If you didn’t know what was going on, you might find this headline puzzling:

Teen given 7-year sentence for skirt-burning on Oakland bus

Huh? How could burning a skirt lead to to anyone receiving a 7 year sentence?

Because the perp didn’t just burn a skirt — any more than someone who sets fire to another person by holding a lighter to a shirt burns a shirt.

He deliberately set fire to another human being, and he’s getting off easy thanks to the victim’s parents.

The mother of an agender teen whose skirt was set aflame on an AC Transit bus in Oakland last year told the 17-year-old attacker Friday that he did a “horrible, terrible thing” but added, “We do not hate you.”

“Hate only leads to more hatred and anger,” Debbie Crandall told a teary-eyed Richard Thomas, moments before he was sentenced to seven years at a state juvenile center for severely burning 19-year-old Sasha Fleischman, who is now a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

“I’m hoping you gain some understanding in the years to come,” Crandall said.

Thomas did not speak in the Oakland courtroom, but his attorney, William Du Bois, told Judge Paul Delucchi, “What he thought was a prank exploded into a tragedy of major proportions.” Du Bois said outside court that his client “will be eternally sorry.”

Thomas was charged as an adult in connection with the Nov. 4, 2013, attack on Fleischman, who was then 18 and whose skirt was set on fire as the student slept — an attack that police said was partly motivated by homophobia.


Oakland police said in court documents that Thomas, a student at Oakland High School, admitted to lighting Fleischman’s garment on fire because he was “homophobic.” The teens were on an AC Transit bus on MacArthur Boulevard near Ardley Avenue, a few blocks from Fleischman’s home in the Glenview neighborhood.

In court Friday, Crandall told Thomas, “Maybe you just thought it was weird that Sasha was wearing a skirt. Maybe you thought the people around you thought it was funny.” But she described how she came to the scene and found her child writhing and shivering uncontrollably in pain, the teen’s legs “covered with black, charred patches of skin.”

At the time it happened, I was outraged by the callused attitude of the criminal:

I do not doubt that he thought it was funny. Lots of people have been tortured or murdered by attackers who had fun. But I don’t think finding amusement in such crimes is a defense. (And had he done the same thing to a sleeping dog or a cat, I doubt people would even for a moment entertain the “joke” defense.)

Well, now that the perp has gotten off with very little time, it strikes me that the “joke” defense actually works.


What will the jokers do next?

Humiliation, cutting elderly Jews' beards

I think that characterizing vicious conduct as a joke not only excuses nothing, but it makes it worse.