Only in America: Violence from Stanford to Orlando

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Mon, 06/13/2016 - 9:00am to 10:00am
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Frann Michel comments on America's culture of violence, and in particular how it led to the Stanford Rape case of Brock Turner and the recent mass shooting in an Orlando Florida gay nightclub:


I had been planning to talk about the Stanford rape case—you know, the one in which Brock Turner was caught behind a fraternity house dumpster humping a completely unconscious woman, was chased down and detained by two Swedish graduate students who happened to be bicycling by, was tried and convicted on three counts of sexual assault, and then was given a six months sentence with times off for good behavior, because the Judge thought he was unlikely to do it again--even though he expressed no actual acknowledgement of what he'd done or remorse about it, and because a prison sentence would have a "severe impact" on Turner.

Leaving aside the notion that that's presumably what prison sentences are supposed to do, have a severe impact on those who commit crimes, and leaving aside the fact that low rates of reporting, arrest, and conviction mean that Turner will spend more time in jail than 97 percent of rapists; and leaving aside that the Judge just before this case gave a domestic abuser just a weekend in jail for having beaten his partner almost to death, and leaving aside that Turner lied about never having experience with alcohol or drugs or run ins with the law before getting to Stanford, and leaving aside the appalling comments from the rapist, his father, who thought "20 minutes of action" didn't deserve punishment, or his mother who's so upset that she can't bring herself to decorate their new house, and his childhood friend, who blamed the case on "political correctness," and all of whom revealed a complete indifference toward the suffering of the victim, the case has gotten a lot of attention, probably partly because of the powerfully eloquent statement by the survivor.

Indeed, the case has gotten global attention, with women in china posting images of themselves with signs saying things like "It is rape when she's unconscious; it is still rape when he's a good swimmer," and writers in India pointing out that violence against women is not just a problem there, but also in the US, which ought not to think it has the moral high ground on the issue.

So I thought I would talk about sexism and rape culture –although those topics were well addressed by Positively Revolting talk radio this past Friday; but I might mention the lessons one can learn about consent by considering the analogy of offering someone a cup of tea.

If they do not want tea, you should not try to make them drink it. And if they are unconscious? You don't even have to ask if they want tea, because, ... "Unconscious people don't want tea and they can't answer the question 'do you want tea?' Because they're unconscious." And definitely don't force them to drink. Even if they took a sip or two on their own before they were unconscious, don't continue making them drink it.

I might point out that for all the discussion of what the rapist called "the college campus drinking culure and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that," it was, as the survivor pointed out, not drinking that was wrong, but sexual assault, and promiscuity had nothing to do with it:
“alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked…We were both drunk," she told him in her statement, "the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away." Or as someone posted on facebook, "I've been drunk many times, even in the presence of promiscuous women who were also drunk, and I managed not to rape them, so I don't think drinking and promiscuity are the problems."

Anyway, I thought I might talk about the pervasive rape culture that used a yearbook photo instead of a mughsot, referred incessantly to his brilliant accomplishments as a swimmer, worried about his future and not hers, and led investigators to ask about her clothing, her drinking habits, and her sexual history—the kinds of inappropriate questions I thought feminists had tackled and gotten rid of back in the 1970s.

I thought I might talk some about about the class dimensions of sexual assaults on non-students by fraternity members and athletes at posh universities, and the failure of Stanford to express regret to the victim or to offer to pay any of her medical expenses out of Stanford's  22.2 billion dollar endowment.

I thought I might talk about the racial bias of sentencing practices that led to a black college athlete, Corey Batey, convicted of raping an unconscious woman facing a sentence three thousand times what Brock Turner will serve; or to a black minor, Brian Banks, being tried as an adult and wrongfully convicted, spending 6 years of what might have been a 41-year sentence, imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit.

I thought I might talk about why it would be wrong to use this case as a reason to argue for increased prison sentences, because although the disparity in sentencing is grievously wrong, giving Turner a longer sentence won't let anyone else out early, longer sentences do not deter crime, and, of course, increasing the power of the carceral state just means increasing the weapons that will be used against the already disempowered.

Finally, I thought I might talk about the wearying applicability of statements made years ago .

But then I woke up yesterday to the news of the shooting at a gay bar in Orlando during a Latin night during Pride month. So now I'm going to talk about the wearying applicability of a slightly different but overlapping set of points.

For instance, again, class is relevant, and health care is expensive: the violence in Orlando was, again, directed at the vulnerable—this time, at queer people, queer brown people—and has created more vulnerability that the US is structurally unequipped to address: as Aton Bridges pointed out, aside from the fifty or so who have died, there are another fifty-some with gunshot trauma requiring very expensive medical care; and some of those victims may die despite treatment, and their families will still be charged for treatment and will also have to pay for their burial, and some may face poverty and lifetime debt because of this.

As Lisa Wade of Sociological Images points out

Brock Turner is breathing a sigh of relief as the largest [single shooter] mass shooting in American history takes him out of the headlines, but let's make sure to see the connections between his crime and Omar Mateen's; and that of Kevin James Loibl, who killed Christina Grimmie . . .; and the . .. . man caught with explosives on his way to the Los Angeles Pride Parade.... To end these massacres, we need to see what ties them together...

As Wade points out, the alarming numbers of mass shootings and similar acts of violence are mostly carried out by white men with a sense of aggrieved entitlement.

The apparent shooter in the Orlando case was also sexist: his ex-wife reported that he beat her.

He was homophobic, according to his choice of target and according to his father's statement that he was upset after seeing two gay men kissing in Miami a few months ago.

Despite reports that he claimed he was acting in the interests of ISIS, his social media images suggest he had more fondness for the New York Police Department; he had a degree in so-called criminal justice, and had worked for the past ten years as a rent-a-cop for  G4S, formerly known as Wackenhut. His semi-automatic AR-15 was legally purchased.

This longstanding alliance with legalized violence seems at least as significant as any devotion to Daesh. It's not ISIS but US legislators who have been proposing measures that countenance discrimination against LGBTQ people in the United States. And it didn't take ISIS for gay lives and clubs to become subject to violence.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore points out,

This is being described as the largest mass shooting in US history. We are becoming more accustomed to these mass shootings, and while they are usually blamed on one shooter, or a few rogue men, it’s important to connect these mass shootings with the mass murder our government enacts every day, through wars around the world, support of brutal dictatorships, police terror, and mass incarceration, to name just a few of the methods. This is the violence that fuels the mentality behind the grotesque brutality of individuals not directly connected [to] the tools of structural oppression....
I see reports that the shooter “pledged allegiance to ISIS.” We should be extremely skeptical of this claim. We need to make sure that this doesn’t end up as another opportunity for queers to be cynically used as tools for continued oppression here in the US and around the world. Whether or not the shooter was of Muslim heritage or beliefs (or, even if he did pledge allegiance to ISIS), we should not allow anyone, gay, or straight (or queer) to justify even more Islamophobia, serving as cover for US military aggression around the world and oppression here in the US. 
Obviously, this shooting will result in calls for stricter gun control. While I’m not against gun control, it just means that law enforcement has control over who gets to shoot. And, we already know that they are doing most of the shooting. Nothing about structural violence in this country will change while we have a military budget that siphons resources from everything that matters, and brutal police forces bent on enforcing structural oppression at any cost. The institutions of “LGBT” power have been telling us for years that military inclusion, access to marriage, and hate crimes legislation will make us safer. Do we feel safer now? Hate crimes legislation just gives a criminal legal system more power—who does that help?  
And, I do think that the debate over gun control, which always ends up in very little actually changing, takes away from the conversations we actually need to have—how to end structural oppression of all kinds in this country, and ensure that violence like this doesn’t happen here, or anywhere else in the world.
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