Ray Rice should have been wearing one of his “Ray’s Links of Kindness” when he stepped with his future wife into that casino elevator as their Valentine’s Day together extended into early the next morning.
The 27-year-old Rice had distributed the “Links of Kindness”—200,000 purple “Tyvek-type” wristbands—as part of an anti-bullying campaign he began two years ago, after learning that his teenage sister had been hit in the face with a rock by another girl at school.
“I’m an older brother, and I remember what it was like when I heard my little sister was being bullied,” Rice confided with great emotion to the thousands of kids who attended a big anti-bulling rally he hosted at the SECU Arena at Towson University in Maryland late last year. “It haunts me. I wanted to find the people that were doing it and do whatever it took to make it stop.”
The Baltimore Ravens running back explained that the idea behind the wristbands was for people to inscribe them with anti-bullying messages.
“We need to get the message out there by talking to people, and together we can stop bullying,” he declared.
Rice would have done well to put on a wristband himself and written “BULLYING STARTS WITH A BULLY,” or perhaps “DON’T BE A BULLY WITH THIS HAND,” or maybe simply “DON’T HIT HER.” He then might have kept himself from becoming the very thing he so passionately denounced.
The Revel casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was equipped with a particularly elaborate video system. And it is said by the Associated Press to have recorded complete with audio an obscenity-laced argument between Rice and Janay Palmer, leading up to when she appears to spit at him, followed by him knocking her unconscious with a single brutal punch.
To compound it, Rice then treats her limp form with what appears to be cold contempt. He seems worried only that she is preventing the elevator door from closing. He moves her with no more concern for her condition than if she were a bag of dirty linen left behind by housekeeping.
Casino staff apparently approach and say what a cynic would expect in such circumstances:
“She’s drunk, right?” and, “No cops.”
But whatever a staffer might have said, the casino immediately notified the Atlantic City police.
To the Revel security team’s great credit, they would prove to be just about the only people involved who did the right thing. The cops, the prosecutor, and the NFL all abetted bullying after the fact to some degree.
This even though everybody with the possible exception of the league had seen video of the full incident.
“Revel cooperated fully with the investigation giving the tapes to the Atlantic City Police, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, the Division of Gaming Enforcement, and Ray Rice’s own attorney,” a Revel spokeswoman noted to The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
The police seem to have made little legal distinction between the harmless taps Palmer directed at Rice and the crushing punch he threw.
“After reviewing surveillance footage it appeared both parties were involved in a physical altercation,” an official police statement reported.
The two responding officers, Cuong Sam and Bryon Hargis, could have charged Rice with aggravated assault, a felony. They instead lodged a lesser charge of simple assault and freed Rice after issuing Complaint-Summons 000728:
“The named defendant on or at 02-15-2014 in Atlantic County, N.J. did within the jurisdiction of this court commit assault by attempting to cause bodily injury to J. Palmer, specifically by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious while at the Revel Casino.”
The cops brought the same charge of simple assault in releasing Palmer with Complaint-Summons 000728.
“The named defendant on or at 02-15-2014 in Atlantic County, N.J. did within the jurisdiction of this court commit assault by attempting to cause bodily injury to Raymell Rice, specifically by striking him with her hand while at the Revel Casino.”
The nearly identical summonses. The identical charges. Even the identical date to appear in court. The result was an illusion that “rendering unconscious” was not such a big difference, that Rice and Palmer were somehow both at fault for the violence, that she was also to blame.
A bully’s dream.
And the whole case seemed likely to be disposed of with the legal equivalent of one of Palmer’s little taps.
But just before the February 25 designated court date, somebody leaked to TMZ part of the video footage outside the elevator after the assault, showing Rice dragging out the clearly unconscious Palmer.
Hours after the leak, Atlantic County prosecutor Jim McClain suddenly decided to review the case and present it to a grand jury. Press attention became his attention. The charge against Palmer was dropped, and Rice was indicted on a higher charge of aggravated assault.
Rice entered a not-guilty plea. The one-time anti-bullying champion let his attorney seek to lump the victim together with the victimizer.
“His wife was arrested initially as well. And the prosecutors, for whatever reasons—I can’t speak for the prosecution—they decided to drop the charges against Janay and simply go prosecute Ray,” attorney Michael Diamondstein actually said.
The attorney went on: “The video that has been put up by TMZ shows the very end of what transpired between Ray and his fiancée...We are confident that by the time all of the facts are in the open, the public will have a complete and true picture of what actually transpired.”
What actually transpired could have landed Rice in prison for between three and five years. But he was saved from spending even a minute behind bars by Rule 3:28 of New Jersey law.
That provision accords first-time offenders something called Pre-Trial Intervention. PTI, as it is known, provides counseling and treatment rather than prosecution and incarceration. Those who complete the program have their record expunged.
Think of it as the Jersey Shore exception, where you can act like a brutish goon and the first bust is essentially a do-over.
And Rice was not getting special treatment. The New Jersey Court System says on its website: “Eligibility for PTI is broad enough to include all defendants who demonstrate sufficient effort to effect necessary behavioral change and show that future criminal behavior will not occur. Any defendant accused of crime shall be eligible for admission into a PTI program.”
Rice needed only to be interviewed by a court representative, who then sent a recommendation to the prosecutor, McClain, and the defense attorney. McClain could have objected, but that would have been going against what has become common practice.
The problem was that the NFL and nearly everybody else acted as if the courts had just shrugged the case away, as if PTI stood for Pretty Trivial Incident. Rice was suspended for all of two games.
And that could well have been the end of it had somebody not leaked more video footage to TMZ, this of what happened inside the elevator.
Anybody who had seen the first video of Palmer being dragged from the elevator must have known that she had just been knocked unconscious. But people were shocked to see Rice actually throw the punch and to watch her crumple.
The NFL and the rest of us were suddenly outraged, just as the leaker must have hoped.
The second leak came shortly after Revel went bust and shut down on September 2. The timing suggests that the leaker might have been somebody at the casino who had been worried about losing his or her job but now had no job to worry about.
And logic would further suggest that the same person also leaked the first footage, perhaps feeling back then that nobody involved would raise too much of a fuss because they knew the video from inside the elevator that he or she held back was so much more damning.
On Tuesday, Palmer was speaking out in defense of her husband. And Rice was saying he had to be strong for his wife.
But as a true anti-bullying champion will tell you, a bully is no less a bully simply because his victim seeks to excuse him.
“You can raise money for charity, but with bullying, it’s about raising awareness,” Rice himself once said.
The folks at PTI should have made Rice reinforce his own awareness by wearing a purple wristband.
Or maybe even one on each wrist, both reading “I AM A BULLY.”