out on the streets. The five year recidivism rate for those in state prisons in the US is 76.6 percent. That is pretty bad! Our prisons are terrible and miserable and we all know they make things worse. They're certainly the last place you'd want to send anyone accused of a hate crime in order to make them less likely to commit another hate crime. And remember — one of Patrick W. Carlineo's crimes was possessing a firearm as a felon. He had already been in prison, and then he came out, and then at some later point, he threatened Ilhan Omar's life.
Restorative justice is not a set program, but rather a holistic approach to criminal justice centered on rehabilitation and restitution to victims and communities.
As the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation explains:
Restorative justice is a response to crime that emphasizes healing the wounds of victims, offenders, and communities caused or revealed by the criminal behaviour. It is a more comprehensive way of thinking about crime, one that values: inclusion of all parties, encounters between those parties, accountability demonstrated by making amends, and reintegration of all parties as contributing members of their communities.
This approach includes victim-offender mediation, where the victim of the crime or members of the community affected by the crime engage in a discussion with the offender to explain the harm the crime has caused them and to talk about what they need in order to feel whole again. The offender is then meant to make amends to the victims, in ways that can include community service, monetary compensation, getting therapy or rehabilitation, etc., and then those involved look at how the offender can be reintegrated into the community and be held accountable for their behavior. It can be combined with prison sentences or used in lieu of sending people to prison.
This may sound like some hippy-dippy bullshit, but studies have found that criminal justice systems that incorporate principles of restorative justice as part of their practices have lower recidivism rates. Those same studies have also found that restorative justice leads to higher victim satisfaction and offender accountability than retributive justice does. While restorative justice is embraced most strongly by prison abolitionists, it is also popular among advocates of prison reform.
For the restorative-justice-focused Scandinavian prison systems, particularly in places like Norway where the sentences are short, prison cells look like college dorms, guards are encouraged to befriend prisoners, and which seem like fancy resorts compared to US prisons, their five year recidivism rate is 20 percent. To be clear, 20 percent is much lower than 76.6 percent.
Clearly, just tossing people in prisons for extended periods of time and then hoping for the best when they get out is not a thing that works very well, even if it seems like "common sense."
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse