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.


Circus Maximus MMXVI: Go on and put your ear to the ground

17 10 2016

I. The reasons someone supports a candidate you hate may not be the reasons you hate the candidate.

I think Donald Trump a menace, an unstable, thin-skinned, ill-informed blowhard who built his candidacy on a nasty brew of resentment and bigotry. I consider his terrible temperament—the sulking, the whining, the needy bullying—and terrible policies (to the extent he has any) and think What a fucking disaster.

Some (half? most?) Trump fans look at those same things and think Fuck yeah! Where I see instability, they see authenticity; what seems to me ill-informed seems to them common sense; resentment is, yes, resentment, but a righteous one; and bigotry, well, that’s simply refreshing political-incorrectness.

Some (half? most?) of these fans like the shove-it attitude just because he’s saying Shove it.

And some (half? most?) see only a champion for a life they want to have, think they deserve.

II.  Loss of privilege—unearned, unjust privilege—still registers as loss.

White supremacy is the founding injustice of this nation.

As a matter of justice in a plural nation, its destruction is of the greatest urgency.

As a matter of sociology in a plural nation, this destruction has led, does lead, to existential dislocation, to status disorientation on the part of those white folks who never had to deal with the costs of the construction of that whiteness.

As a matter of politics, both must be dealt with.

III. Everybody knows that the dice are loaded.

And nobody knows another game.

Is it worse to fix the fix, or to blow it all to hell, and start over?

The fix of the fix won’t hold; there’ll be new fixes. And blowing it all to hell is to blow it all away; there will be no restoration.

Pause: This is not to excuse—anything, or anyone.

I am trying to understand, to say what I see, to see what I see.

Whatever we deny or embrace

25 03 2015

Sometimes a girl just wants a beer.

I don’t want to have to be bothered with the bodega owner’s religious beliefs, or the beer company’s political donations; I don’t want to have to run through some kind of checklist of acceptable/unacceptable views before I lay down my 10 bucks for a six-pack.

You see, all that time I spent spewing a not-inconsiderable number of words on the concept of “one law for all”, I was really just covering for my own laziness.

Okay, not entirely true, but if we decide to divvy up our laws and protections based on personal beliefs, then those of us who have strong beliefs (of whatever sort) are gonna end up wasting time trying to make sure we’re not paying for someone else’s loathsome agenda.

I don’t mind searching for fair trade coffee, say, and do try (although sometimes fail: Amazon) to buy products and services from companies which don’t mistreat their workers; connecting labor conditions to the purchase of things labored is a pretty direct relationship, and thus makes sense to me.

But beyond that direct economic relationship, I’m a raving pluralist, and thus neither want nor expect that everyone and every company which produces anything I could possible buy, use, or otherwise enjoy would line up with my own beliefs.

More than that, I think it would be bad if we only ever consorted with our own kind on every last thing.

How dull. How constricting. How small.

I do notice the expressed political or religious views of authors and actors and musicians, and yeah, it does affect my view of them—and I don’t like that. (I have yet to write the Play to End All Plays, but if I could get Brian Dennehy or Danny Aiello to star, I would be a fool to turn them down just because they’re conservative.) I don’t know these people, will never know these people, so if I’m watching a movie or listening to a song, why should their personal views have anything to do with my enjoyment of their performance?

Such tribalism is only human, I guess, but I don’t have to feed it; getting past tribalism is human, too.

Which is where one-law-for-all comes into play: it’s good for pluralism. When we enter the public sphere, each of us is by law equal to the other, which means that by law each can go where and do whatever anyone else can do*. It is a basic kind of justice.

(*Yes, there are some exceptions to this—“employees only” and “you must be this tall. . .” and all that—but the general rule stands.)

It is—horribly—clear that not everyone is treated equally and that injustice is a daily part of life. Still, that we are all to be equal under the law promises, if only in the breach, that each of us deserves to be a part of public life, that however different we may be from one another, we belong.

All right, I’m getting tired, my thoughts are wandering, and this argument is falling apart even as I make it, so lemme just jump to the end: having different laws for different groups disrupts that basic equality and obscures the basic standard of justice. Instead of being free to move about the country, one has to worry about getting/determining who to shut out.

And the second end: if we instantiate the lines we draw around ourselves, those lines come to matter more than anything else—more than the beer, the books, or the movies we could enjoy, more than ease of moving through our towns and our cities, more than the experience of being in the world.

I don’t want society to be a mush; I want us to be able to differ. And the best way to do that is to make sure that, whatever our differences, we are, by law, treated the same.