A week after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Antwan Stroud took part in a protest in Manchester. He live-streamed his actions on Facebook on the night of June 2, 2020, for over an hour. The video shows him repeatedly cursing at members of law enforcement. At one point, after another protestor, Kyle Toledo, pulls firecrackers out of his pocket, Stroud tells him to light one.
Later that night, in the parking lot of a Petco, Stroud, Toledo and a group of other people spotted an unmarked police car. They surrounded it, spit on it, and hurled insults, prompting the officer to call for backup.
“I was just mad and stuff about George Floyd, cause that could have been me,” Stroud told NHPR. “I have so many Black friends, I'm Black. That could have been any one of us killed.”
While he doesn’t regret taking part in a protest, he said he’s embarrassed about what he said and did that night, as police helicopters circled overhead and officers in riot gear attempted to clear streets. There were no reported injuries and no widespread property damage stemming from the unrest and over a dozen people were arrested.
Stroud and Toledo were two of them. But the sentences they received were very different, for virtually the same charge. These cases are two of several that led some advocates to question if racial bias at the Hillsborough County Attorney’s office led to steeper penalties for Black protestors than their white counterparts. Stroud, 19, was originally sentenced to 30 days in jail, while Toledo, 21, who is white, was let off with community service.
In the days following the unrest, Manchester Police issued press releases detailing the charges against the 13 people arrested that night, including Stroud. The PD also included mugshots.
“Of the mugshots, there were four people who were Black” and one person whose name suggested they were Hispanic, Donna Brown, an attorney now representing Stroud, said. “Those people were all charged with [felony] riot.”
But “most of the white people were all charged with just disorderly conduct,” a misdemeanor, she said.
The Union Leader noticed the same trend, and published a piece about the alleged disparities.
Toledo was an exception to the alleged sentencing disparities. He and Stroud were both charged with felony riot. The affidavits in their cases are nearly identical, and they’re described as “accomplices” in paperwork. (Toledo did not respond to a request for comment.)
After reading about the case, Brown asked to take over as Stroud’s attorney. She filed a lengthy motion with the court, requesting the 30-day jail sentence be vacated.
She also constructed a chart for the judge outlining what everyone was charged and sentenced with that night.
The Hillsborough County Attorney’s office, though, rejects what Brown sees as evidence of racial disparity. Prosecutors declined to comment for this story, but told the court that there is no racial bias in Stroud’s treatment.
“There is no manifest injustice here. Each defendant has been sentenced according to their conduct and nothing more,” prosecutors wrote in a motion. They claim Stroud’s actions that night were more severe, including statements they say were aimed at inciting violence against members of law enforcement.
But advocates of criminal justice reform see what happened as proof that there is systemic bias, whether it is implicit or explicit.
“It just shows that New Hampshire has a long way to go in dismantling systemic racism that exists within the justice system,” Joseph Lascaze, an organizer with the ACLU of NH, said.
If it hadn’t been for the mugshots, no one may have pieced together the alleged unequal treatment. Lascaze says that’s why the ACLU is pushing for the legislature to pass a law that would require law enforcement to collect demographic data, including race and ethnicity.
Ultimately, Superior Court Judge William Delker ruled in favor of Antwan Stroud, rescinded his original sentence of 30 days in jail, and chastised prosecutors for not disclosing the different plea agreements.
“How could any defendant have confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system when he knows that he will go to jail while his similarly-situated co-defendant, who was standing right next to him during the entire criminal episode, will do no time behind bars simply because the prosecutor decided to treat one man more harshly than the other?” the judge wrote.
This Friday, Stroud will again appear before Judge Delker for a second sentencing hearing.
Stroud plans on apologizing.
“I’m going to tell him I’m sorry for the way I acted that night, like sincerely, that I'm sorry. That I just lashed out,” Stroud said.
In their pre-hearing sentencing requests, prosecutors are again asking the court to impose a 30-day jail sentence for Stroud. They say his actions that night warrant a stronger punishment.
Stroud is asking for community service, the same sentence Kyle Toledo received.