Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) wants a man who threatened to shoot her to be treated with “compassion” in sentencing, per a letter she wrote to the judge in his case.
On Tuesday, Omar released a letter she wrote to District Judge Frank Geraci in New York, who is presiding over the case of Patrick Carlineo, a 55-year-old man who pleaded guilty Monday to threatening to kill Omar.
“I write to ask for a system of compassion in [Carlineo’s] sentencing,” Omar wrote. The congresswoman, who became one of the first Muslim women in Congress earlier this year, noted that his crime was “grave,” and that it was a “threat against an entire religion, at a time of rising hate crimes.”
Carlineo was accused of calling Omar’s office in March and telling a staffer the congresswoman was a “terrorist” and threatening to shoot her. According to the criminal complaint against him, Carlineo told federal agents when he was arrested in April that he was a patriot, he “loves” President Donald Trump and “hates radical Muslims in government.”
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In her letter to the judge, Omar noted the danger of threatening public officials in a “fragile democratic system [that] rests on the peaceful election of those in power.”
“As someone who fled a war zone, I know how destabilizing acts of political violence can be,” wrote Omar, who was born in Somalia and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the U.S. at age 12.
“But we must ask: who are we as a nation if we respond to threats of political retribution with retribution ourselves?” Omar continued, noting that a long prison sentence may not rehabilitate Carlineo, but rather may “only increase his anger and resentment.”
Omar warned that a “punitive approach” to criminal justice does not work as a deterrent to criminals, and called instead for a “restorative justice” approach, including allowing Carlineo to understand the consequences of his actions and make amends.
Carlineo’s lawyer Sonya Zoghlin told HuffPost that he was “passionate about his political beliefs and his right to express them,” adding that he’d “taken responsibility for using threatening and inappropriate language.”
“We certainly agree with Congresswoman Omar’s recommendation that he be treated with compassion, rather than retribution,” the attorney added, echoing that “greater understanding and mutual respect is not furthered by incarceration.”
Carlineo’s sentencing is set for Feb. 14. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Advocates and lawmakers have long been calling for addressing mass incarceration in the U.S., including by giving shorter sentences in many cases in order to cut down the prison population.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who is running for president, introduced a bill in July seeking to reduce the number of federal prisoners by having those with long sentences be given a “second look” to be considered for release or a reduction in sentence after 10 years.
Last week, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) proposed sweeping legislation to reform the criminal justice system, including by expanding access to restorative justice and ending the cash-bail system.
CORRECTION: This piece previously referred to Booker as a senator from New York. He represents New Jersey.