Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Public passion and The Great Lottery of Justice.

Whether or not there's nothing new under the sun, I don't think you'll find anything under the rock that hasn't been tried before and won't be tried again.  With all the sensationalism, the emotionalism, the frenzy of  a  mob steered by familiar hands -- with the same readiness to believe the same old things and call for the same old retribution with the same old accusations we hear today by some of the same people, Tawana Brawly was all too readily believed to have been a victim of racism and rape nearly 30 years ago and some will still insist she was even when all the evidence gathered with such painstaking evidence, all the eye witness testimony and Grand Jury deliberation and all the science and all the logic failed to back up her accusations against six white men.

When the 'Reverend' Al Sharpton made the case his ticket to wealth and stardom, the accusations became an unshakable matter of faith as righteously indignant crowds assembled in the streets, lead by polemicists of dubious honesty like Louis Farrakhan, and noteworthy Liberals manned the barricades. It was so obviously a case of white racism and a cover up by racist police and racist courts that no evidence other than the story she told the cops was needed -- only it wasn't true. At the height of the controversy in June 1988, a poll showed a gap of 34 percentage points between blacks (51%) and whites (85%) on the question of whether she was lying.*  That in itself was used as further evidence of racism, of male bias.

Although Reverend Sharpton has long since and quietly paid  heavy  monetary damages to Steven Pagones, one of the people whose lives he and Brawly inter alia wantonly ruined, Brawly has only now begun to pay, on installment,  the $410,000 defamation judgement against her.

And then there was the infamous "central park jogger" case where 5 minority juveniles (4 African American and one Hispanic) were convicted of a massively brutal rape and beating of a white woman only three years later, in 1989.  The crime received massive coverage and generated massive outrage.

 "This is the ultimate shriek of alarm." 

said New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and of course the "wake up call"  the "turning point" had the result of forced confessions, extracted from 5 scared minority kids sending them to prison. It was hardly enough to satisfy the public blood lust, but of course this time those who smelled racism smelled correctly.  The convictions were based on the need to be "tough on crime" what with 3,254 rapes reported in New York City that year, and not on evidence. One 16 year old defendant shouted After the verdict, Wise shouted at the prosecutor: "You’re going to pay for this. Jesus is going to get you. You made this ... up." at the prosecutor.**

It didn't have to wait for Jesus, but the young man was right. The true rapist eventually confessed and his DNA, unlike that of the convicted youths matched that found on the victim.  the judgements were vacated ,  but once more, prejudice, the certainty of the public, the manufactured hysteria of rabble-rousers, the twisted view of facts had ruined more lives.


Robert Charles Smith, Richard Seltzer. Contemporary Controversies and the American Racial Divide. Rowman & Littlefield, 2000

**"2 guilty in jog case". New York Daily News. December 12, 1990.

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