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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Other White Lies

posted by on October 25 at 11:16 AM

The conversation my brother started below about believing or not believing accusations of rape is complicated. The pendulum has swung from blame-the-victim to assume-the-accused-is-guilty not just in the area of sexual violence, but in “hate crimes” in general, as a case here at Northwestern demonstrated a couple of years ago.

An Hispanic male freshman had “die spic” and some other stuff appear on the message board outside his room in one of the dorms. Understandable uproar ensues, much wringing of hands.

The next week: he says someone jumps him, puts a knife to his throat and makes some threats.
I hear this story before it hits the Daily Northwestern and immediately, in front of witnesses, say, “Bullshit. Never happened. Kid made it up.” Why? My son-of-a-cop instinct about criminals and the nature of different sorts of crimes. Someone who’d write something mean and hateful and prejudiced and bad anonymously on a message board was a coward, not someone who’d jump out of some bushes with a fucking knife at 2 in the morning. And the kid couldn’t identify the attacker, race or height or weight. Claimed to be too freaked out.

But after my initial expression of doubt, I kept my peace—wouldn’t want to appear insensitive to hate crimes. News coverage, student marches against hate etc, ensue. Kid gives impassioned speech against hate crimes, becomes campus hero.

A few weeks later, turns out the kid was lying. He wrote the slurs on his own board, he made up the knife attack. He wanted to be a campus leader and expose how evil hate crimes were. He gets kicked out of school and prosecuted for filing false police reports.

Lesson learned: anyone can lie. Facts are facts. Reserve judgment about serious matters until you know some facts.

Y’all remember Susan Smith, don’t you?

RSS icon Comments


Interesting story -- such a tricky issue and a betrayal of trust. Don't forget the Runaway Bride from Georgia... Olbermann called that one from the get go on MSNBC while everyone was freaking out...

Posted by GoodGrief | October 25, 2006 11:53 AM

Good story to point out. Alongside the issues brought up... TV, Reality TV and mainstream news media sensationalism are all somewhat to blame. This kid had more to gain than just being an advocate/hero: it got him face time, in a world placing an increasing value on reality TV face time.

I had a transient in Kirkland once threaten to "cut my gook head off and send it to Chinatown." I didn't need to go to the cops or the news, as I walked away, he drifted off somewhere and nothing else ever came of it... but I'm an exception to what's becoming an ominous social rule. I wonder what another would have done in my situation.

Posted by Gomez | October 25, 2006 12:02 PM

Sounds more like Narcissistic Personality Disorder with a focus on being perceived as a victim - though the reality TV idea is an interesting take on it.

Posted by dewsterling | October 25, 2006 12:07 PM

There's a reason why we have these things called trials. Your cop instincts are great as far as they go, but ultimately some kind of dispassionate analysis needs to take place. Knowledge is impossible, which is where "reasonable doubt" comes in.

Unfortunately we are now asked nightly to make immediate judgements based on deeply managed presentations on news programs, or even worse, Nancy Grace-style prosecution shows. And everyone knows how to manipulate this process now.

Domestic violence is a crime. It's JUST a crime. That is not meant to sound callous; it's just recognizing the fact that it is not a special category of offense so heinous and so delicate that we have to throw out centuries of rules of evidence and procedure. Victims of abuse do need protection, but we have to be careful not to reduce them to the equivalent of dolls in the process. Likewise, rape should not be treated as a special kind of crime, that not only injures a woman's person but damages her delicate sensibilities as a fragile flower of womanhood, which is what a lot of rape legislation has traditionally been based on.

Stick to the facts, and prosecute the crime. If the bad guy is guilty, punish him. All the rest is emotion masquerading as justice. And vigilante justice is ALWAYS WRONG.

Posted by Fnarf | October 25, 2006 12:18 PM

In the interest of fairplay, I'd like to point out that several years ago in the Seattle suburbs, if I recall correctly, a gay couple trashed their own house, spray painted "faggots" on their walls, and reported it as a hate crime.

Some people lie, fags are people. Some fags lie.

Posted by Dan Savage | October 25, 2006 12:59 PM

Similarly, Audrey Seiler, who inspired the brilliant play "Audrey Seiler, Where Are You?"..

Posted by brandon | October 25, 2006 1:09 PM

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