Lauren Kirk-Coehlo should be behind bars right now. But instead, the former Google employee walked free on Friday, eluding a maximum six-year sentence for vandalizing a Davis mosque.
Kirk-Coehlo got five years probation after pleading guilty to a felony hate crime in which she shattered windows at the Islamic Center of Davis, sliced bicycle seats and smeared bacon on the door handles as a sick taunt directed at Muslims who are prohibited from eating pork.
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,” which seeks to block people from six Muslim-majority countries from coming to the U.S.
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According to the Pew Research Center, the number of hate crimes and anti-Muslim assaults are as high now as they were in 2001, the year of 9/11.
Muslim activists say many local Muslims suffer daily indignities that go unreported. They were disappointed but not surprised that Kirk-Coehlo got probation for her attack.
“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,” said Basim Elkarra of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Hamza El-Nakhal, former president and CEO of the Islamic Center of Davis, told The Bee’s Steve Magagnini that the idea of Kirk-Coehlo “walking out of this court free is very troubling ... . If she’d expressed even some remorse, I’d be much more supportive.”
Prior to her sentencing, Kirk-Coehlo spent four months in jail. She was arrested in February after she was captured in a Jan. 22 security camera video wrapping bacon around the mosque’s door handles.
A graduate of Davis High School, Kirk-Coehlo, 30, had a disturbing online search history, according to court records. Of particular interest to her was the deadly Jan. 29 mosque attack in Quebec City where six people were killed and 19 were injured. She also had searched for information on bomb vests.
In her text conversations found by police, Kirk-Coehlo said “I would like to kill ... many people.” She has made negative comments about Jews, Mexicans and African Americans. The Davis detective who investigated her called her “an immediate danger to the public.”
In their investigation, Davis Police found that Kirk-Coehlo was a fan of Dylan Roof, the mass murderer of nine African American parishioners at a church in Charleston, S.C.
And yet? Probation?
Could it be that she had certain advantages with the legal system? Her mother is a retired administrative law judge. She was once an intern for the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office. Did being a former girl scout help? A UC Berkeley graduate? Her lawyers refused comment after her sentencing.
Kirk-Coehlo’s mother, Nancy Kirk, told the Yolo County Probation Department that her daughter suffered from mental problems and eventually was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Along with five years of probation and weekly psychiatric counseling, Kirk-Coehlo’s sentence includes 120 hours of community service and cultural sensitivity training. She has been banned from using social media during her probation and her computer and home can be searched at any time. Kirk-Coehlo already has paid the mosque more than $7000 in restitution.
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. Her’s 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? Probably not much. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be.