Category Archives: Everything Else

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.





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.

Young White Privilege, a Camera, and an Apparently Good Cop

I teach a sociology class called “Policing and Society” at a state college in Northern New Jersey, not far from where I live in New York City. My class is almost evenly split between white, African-American and Latino students. Some come from the ghettos of Paterson and Camden, some from wealthy Bergen County suburbs. Most want jobs in law enforcement.

Not surprisingly, my students have been sharing with me videos of police interactions captured by bystanders or police-issued body and dash cameras all semester long. Most depict suspected misconduct and abuse, but a few portray police men and women doing the right thing under remarkably stressful circumstances.

There’s one that’s apparently gone viral over Facebook (shown here from Youtube) that was brought to my attention earlier this week. We watched it together, all of us, and it sparked a discussion I was grateful to have; it was was probably the most honest and open one we’ve had all semester around this difficult topic.

Very simply, it captures the eviction of a group of young people (and the eventual, lawful arrest of one of them) from an IHOP by a Fort Wayne, Indiana, policeman. By the opinion of most who have viewed it, attempts by the amateur videographer to capture “police brutality” and improper use of force have backfired. The officer involved instead appears remarkably restrained and professional despite behavior that can only be called reprehensible and most certainly criminal.

The larger point the video made to me, though, and that my class seemed to agree with (across racial and cultural lines) is this: If you don’t believe that young, white kids- from what appear to be at least middle class backgrounds- expect to be treated differently by police and are more emboldened to challenge their authority, you’re not living in the real world.

Of course, what’s depicted is only what was captured in one place on one night. Still, there is the undeniable hint of a microcosm here in terms of what these youth regularly believe is not only survivable, but not even reckless. In some way, in their minds, it’s actually appropriate. Don’t like what a cop is telling you to do? Scream in his face and dare him to arrest you. Have a friend follow along with a phone camera, demanding explanations from him from a couple of feet away as he tries to do his job in the face of despicable, taunting vulgarity and a repeated refusal to cooperate. Why not? What’s the worse that’ll happen?

Then contrast that with the young, African-American men in the same video, at just before the 1:00 mark, who look on silently and are utterly non-confrontational. There’s no evidence they were involved with the offending crowd in any way to begin with, and also none that the responding officer would have treated them any differently. Regardless, whatever their intentions were or their attitudes toward police are, they kept those things to themselves.

Why? Because they’re not stupid.

Neither are my students.

Injecting Reality Into Nonsense: PCAR & the Letourneau/Faulaau Interview

The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape has done a great service to sanity in releasing an edited, non-sanitized version of what ABC’s press release on Barbara Walters’ interview with Mary Letourneau and Villi Faulaau should have looked like from the start.

PCAR’s unblinking release speaks for itself, but among the idiocies that it should help to contradict is the notion that Letourneau at this point really should be forgiven, since she’s been married to Faulaau for 10 years now- a longer period than many marriages in non-criminal circumstances.

Here’s a thought: Faulaau is likely still in a marriage with Letourneau because he was raped and broken at a remarkably tender age. His bouts with depression and substance are only a part of the testimony to this. His entire life was truncated and derailed to a degree none of us will ever fully know. This was done by Letourneau, willingly and repeatedly, until he was trapped, largely stripped of his identity, and lost.

Letourneau destroyed him. The fact that she’s “kept” him so far makes her no less evil, destructive, and selfish.


“Couch-Surfing” Teenager Sexually Victimized: Sadly, Not Surprising

I wish I could say I was surprised. In 2013 I wrote a piece on what I believe are the inherent dangers associated with the “couch surfing” phenomenon, and sadly why I do not believe that the organization (Couchsurfing is described as a Certified B Corporation) has sufficient procedures or even warnings in place to prevent the kind of abuse that can occur under its rubric.

Next month, an Italian policeman, Dino Maglio, will go on trial for the rape of an Australian woman 16 years-old at the time of the crime when she was staying at his home on a visit to Italy. Her outcry and the resulting case has led other victims of the same man to come forward as well. It seems apparent that Maglio had an effective cover within the couch surfing world as a policeman, among other things.

Unfortunately, he also had an effective platform in Couchsurfing itself, and in its (in my estimation) “kind of feel your way” approach to judging the safety of a situation from afar, and then in the moment.

I’m still confident that couch surfing is a harmless and indeed quite positive experience for the great majority of those who utilize it. Regardless, one life-changing crime is too many, and it appears that Couchsurfing is still far too vulnerable to infiltration by offenders who probably find it remarkably convenient and victim-rich.

In my view, Couchsurfing enthusiasts and the leaders of the organization need to take a hard look at how the safety of a particular situation can be and/or is evaluated by typical users, and how users can better ensure against inevitable abuse.

I don’t claim to have many answers, but I’ll offer this hint: Communication, no matter how robust, with the host, and even face-to-face conversation before unrolling a sleeping bag, will not be enough.