Boy, you gotta carry that weight

12 06 2019

When are you responsible, for what, and for how long?

Linda Fairstein, who worked hard to put Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise (aka the Central Park 5) into prison for a horrendous crime they did not commit, is unhappy that that hard work has come in for some criticism.

She prosecuted the Central Park jogger rape case, was heavily supported by elites and the media in that prosecution, did the job that was expected of her. And even though she was but one of a litany of cops and those in the DAs who fucked up horrendously—not only were 5 kids jailed for a crime they didn’t commit, the man, Matias Reyes, who did rape Trisha Meili remained free to rape other women, and to kill at least one of them—fucked up horrendously she did.

So what should she do with that?

I’ve mentioned before that I am leery of clean slates for adults, that I think we should carry our deeds with us; how far does that go? How heavy must these deeds remain?

If we must keep trouble in mind, how much trouble?

I think you only get to lighten yourself after you’ve accepted that you’ve done wrong, and try, in some way, to atone. And if you can’t make it up to those you’ve wronged, then you accept that you can’t make it up, and say nothing more.

The late senator Ted Kennedy killed Mary Jo Kopechne; she’s dead due to his recklessness and unwillingness to get help for her when that help might have saved her life. He evaded the social consequences—prison—for his deeds (his 2-month sentence was suspended), and went on to a long public life as senator. He was lauded and respected for his political work.

Should he have remained a senator? Should that respect have been withheld?

I don’t know the answer to these. Had this happened today, I’d say No, and Yes, but I only knew the Kennedy who didn’t pay the consequences back then, who was able to build the public record for which he received that respect. Had he gone to prison, had the full story come out then, he might have gone away, and stayed away.

Did Kopechne weigh on his conscience? After the initial testimony, I don’t know that Kennedy said much about Chappaquiddick one way or the other. He apparently spoke with her parents a couple of times, but not to their satisfaction; publicly, he said little.

And that may have been the least he could do. If he couldn’t make it right, he could at least not proclaim over the years that he did no wrong.

I don’t know how to calibrate Fairstein’s versus Kennedy’s wrongs; how do you measure 5 boys, wrongly imprisoned, versus one young woman killed? He committed a crime, whereas she did nothing illegal; what happened to all six was unjust.

But her response to her wrongs bother me more than his, and I’m not sure why or if that even makes sense.

Maybe her defense of herself irritates because it’s so recent. I was a toddler when Kennedy defended himself, so wasn’t aware enough to take umbrage at his evasions. But now I’m a grown-ass woman listening to another grown-ass woman trying to justify injustice, and. . . no.

Maybe it’s because, all of these long years after the case, and after the real rapist was found, and after the convictions were vacated, she’s still defending herself. Okay, she says, maybe the  boys didn’t actually commit the rape, but those kids were still guilty of . . . something, and oh, by the way, we didn’t do anything wrong.

Of course, she’s wrong about being not-wrong:

In what she called “the film’s most egregious falsehoods,” she noted that the series depicts the teenagers as being held without food and their parents as not always being present during questioning. “If that had been true, surely they would have brought those issues up and prevailed in pretrial hearings on the voluntariness of their statements, as well as in their lawsuit against the city,” Ms. Fairstein wrote. “They didn’t, because it never happened.”

In fact, according to a 2003 report on the investigation commissioned by the New York Police Department, the defendants did raise these issues in a pretrial hearing, though they did not prevail.

She might not like how she was portrayed in When They See Us, might take issue with being portrayed as, in her words, an “evil mastermind”. I can see how that might sting.

And that she felt that she had to resign from a number of boards and that her publisher dropped her? Yeah, that probably hurt.

But she did herself no favors by taking that private hurt public and belittling the public hurt visited upon these young men. Maybe there was a way for her to have meaningfully engaged Ava DuVernay’s film and its portrayal of her, but that would have required her to have recognized the injustice of her real-life actions, which she apparently is unwilling to do.

Given that, it would have been better for her simply to have said nothing.

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