A BLM rioter who set fire to a pawn shop and killed a man is facing a shorter sentence than normal because, according to US Attorney W. Anders Folk, he was “caught up in the fury” of the Black Lives Matter riots.
On June 5, 2020, in Minnesota, BLM riots were breaking out and becoming violent. Hundreds of people took to the streets and began looting local businesses, vandalizing private property, and recklessly setting fire to buildings. Montez Terriel Lee Jr. was one of these violent actors.
That night, Lee broke into a pawn shop, poured fire accelerant around, and set it on fire. These actions were caught on video.
According to court records, one of the videos captures Lee standing in front of the burning shop, saying, “F*** this place. We’re gonna burn this b**** to the ground.”
Over two months after Lee burned down the shop, a 30-year-old man, Oscar Lee Stewart, was found dead among the debris.
By joining in the violence of the BLM riots and being misled into thinking that was the right way to act, Lee took the life of an innocent man that night.
The typical sentence that would be applied to Lee’s case is over 200 months of incarceration. However, in a memo from the US Attorney’s office for the District of Minnesota, a lesser sentence was recommended because of the “motives” behind Lee’s actions.
The memo describes Lee’s motives as almost admirable. Forgetting the violence he enacted and the innocent life he took, at least his intentions were “good”.
Mr. Lee’s motive for setting the fire is a foremost issue. Mr. Lee credibly states that he was in the streets to protest unlawful police violence against black men, and there is no basis to disbelieve this statement. Mr. Lee, appropriately, acknowledges that he “could have demonstrated in a different way,” but that he was “caught up in the fury of the mob after living as a black man watching his peers suffer at the hands of police.”
The defense that Lee was “caught up in the fury of the mob” is a poor way to set an example for the rest of the country. There needs to be some maintained sense of right and wrong. If you are upset and seeking social change, you shouldn’t be allowed to do so by burning cities and being violent. Generating fear and endangering others is not a reasonable way to get a point across.
The US Attorney’s memo does, however, acknowledge the poor judgment demonstrated by Lee and the danger of his actions. The memo states the inherently unpredictable nature of a fire and the unintentional damage arson can cause.
Arson in particular is an inherently dangerous and unpredictable felony offense. The arsonist who sets a building ablaze cannot know the extent of the damage or death he or she will cause—the crime is by its nature chaotic and uncontrollable. Surrounding homes and businesses may be inadvertently destroyed; firefighters, people trapped in buildings, or the arsonist him or herself may be killed. In this case, Mr. Stewart paid the cost for Mr. Lee’s flagrantly dangerous disregard for others. Mr. Lee states that he checked the building before he set the fire to make sure no one would be hurt. If true, this is at least some small measure of precaution. But as the evidence makes clear, it was woefully inadequate. Mr. Lee’s check of the building did not save Oscar Stewart’s life; nor would it have been effective in saving the lives of any firefighters had they become trapped; nor would it have saved the lives and property of nearby neighbors if the wind carried the conflagration to their homes.
Lee acted recklessly and committed a crime that could have spiraled out of control at any moment. The excerpt above from the memo states the danger that Lee should have been aware of at the time of the arson. Whether he wanted to or not, the fact is that he killed a man and robber a family of a loved one.
Nevertheless, although Lee committed a crime that cost a man his life, the US Attorney insists his motives need to be considered. “As anyone watching the news worldwide knows, many other people in Minnesota were similarly caught up,” said the attorney. “There appear to have been many people in those days looking only to exploit the chaos and disorder in the interests of personal gain or random violence. There appear also to have been many people who felt angry, frustrated, and disenfranchised, and who were attempting, in many cases in an unacceptably reckless and dangerous manner, to give voice to those feelings. Mr. Lee appears to be squarely in this latter category.”
It’s worth noting that there are January 6 political prisoners who are being met with no mercy, no understanding, and certainly no consideration of their “motives”. These individuals are being held in horrible conditions and investigated as criminals for walking into the Capitol and taking selfies amidst a major protest. However, when a man KILLS someone while in pursuit of his political agenda, it is perfectly excusable and understandable.
The US justice system should not be able to excuse violence throughout the country that, if left unchecked, could result in more innocent deaths. The perpetrators need to understand there are consequences to their actions, otherwise what is going to stop further violence and reckless destruction?
In the conclusion of Lee’s case, instead of the 200+ months that Lee was predicted to serve, the ruling Judge granted a much lighter 120-month term of imprisonment.