As the Flag Comes Down: God Bless South Carolina, and Dylann, Behold Your Work

flag3You know, Dylann, it’s funny.

No, not you.

There nothing funny about the lives you shattered in a timeless, magnificent city and in an historical and magnificent church. There’s nothing to smile at with regard to the good and decent people you slaughtered, people who even you hesitated before murdering because they were so friendly to you. You’ll never know that level of friendliness or open-heartedness again, and that is just.

But that fact, like you, isn’t funny.

But here’s the thing: I think God is funny, in all of His/Her frustrating inscrutability. Or maybe it’s just the Universe. Or karma.

Whatever it is, It’s laughing at you, and so am I.

In 1998, a national prosecutor training center opened in Columbia, South Carolina, the capital of the state you tried (and failed) to soil. Over the years it became almost a second home for me as a consultant and trainer of prosecutors nationwide. The University of South Carolina campus (where the building stands) and the city beyond it provided a wonderful training and networking venue for thousands of DA’s from every state and territory. I was proud of the National Advocacy Center. I was proud of South Carolina and Columbia for hosting us. In the typical spirit of Southern hospitality, black folks, white folks and pretty much everyone else we encountered in the restaurants, shops and bars (we’re DA’s, Dylann, we love and need bars), were wonderful to us.

The only thing I thought was unfortunate was the reality of a confederate battle flag that whipped over the state capital building itself until 2000, while hundreds of federal and state prosecutors, many of them non-white and some from as far away as Guam, were shuttled past it from the airport every week. That got less uncomfortable when that flag was moved to the grounds of the statehouse rather than the dome. But still it remained, a hyper-prominent fixture on public ground.

I know it symbolizes “heritage” for many, but really we all knew, both us visiting and, in my experience, most of our hosts in Columbia itself, what it really meant.

Especially to people like you.

You hid behind words like “heritage” to use that flag as a signal. Unfortunately, the government of South Carolina, moving in slow motion and uncertain patterns as most representative governments do, allowed that hiding to continue even as it unfairly stained both your state and the good people who live there.

But now, you, young Dylann, have succeeded in creating a tipping point that would have been unimaginable even five years ago. You’ve inherited the wind; your act of murder has led to the removal of that flag, leaving it now to the only thing it’s good for, which is to commemorate bravery and document history.

But far beyond that even, your viciousness has exhumed truths that will now be discussed and eventually accepted even as they were whitewashed and buried before.

Truths like, just as an example, the real reason behind the Second Amendment, which we’re now discovering was more about enabling slave patrols to murderously put down efforts at freedom than it was the security of free states. That amendment, after all, in its heretofore traditional interpretations, allowed you to legally possess the gun you used to slaughter people in prayer and fellowship. Maybe that interpretation will continue to hold sway.

But now that you’ve foolishly snapped open a valve of righteous anger, long-buried pain and gloriously, tamped-down common sense, who knows?

Were it up to me, Dylann (assuming you’re legally sane, factually guilty and found so in a court of law) you would die at the hands of the state in a lethal injection chamber. I still support such an outcome, although with increasing reluctance as I grow older for reasons I won’t describe here.

But I also know that my view on the death penalty, as well as on the far, broader notions of Judeo-Christian right and wrong that have underpinned my professional life, are all being challenged. And I have to admit as I fade from relevance that those challenges are not unmerited. In fact I believe they stem from the better angels of our nature.

You would know nothing about that. But if you’re lucky, the better angels of our nature will spare you, just as the families of your victims largely forgave you in that remarkable court hearing after your arrest. If you’re less lucky, God help you.

But either way, I hope you can hear the laughter.





For Andre Johnson of Florida State University: What Nine Seconds Are Worth

JohnsonVideo evidence is rarely this clear, even now that it’s far more ubiquitous then when I was prosecuting violent crime. The relevant part between Johnson, the freshman FSU player charged with misdemeanor battery and the woman he brutalized, plays out in about nine seconds. They should be enough to end his NCAA career forever.

If you have a doubt, and you can stomach it, follow second by second what was released by the 2nd Judicial Circuit State’s Attorney today.

At 1:55, Johnson approaches the bar and the woman he eventually punches. They make contact, and she turns and confronts him. If this is as it appears, namely a guy in a crowded place pushing his way to the bar and a woman becoming annoyed and confronting him over being pushy, it’s a scene I’ve personally witnessed play out hundreds of times, usually to no more than a few choice words and dirty looks. At 1:56, she actually raises her fist, but seems to be smiling or smirking. By 1:58, Johnson has grabbed it and pushed it down, and the two struggle until around 2:01. About a second later, she actually does “throw” a punch at Johnson, but it’s a slow, harmless attempt that he appears to easily avoid.

Then comes 2:04.

At that moment, and with a speed that makes her “punch” seem like something in slow motion, Johnson rears his right arm back and then shatters the entire scene with a blow nearly impossible to follow in real time. It not only connects with her face in a way that leaves her stunned and grasping the bar to steady herself, but it also sends pitchers and cups flying. Her hair flies wildly as her head snaps sideways. Given Johnson’s size and athletic prowess, it’s more than a breathtaking display of anti-female violence. It’s potentially life threatening.

So far I haven’t seen arguments made (as were made richly and stupidly after Ray Rice brutally punched his then-fiance into unconsciousness) that Johnson was provoked somehow or “defending himself.” In any event, they’d be irrelevant also. Call me old fashioned or even sexist; I’ve been hit by women, albeit rarely, and I would never strike one back. But even under as gender-free an analysis as we can make, Johnson met a harmless swat with a vicious, cocked punch, and at a woman a fraction of his size.

To be clear: Legally, he deserves the exact same treatment as anyone else in his position. Given a black eye on the victim that prosecutors could still see days later, in my view he should spend at least a long weekend in jail, bear a criminal conviction, and maybe probation. Academically, he should be able to continue his education at FSU if he can do so appropriately on scholarly merit alone. He should certainly be able to rehabilitate himself, perhaps after serious mediation and reflection. But his NCAA playing career should be over. Not just at Florida State but everywhere. I concede readily I know almost nothing of his athletic career or his character otherwise. I also lack experience with college football itself other than as a casual observer, let alone with disciplining NCAA athletes and determining what standards are most appropriate when meting out punishments for off-the-field conduct.

Regardless, I’ll say confidently that Johnson should be banned from college sports forever, period. This view is not about retribution or disgust with Johnson himself; I find his behavior disgusting, but I have no desire to forever demonize an adolescent for what might well involve lingering impulse control issues. Further, American football, as much as it also exemplifies strict discipline and the plain decency of sportsmanship at its best, also rewards blunt force and quick, violent reaction. It has certainly rewarded Johnson in that regard, and the mixed signals have perhaps proved toxic. Similar to the challenge the military has in developing warriors who can still act morally and with grave restraint whether or not under direct command, football demands line-drawing and a delicate balance between the unleashing of violence and the crucial mettle of self-control.

Still, Andre Johnson’s stunning failure to make these distinctions is exactly why, as unfortunate as it is for him, he must be made an example of and stripped of a privilege he squandered in a pitiless, inexcusable rage. Nothing short of that sends a message sufficient in terms of moral clarity and the rightful demands of a civilized society.

For football, nine seconds is enough.

Cathy Young Wants Feminists to Describe Rape As “Ugly Sexual Encounters.” Don’t Let Her.

It might be irony, the way it’s commonly portrayed. Or it might just be rank hypocrisy. Whatever it is, Cathy Young, in her May 20, 2015, post embodies it.

The caption under the istock photo the Washington Post chose to accompany this vacuous and alarmist piece was the following: “We need to stop prosecuting bad behavior as rape.”

Really? As if a non-stranger rape prosecution tidal wave has formed, blocking all other efforts to seek justice at the courthouse?

No, that’s not happening, but thankfully we have Cathy Young showing us the way to avoid such abominations, what with her two anecdotes about regretted sexual encounters and literally nothing else. What’s funny, though, is that Cathy herself admits fully that she 1) didn’t view the negative sexual encounters she describes as a crime, and 2) she didn’t report them as such.

Welcome, Cathy, to reality. That’s what pretty much all women and men do, and by the way? It’s what the vast majority of victims do when the “encounters” actually are, objectively and by any statutory definition, rape. And this wasn’t just when you were young, Cathy. It’s still true now. And it probably will be for a very long time.

I’m sure Cathy would point out though, that what prompted her breathless piece was the idea that legions of women like her, armed now with 2015-era “feminist” notions of victimhood, are poised to suddenly push open the floodgates of litigation to incorrectly and unjustly imprison men who simply used “seductiveness” to turn a “no” into a “yes.” Ms. Young would have us believe that a few reasonable initiatives regarding consent, and a renewed movement against an age-old scourge have somehow eviscerated fair judgment in the average person and created a monster of inaccurate reports and false victims.


In fact, rapists now, just as rapists when Cathy Young was in her teens or twenties, rely on myths, shame, and fear in order to keep their victims silenced. In terms of what Ms. Young has brought to the issue, this means being 1) silently obedient to Cathy Young’s interpretation of their experiences, and 2) repentantly observant of the Washington Post’s clever istock choice of an obviously whoring slut searching for her pumps under a man’s bed.

The message? If you believe you’ve been raped, you’re probably wrong, and you probably did something to either bring it on or otherwise allow for it to happen.

So blame feminism. Blame the “liberal media.” Blame yourselves, certainly.

Just never blame the rapist. In Cathy Young’s world, there are far fewer of them than there are hysterical and litigious versions of you.






When the Columnist (Kristof) Doesn’t Recognize The Wrong Lede

To Nicholas Kristof, columnist, The New York Times:

Your May 23, 2015 column was entitled “When the Rapist Doesn’t See It As Rape.”

When I saw that you were taking this issue on, my heart soared. I’ve adored you for years. I love your compassion, your courage, your wit, and your willingness to embody my favorite of all journalistic pledges, “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” So criticizing you does not come easily.

You wrote a timely, needed column on the phenomenon of non-stranger sexual violence that takes place in every area of society, but has gained attention most prominently within the college environment (mirrored by the military environment and many high school ones as well). But why did you lead (journalistically “lede”) with the story of Brian Banks and Wanetta Gibson, one of the very rare but most bluntly clear examples of rank false reporting seen in recent years?

As you note, Gibson not only recanted, but was demonstrated to be lying thanks to a sting video captured by lawyers who were rightfully assisting Banks in uncovering the crime of a baseless lie that appears to have been inspired by Gibson’s mother. Wanetta Gibson, from what is believed, was inspired by her mother to falsify an accusation against Brian Banks so that a payout could be obtained through a civil action against the school district she attended. The Gibsons pocketed 1.5 million dollars in a settlement, and that false accusation cost Banks not only five years in the California state correctional system, but apparently a professional football career as well. Banks has been gracious since his exoneration was, thankfully, made official by the Los Angeles County District Attorneys Office in May of 2012. Were it up to me as a prosecutor, I’d likely have gone after at least Wanetta’s mother (Wanetta was a juvenile at the time of the false allegation) assuming the facts are as they’ve been presented in the media.

But moving on from that, I am at a loss as to why you, in a column that otherwise correctly describes the daunting challenge of responding to sexual violence that is and has always been a sadly regular part of collage life, chose to spend roughly a third of your powerful piece on something that almost never happens.

You yourself point out the rarity of false allegations in rape cases. You then correctly spend the rest of the piece on the far more common and present danger to young women (and some men) posed by predatory people on college campuses who get away with rape again and again because of familiarity, culture, and institutional self-protection.

Still, you return to the convenient myth of allegations of rape that are the result of sexual encounters that are, “complex, ambiguous, fueled by alcohol, and prone to he-said-she-said uncertainties.”

Hogwash, Mr. Kristof.

In fact, most rape is predatory in nature; you yourself allude to Dr. David Lisak’s ground breaking research. Worse, most predators, whether articulate enough or not to describe it, are gleefully aware of the alcohol fueled, “he said, she said” patina of doubt that saves them from consequences and that you problematically promote even as you claim to do the opposite.

But more importantly, most victims of rape, meaning women and men who have been clearly perpetrated against by any commonly accepted legal description, do exactly what perpetrators hope for and expect: They blame themselves, they fold the experience into their lives, and they move on. The idea that false or “mistaken” claims of sexual assault are anywhere near as a big a problem as sexual assault itself is simply baseless and misleading.

I don’t doubt that you believe these things, sir. I only wonder why you structured a column that seems to devalue those far more profound truths in the interest of giving column inches to what is largely a dangerous distraction.

What’s to Blame for Josh Duggar? Institutionalism, not Christianity

What we know: Josh Duggar’s admission is great fodder against Duggar Family Values, which include anti-gay stances as well as assertions that “non-traditional” values endanger children.

What we don’t know: What created the awful urges in Josh to begin with. Those opposed to what this powerful family both believes and attempts to influence politically are triumphantly declaring things like home-schooling and hyper-religiosity to be petri dishes for the kind of sexual deviance Josh displayed as a teenager.

They’re probably wrong.

As deliciously tempting as it is for some on my side of the political spectrum to demonize the Duggars and their way of life as some sort of catalyst for awful behavior, there’s little psychological evidence to support that. In fact, Josh’s deviance was most likely not (in and of itself) the product of home schooling or any other religious dogma or tradition the Duggars took part in. Sexual deviance, as far we know at this point, does not generate that way. More likely, Josh was (or is) deviant for reasons we don’t understand, but that are probably innate (“nature”) and/or the product of his environment (“nurture”), but in a different way than we normally observe.

I am no soothsayer, but what I’ve come to understand after a career of dealing with this pathology is that it is simply everywhere. The conservative numbers (1 in 3 girls and about 1 in 6 boys) remain replicable, reliable and constant. Sexual abuse happens everywhere: Among the religious and non-religious. Among the rich, the poor, the city dweller, the farmer, etc., etc., etc. The sexual abuse of children, whether by teenagers like Josh Duggar or by more mature adults, happens continuously and universally.

Therefore, the question better asked is not “what made this happen?” but “what allowed it to flourish and continue in that particular situation?” In the case of the world of “19 and Counting,” we should look, as always, to an institution.

In Josh Duggar’s world, the institution of dogmatic, insular Christianity provided him two things: First, It made it easier for him not only to offend, but to get away with offending. Second, it did so in a manner that leaves him today free of legal consequences, still married, and still employable. Here’s how:

Whatever Josh was (or is), he grew up in a male-dominated world where “the father is the head of the family as Christ is the head of the Church.” Firstly, his was an environment that exalted a Christian-based order that, among other things, clamped down on any opposition or suggestion of “rebellion.” This very likely discouraged his victims from reporting his actions to other family members or anyone who might have made a difference. Rebellion, after all, can be perceived as anything that upsets the proverbial apple cart. This was a fact probably not lost on Josh himself as he chose his victims.

Secondly, this same Christian-based worldview necessitated, as it does with any religiously based orthodoxy, an “in-house” solution to conflict or deviant behavior within the environment. Why? Because it reinforces the idea that the religion itself has within it the answer to every problem- there is never a need to consult outside sources which are doubtlessly less pure and enlightened.

But even more dangerous is the insistence on handling matters of “conflict” within the religious environment so that the outside world will not perceive flaws or weaknesses within its structure. The Duggars likely perceive themselves, as many do in their circumstances, as holdouts against a world moving in a direction they neither trust nor respect. The last thing they want that outside world to perceive is a weakness within their structure.

It’s important to understand how these things explain (but do not excuse) the Duggar’s response to a heartbreaking and haunting problem, and why offenders like Josh Duggar can flourish in environments otherwise mortally opposed to behavior like his. But it’s equally important to understand what they don’t explain.

They don’t explain Josh’s deviance to begin with. That’s a question we dare not breezily discard with the easy answer of demonizing religion. Or culture. Or anything else. Because as far as we know, deviance poisons all of these equally.