Mosque Sentencing Brings a Mix of Views

As we expressed in our weekly column yesterday, if there is a restorative justice process, we believe that the probation sentence imposed on Lauren Kirk-Coehlo for her vandalism and desecration of the Islamic Center of Davis can be appropriate.  However, that is not a view universally shared.

Basim Elkarra of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) expressed the view, “Due to the impact on our community and to the damage to a house of worship, we believe that at least some jail time would have been appropriate.”

Hamza El-Nakhal, who had previously announced to the community that he had “already forgiven her in my heart” was concerned as well, as “walking out of this court free is very troubling not only to Muslims, but to African Americans and Latinos I have spoken with. If she’d expressed even some remorse, I’d be much more supportive.”

Many believe that Ms. Kirk-Coehlo benefited from what they saw as a racist system where a white person who perpetrated this crime was granted leniency: “If a person of color, or a Muslim committed the same crime – he would be locked up in maximum security rather than rehabilitated.”

We cannot dispute that possibility – but, as noted yesterday, the answer is to make sure we remedy the system by imposing fair sentences for all rather than imposing an unjust sentence simply because there have been other unjust sentences.

Sacramento Bee Columnist Marcos Breton weighs in.

He writes, “Perhaps if Kirk-Coehlo had vandalized a Catholic or Protestant church or an LBGT center, her legal outcome would have been different. But she damaged the faith home of people who often are seen as the most ‘other’ in our society, a view stoked by President Trump’s unsuccessful ‘travel ban’ …”

He too raises the possibility that “she had certain advantages with the legal system” pointing to her mother who is a retired administrative law judge, her interning for the Sacramento DA’s office, and being a UC Berkeley graduate.

He opines: “Still, it’s not enough. No one is suggesting the young woman should do six years in prison, but a six-month sentence would have been appropriate.”

He adds, “Hers was a message crime, designed to not only strike fear in those who worship at the Davis mosque, but in Muslims all over the region. The judge should have sent a message as well with a harsher sentence, one that said stated clearly that religious persecution will not be tolerated in our community.

“Will there be outrage based on her sentence?” he asks.  “Probably not much. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be.”

On the flipside of Mr. Breton’s well-considered points are those of Santa Clara County Deputy Public Defender Sajid Khan, himself a Muslim

He argues, “The culture of mass incarceration has warped our psyches into thinking that lengthy jail or prison terms are always the answer to criminal behaviors.  They’re not.   This culture of mass incarceration has so shaped our minds that when a judge, like Judge Maguire in this case, undertakes a holistic sentencing analysis that accounts for both the victim and the convicted, we still insist on arbitrary, lengthy terms of incarceration as the response to crime.   We have to move beyond the misguided metric of incarceration equaling justice.”

He continues, “The old adage ‘you do the crime, you do the time’ needs to change to ‘you do the crime, you will receive a sentence which may or may not include incarceration that takes into account the gravity of the offense, the impact on the victim, public safety, your background & circumstances and your rehabilitation.’”

Mr. Khan also argues, “Ms. Kirk-Coehlo didn’t walk out of court ‘free’ nor did she get off easy.  She, as noted previously, received eight months jail with formal, felony probation for five years.  Anyone questioning the severity of eight months jail should spend one night in jail and then tell me she got off light.  Any amount of confinement in a decrepit cage should never be diminished.”

He argues that taken in totality the sentence, which includes all sorts of limitations on her freedom, is “not exactly lenient.”  He argues, “The gravity of the offense isn’t diminished nor are prospective offenders any less deterred because she received a couple months or years less in custody than the DA and some community members wanted.

“I understand that many in the Davis Muslim community are concerned for their safety and the safety of their children.  Ms. Kirk-Coehlo’s exhibited callous, chilling behavior (was) matched by very worrisome dogma and ideology in her social media and internet activity,” he says.  But he argues, “That said, caging Ms. Kirk-Coehlo for any longer, be it a couple more months or years, would not enhance public safety.  Arguably, it would put the community more at risk.”

This is the key point: “[L]et’s not kid ourselves; our jails and prisons aren’t treatment facilities or mental health clinics.   Worse than that, our means and methods of incarcerating people often further traumatizes them and embeds the mentalities that brought them into the cross-hairs of the criminal courts in the first place.”

He adds, “The Judge reasonably believed that Ms. Kirk-Coehlo’s rehabilitative prospects, along with the promotion of public safety, would best be achieved in the community, not in jail.”

Further, he argues that Muslims should be working to dismantle “the culture of mass incarceration, not perpetuating it.”

He writes, “CAIR in particular, as a self-described civil rights organization and widely considered and called upon as the voice of the American-Muslim community, must figure out their stance on issues related to our means and methods of criminal justice. When CAIR and mosque representatives call for more jail time, we validate our broken system of criminal (in)justice that relies heavily and sometimes exclusively on caging our fellow human beings as our response to crime. We effectively send the message that our broken structure and system of mass incarceration is appropriate and legitimate. We perpetuate the machine of mass incarceration that ultimately disproportionately impacts the underprivileged and minorities that make up the bulk of the criminal justice system.”

He then addresses the inequity argument, writing, “While it may be true that similarly situated black or minority offenders would have received harsher outcomes, shouldn’t we instead be calling for a reduction in the sentences of black and minority offenders rather than seeking to over-penalize white offenders? We should use this case and the case of Brock Turner as opportunities and launching points to remedy the inequities that plague our criminal justice system rather than perpetuating them. We should seek to elevate our practices and discourse in response to crime rather than falling back to the customs of disproportionate, harsh sentencing and over incarceration that plague us.”

Finally, he quotes from Bryan Stevenson in his book Just Mercy: “Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion.”

Mr. Khan concludes that “being against mass incarceration has most meaning when we call for decarceration in the least sympathetic cases.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Sharla C.

    As long as her therapy is directed towards her realization and responsibility for her deviant thought and full understanding of the impact of her criminal acts and not allowing her to shed blame in any way, then it will be appropriate.  I don’t know how the Court or Probation can direct or even monitor that.   I am not surprised by her admission of guilt.  Isn’t that sometimes an essential part of terrorism – an abhorrent act and then an announcement of responsible for the act in the name of some cause?  I don’t know how she can be kept off of the Internet and social media, but I think that is an important piece.  If they are serious about this, Probation should require the removal of all ways she could access the Internet from her home and phone.  My guess is that this is an addiction she will struggle with.

    1. David Greenwald

      She would be required to give them access to her computer – the stakes are pretty high – if she violates the terms of probation she could face jail time.

  2. John Hobbs

    ” “That said, caging Ms. Kirk-Coehlo for any longer, be it a couple more months or years, would not enhance public safety.   Arguably, it would put the community more at risk.””

    Really? Please explain the logic of that. And please stop telling the victims what they should think and feel. In another article you very reasonably state that one should walk a mile in others shoes to get a perspective. It seems that you make an exception for these victims, whom you continue to discount.

      1. John Hobbs

        OMG ROFLMAO I just read this:

        “They said Kirk-Coehlo also is committed to resuming weekly therapy with Gerbasi and has been offered employment in 3D computer-aided drawing at a Woodland technology firm where her father works.”

        No way she could sneak on the internet there, huh?

  3. Howard P

    Am reminded of a MASH episode,where a soldier has assumed the identity of a dead buddy,who was scheduled to return to the States… he asks for forgiveness/absolution of the priest…

    When he is told that that the soldier has no intent to end the charade, the priest points out, ‘how can I forgive/absolve you, when you you are virtually unrepentant, and you say you intend to persist in this deception?’

    Thus far, see no sign that the person is repentant, or resolved not to behave in such a fashion in the future, except perhaps, as she feels constrained by the threat of re-incarceration… not a change of heart.

      1. Howard P

        Don’t put words in my mouth… I never once used the word “penance”… I doubt if you know the Catholic meaning of that term… you certainly do not understand the timing.

        “Why do you expect penance at the beginning of the process?” That, given the fact I did not even say anything about ‘penance’, is both ignorant and condescending, IMHO.

        But, back at you… except for forced “electro-shock” or lobotomy, or perhaps serious forced mind-altering drugs, what ‘treatment’ has ever been successful if someone does not seek ‘healing’ and change?  [Hint:  no such treatment exists]

        1. David Greenwald

          You said “unrepanent” and of course “penance” is a word-form of it, so grab a cup of coffee and chill.

          Question still stands, part of the restorative process is to understand the consequences of one’s actions, to understand the harms caused and the remedies needed to make the community and victim whole.

        2. Howard P

          No… again your word play is untrue… there can be true repentance, and no penance… there can be doing ‘penance’, without repentance.  Already had my coffee… needed another swig to wash the taste of your fingers out of my mouth.

          BTW, RJ is, technically, “penance”… but ”repentance” the acknowledgement that one has done a ‘wrong’, is sorry for that, intends not to repeat, and wants to truly make amends is the ONLY way restorative justice can succeed.. .

          Oh… “penal” and “penalty” are the primary word forms…

          1. David Greenwald

            The question I am raising is whether she needs to have that now or whether that can emerge as part of the RJ process. I’d submit on the latter.

        3. Howard P

          Never said the RJ approach was not appropriate to explore… it’s worth a shot, but as explained shortly, existing sanctions should not be removed until that process (RJ) is complete.

          Yes, and some folk can go to AA while they’re still drinking, learn to ‘see the light’, then change behavior.  The success rate, until the individual ‘wants’ to acknowledge the problem, accepts personal responsibility for the problem, and seriously commits to change, is exceedingly low.  Ask anyone in the behavioral sciences field.

  4. Don Shor

    This is a weird discussion. Maybe I am misunderstanding things. Restorative justice hasn’t been mandated, has it? Just probation. No treatment is mandated, is it? She literally doesn’t have to do anything except not violate probation.

    So ““The Judge reasonably believed that Ms. Kirk-Coehlo’s rehabilitative prospects, along with the promotion of public safety, would best be achieved in the community” is actually meaningless, since she doesn’t have to seek rehabilitation. Penance? She doesn’t have to go through any process.

    She walked, basically.

      1. John Hobbs

        We’ll see. The defense was extremely reticent to commit and frankly why should the victims be interested in validating this obvious slight by the judge against their community?

  5. John Hobbs

    “Thus far, see no sign that the person is repentant, or resolved not to behave in such a fashion in the future, except perhaps, as she feels constrained by the threat of re-incarceration… not a change of heart.”

    David and the judge believe that her admission to the facts of the charge, her realization that her actions were “inappropriate and prejudicial.” and her desire to get her life back on track constitutes sufficiently deep remorse to warrant the liberality in sentencing.

    For David’s edification:

    Repentant-expressing or feeling sincere regret and remorse; remorseful.


    1-voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong.

    2.-a Christian sacrament in which a member of the Church confesses sins to a priest and is given absolution.

    ““Why do you expect penance at the beginning of the process?” That, given the fact I did not even say anything about ‘penance’, is both ignorant and condescending, IMHO.”

    Apparently, like the POTUS and obstruction,  it is impossible for the owner of the Vanguard to be ignorant and condescending. It must be us.


  6. Ron

    Just wondering – is financial restitution part of the equation, here?  Seems to me that this should be part of any sentencing in which property is purposefully damaged.  Garnishment until it’s paid.  (At times, this might be the most “effective” deterrent.)

    Who would cause damage that they will ultimately be held responsible for, financially?  (You’ve got to be pretty “committed” to the “cause”, to take that chance.)

    Same with the person(s) who jumped on that woman’s car, on Picnic Day. In some ways, that crime was even worse, since someone was inside the car. Seemed far more dangerous, in reality (but not symbolism). Strange that it’s not causing the same level of outrage. (Yes, I realize that this crime targeted a whole religion, in contrast.)

    1. Howard P

      Yes, financial restitution was cited in a previous article on this… basically, appears to be direct, demonstrable actual costs to repair/restore.  Suspect parent(s) will pony up that money… hence, no garnishment is likely.

        1. Howard P

          Actually, David supplied the information in one of the previous columns… as I recall it was $7,900.  Which let me to conclude those were direct costs, with no ‘punitive’ assessment.

      1. John Hobbs

        “ Suspect parent(s) will pony up that money…”

        I believe they already have.

        My bass player is particularly interested in the psychiatric diagnosis “immature personality” as it seems to be a prerequisite for his profession and “very few of us commit serious crimes.”


  7. John Hobbs

    One of the issues I have with David’s apologism here is the obscuring of the human victims of this hate crime with nonsense about “mass incarceration.” and “the answer is to make sure we remedy the system by imposing fair sentences for all rather than imposing an unjust sentence simply because there have been other unjust sentences.” The issue here should be justice, for all. Clearly the real victims feel that there has been no real expression of remorse from the perpetrator. No wonder, since there hasn’t. They feel that their security is compromised, not enhanced.

    Yet David feels compelled to ignore their stake in this and focus on Kirk-Coehlo’s well being. From the outset of this series of articles he has minimized any reference to the human victims of the vandalism and even edited their quoted statements to reinforce his theme.

    Mohamed Kheiter, treasurer of the center’s board of trustees, said while he forgives Kirk-Coehlo and wants to see her rehabilitated, he fears her release may inspire similar crimes “because in the end they walk out,” he said. “That’s the message. It just gives them the green light to do something like that.”

    “We think she has a lot of hate, and we have great concerns,” added Hamza El-Nakhal, the board’s former president. “We just have to take further action to protect ourselves.”

    They are less deserving of his compassion, consideration and concern than a bunch of college kids who partied a little too hardy on picnic day.  They are less deserving than a murderer who killed two of his neighbors. Deny and deflect all he wants, go back and read his own words.

      1. John Hobbs

        “That’s Sajid Khan’s point on the mass incarceration”

        You printed it to bolster your argument for giving the perpetrator such a light load.  Take some accountability.

  8. Eric Gelber

    I’m with Marcos Breton on this one. The disposition of this case may have been a fair and reasoned one–in a just system. But who believes the outcome would have been the same if a black man committed a similar act against a Catholic church, or if a Muslim did the same at a synagogue? When we start having similar discussions when the perpetrators are not privileged whites and the victims are not a widely vilified minority, I’ll be more sympathetic to alternatives to serving even minimum terms of incarceration. In this case, the outcome–not to mention the optics–did not serve the interests of justice.

    1. David Greenwald

      Eric –

      I hear you.  I agree that we don’t have a just system.  I just don’t think you argue for an unjust sentence (or a suboptimal one) just because we have a discriminatory system.  I think that moves us in the wrong direction and for the wrong reasons.

      1. Eric Gelber

        I don’t think requiring some additional jail time here would have been unjust and the alternative disposition sent an unfortunate message. I believe we need to begin seriously addressing the most egregious aspects of the system before we focus on remedying the comparatively lesser potential injustices here. Otherwise we are increasing the inequities gap and exacerbating the problem.

    2. Howard P

      “Catholic” and “Black” are not mutually exclusive, by any case… at least not as to the extent that “Muslim” and “synagogue” may well be… many Protestant denominations are much ‘whiter’ than the Catholic church.

      Remember, the KKK hated Catholics nearly as much as blacks…

  9. Ron

    Keith:  “I (am) just a white person, there’s nothing “privileged” about me.

    My “gut” reaction agrees with you.  (I don’t particularly like, or dislike “white” people more (or less) than any other skin color.  There is no real “team play”, at work.)

    Also – at times, it’s a distinct “disadvantage” to have light-colored skin (including being subjected to violence, because of it).  I can attest to that.  At times, even legal discrimination (against those with light-colored skin) has occurred.  (Affirmative action, etc.)

    And yet, I suspect that I was born into a system in which “white” people (in general) start out wealthier (from the day that they’re born), and generally have easier access (overall) to systems which help ensure greater chances of “success”.  I think this is changing, but not quickly enough, especially within African-American communities.

    If you look at African-American communities today, it seems that they (generally) have less wealth, and more violence/crime.

    I don’t really know what to make of it, overall.  (However, I don’t think the problem is nearly as “intense”, regarding any other “race” or religion.)  It all goes back to the history of this country, no doubt.

    Regarding the Muslim religion, I’m probably too ignorant of the facts to discuss that.




    1. Ron

      (By the way, I think I prefer the term “person of no color”, instead of “white”.)  Or, maybe “European-American”? (All of this is subject to change, regardless.)


    2. Keith O

      Ron, true story.

      My daughter had a 3.88 GPA, did all the clubs and extra work, honors classes, internships and did everything in her power to go to CAL.  She got denied.  At work a good friend of mine’s son was accepted to Berkeley.  I asked her what her son’s GPA was, she said a 3.0, then I asked her if he did sports, clubs, etc.  She said not at all, the only difference was her son was black.

      So tell my daughter that she has white privilege.

      1. Ron

        Keith:  Or “Asian Privilege”, for that matter?  (Are they discriminated against, as well?) What a “privilege”!

        Yeah, I don’t like any preferential systems based upon skin color.  (Maybe basing it on wealth is more “fair”?)

        I suspect that the problems are somewhat complex, and will be with us for awhile.  (Hell, in the early years of my lifetime, I believe that “Jim Crow” laws were still in effect.)


        1. Ron

          By the way, I’m sorry that your daughter was apparently (legally) discriminated against.  That isn’t “right”, and would naturally create justifiable resentment.

          On a broader level, “two wrongs don’t make a right”, as they say. (One of the reasons that I don’t like the monopoly regarding “Native American” casinos, either.)

        1. David Greenwald

          All you’ve described is limits to white privilege.  You haven’t excluded its existence.

          Just 18% of Berkeley’s undergraduate students are from “underrepresented groups.”  That number shrinks as you go to graduate students and then faculty.

          3% are African American (7 percent of all California) and 14% are Hispanic (38 percent of California).  So you’ve found an example of the limitations of that privilege – she’s got a graduate degree which puts her in the upper strata in terms of education level in the world.  She didn’t get to go to the college of her choice – me neither.  It happens.

        2. Ron

          David:  Is there “Asian Privilege”, as well?  (They’re not an “under-represented” group on campuses.)  Is their enrollment limited, as well?

          In general, do you support legal discrimination based upon skin color (or some other method attributed to characteristics established at conception/birth)?

        3. David Greenwald

          “White privilege is the ability for Whites to maintain an elevated status in society that masks racial inequality.”

          By that definition – no.

        4. Ron

          David:  Your answer is that there is no “White Privilege” for Asians?

          O.K. – I think you’re playing with words, here.

          Do you not think that Asians are as “successful” as Caucasians in our society?  If they’re as successful, are they (or should they be) “legally” discriminated against (e.g., regarding college admissions)?

          And, if Asians are as successful (as Caucasians), would that mean that they are “privileged”? Or, must one have lighter-colored skin than Asians to be privileged?

          This starts making less-and-less sense.

        5. Keith O

          3% are African American (7 percent of all California) and 14% are Hispanic (38 percent of California).

          And only 23% of all UC students are white
          even though they represent 38% of the state’s population.

          So where’s for the white privilege.

        6. David Greenwald

          Ron: I don’t think the success is based on a position of privilege.

          Keith: Nobody forgets about Asians, but their success is not part of the structure of privilege and hegemony.   Asians and Jewish success before them is more about storming the castle, than a structure of privilege.

  10. Ron

    “David:  Interesting research from Brown Economist Nathaniel Hilger found that education doesn’t explain Asian success.  “his research suggests that society simply became less racist toward Asians.”

    “White privilege is the ability for Whites to maintain an elevated status in society that masks racial inequality.”

    Trying to reconcile these two statements.  Whites have an elevated status, which is now shared by Asians?  Shouldn’t it be “White/Asian” privilege?  (By the way, are Whites/Asians still legally discriminated against, when it comes to college admissions?)  At what point do two different groups share an “elevated” status?

    Also, are all other groups (e.g., African-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, etc.), equally “non-elevated”? If not, should this be essentially “micro-managed”, in some manner?

    Are such issues always divided between “people of color”, vs. “people of no color”?  (Whites, vs. “everyone else”?)

    Regarding your reference of “storming the castle”, at what point is the castle effectively taken over/captured? (Or, do whites occupy a permanent position of “privilege”, even if they “lose the castle”?)

    Does the “elevated status” (for people of no color) only apply within this country, and/or perhaps in Europe?

  11. Ron

    David:  “For one thing, you are equating performance with privilege”.

    (Had to retype your message from memory, since I can’t see it this time while logged in.)

    I’m not sure how you’re defining those terms.

    As a side note, I probably should have asked, “at what point is the castle shared”, (rather than “taken over/captured”).  If this castle is “shared”, is there still “privilege” for one of the groups of occupants? What criteria are being used to determine if there’s (still) privilege (or, for that matter, if the “privilege” has shifted to a different group)?

  12. Dave Hart

    As usual this discussion is way off topic…it’s about the sentencing for a crime.  There are lots of opinions on the proper sentencing that are mostly centered on the concept of punishment as a deterrent.  Nobody asks the obvious question”what is the goal of criminal sentencing?”  What do we expect as a community to achieve through our court system?  Do we want the person who committed the crime to be redeemed in any way?  Do we want them to see their life differently and make different decisions?  Or do we just want them to suffer as much or more than their victims.  What’s the goal?

    If all you want to do is punish her and make her as miserable and desperate as those she terrorized it’s folly to believe that treatment will make her straighten up and fly right.  That’s very old Testament. You are entitled to your beliefs.  Just say so and quite wasting space.

    In this case, the judge stated that in his opinion, there was at least an even chance that probation and working with a psychiatrist could have a better outcome than pure jail punishment.  The goal, presumably, is that having already spent eight months in jail and getting psychiatric help, she might not re-offend.  That is New Testament and apparently Koranic since it is voiced by Mr. Sajid Khan, a Muslim.

    Yes, there are people who, for the sake of the goal of public safety, may need to be locked up forever.  That’s a legitimate goal, but not one that is identified as the best goal for this individual and let’s hope the judge is right based on what he heard in his courtroom. I wasn’t there and I bet most of those posting on this thread were not either.

    1. Howard P

      So, you have no suggestions? What should the sentence be?  What should be the goal of criminal sentencing (please note, that question has now been asked)?  What do you expect to achieve through the criminal justice system?  Do you want the person committing the crime to be redeemed in any way?  Do you want them to see their life differently and respond?  In your opinion, what is the goal?

      If you cannot answer the questions you pose, from your point of view, “quite” wasting space… unless you are just ‘sniping’… and if so, just say so.   Then we would/could understand…

  13. Tia Will

    Entering the conversation very late, but willing to put my opinions out there.

    What should the sentence be ?  I think the judge got this one right.

    What should the goal of criminal sentencing be ?  1. Community safety  2. Personal safety of the individual, other incarcerated individuals and those employed in the prison system. 3. Reintegration into the society when goals 1 & 2 can be met. I do not believe that “punishment” serves any effective function except perhaps fulfilling the desire for revenge on the part of those affected, which in itself is in my opinion an undesirable outcome since it feeds on and validates causing pain to another which is what we are objecting to in the first place. There are those that argue that “stiff” sentencing serves as a deterrent. I would argue that our recent past history with mass incarceration serves as evidence to the contrary.

    What do you expect to achieve through the criminal justice system. 1. Societal safety 2. Rehabilitation/reintegration where possible and restriction of opportunity to do harm when not possible. This should not preclude humane treatment of even those who cannot be released because of danger to community. 3. Equal treatment under the law regardless of ability to pay ( for bail, for representation) or membership in a favored group.

    Do you want the person committing the crime to be redeemed in any way ?  Yes.

    Do you want them to see their life differently and respond ?  Yes.

    Just my two cents.

    1. John Hobbs

      ” I think the judge got this one right.”

      Since it wasn’t your ox that was gored, perhaps you’d feel differently about the punitive aspect if a “pro-lifer” painted your office walls with blood and pasted photos of aborted fetuses everywhere, proudly plead guilty to the charges and was sentenced to the cost of the clean-up and a few weeks in jail. What is it about these victims that makes them so unworthy of your and David’s consideration?

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