Friday, February 13, 2009

History Of Using Rape Victims As Excuse For Injustice Against Black Men

After I wrote my post Injustice from those speaking out against injustice about people blaming Michelle Mallin for the wrongful conviction of Timothy Cole I had responses from Womanist Musings and James Landrith which incorrectly assumed that I do not know about the history of injustice against black men who are accused of raping white women. I am aware of this history and condemn this injustice.

This history of injustice against black men in the name of protecting white women is real and well documented. Less documented is another injustice which often goes hand in hand with that injustice. Scapegoating rape victims or those who reported being raped, or who allegedly reported being raped, as the cause of violence against and wrongful convictions of black men, or other men of color, including lynching.

This is what I saw happening again in response to Timothy Cole's exoneration and what I opposed. The current DA has joined in on this scapegoating.

This second injustice is used both to continue the first type of injustice and to make excuses for the actions of those responsible for the first type of injustice. If those who are responsible for the first injustice can get people to focus their blame on women who reported being raped then they can continue practicing injustice against black men unimpeded while increasing the amount of injustice against rape victims.

From Ida B. Wells' Southern Horrors essay on lynching from 1892:

To palliate this record (which grows worse as the Afro-American becomes intelligent) and excuse some of the most heinous crimes that ever stained the history of a country, the South is shielding itself behind the plausible screen of defending the honor of its women. This, too, in the face of the fact that only one-third of the 728 victims to mobs have been charged with rape, to say nothing of those of that one-third who were innocent of the charge. A white correspondent of the Baltimore Sun declares that the Afro-American who was lynched in Chestertown, Md., in May for assault on a white girl was innocent; that the deed was done by a white man who had since disappeared. The girl herself maintained that her assailant was a white man. When that poor Afro-American was murdered, the whites excused their refusal of a trial on the ground that they wished to spare the white girl the mortification of having to testify in court.

Too many of those who refer to this history of using rape to justify lynching aren't aware that a white rape victim having her genuine report of rape misused to commit an injustice is nothing new. Yet because of the unjust outcome she, like Mallin, most likely got wrongfully blamed for that man's death by many people opposed to injustice.

As this quote demonstrates most of those lynched were not accused of rape by any woman yet rape was used as a generic excuse. Despite this reality, women who reported being raped in the time of lynching are generally described as being the cause of those lynchings when this simply isn't true.

Rape or the fear of rape was nothing more than an excuse for lawlessness and terrorism.

After the Omaha riot in 1919 where Will Brown, jailed for rape, was lynched and burned the grand jury heard reports that white men darkened their faces before raping white women so that the victims would assume that they were raped by black men. The allegation was that the rapes were committed as part of a premeditated plan to spark a race riot. Prior to the riot a newspaper article claimed that the victim positively IDed Brown as her rapist but police reports contradicted that claim.

Those who lynched these 2 men decades apart wanted to lynch them and they wanted to excuse their terrorism by putting the responsibility for their actions onto rape victims. They were in no way helping those rape victims and their actions showed no interest in doing so. These rapes were likely seen as a great opportunity for those at the center of these injustices.

Those violent men wanted to shift their guilt for lynching an innocent man onto the girl who was raped by a white man and onto a woman who was either raped by a black man or a white one pretending to be black. These rape victim's trauma was meaningless to the lynch mob.

When false allegations were willingly made by a white woman against a black man those women were responsible for their part in that injustice. But just as with criminal allegations against black men, criminal allegations made against white women need to be based on credible evidence not merely on the excuses of those who commit injustices against black men in the name of protecting white women.

Not blaming Michelle Mallin for Timothy Cole's wrongful conviction doesn't mean not blaming anyone for the injustice done in her rape case. Yet for too many people "innocent rape suspect" always equals "guilty alleged rape victim" whether or not that alleged rape victim was actually raped or acted in good faith at all times.

I had a commenter who seemed to make the assumption of victim guilt in his comments about the exoneration of Darryl Hunt based on DNA analysis. What he failed to note was that the raped women was also murdered. He had heard that the rape kit exonerated a man and brought that up to undermine rape victim testimony in criminal trials.

Hunt's conviction came about because 2 male witnesses were led to ID him and Hunt's girlfriend was coerced by the police into incriminating Hunt. Yet for this commenter an innocent and murdered woman was the defacto agent of injustice.

For those who blame Mallin for not being aware of Cole's innocence there seems to be a belief that as a white woman she had far more power than she actually had. She has been described as having charged Cole with rape, but she didn't have the power to do that. The DA charged Cole with a rape he didn't commit.

Mallin is described as giving bad information to the police, but she gave a wide range of identifying information about her rapist and the police ignored her testimony that she was raped by a chain smoker. If they hadn't ignored her testimony then Cole would have been eliminated as a suspect before she was subjected to a faulty ID process.

Yet the reports are that the police relied on her completely. Clearly they did no such thing. When it was convenient to convicting Cole they relied on her testimony and when it wasn't convenient they ignored her testimony.

Mallin herself did not have access to the exonerating information or the information about the other suspect in her case for many years. Yet she has been blamed for the choices made by incompetent, unethical or hateful investigators and prosecutors.

This isn't about Mallin being unreliable. This is about her being the latest scapegoat for systematic injustice which goes back for over a century.

When the anger for Cole's wrongful conviction and early death is focused on the rape victim who tried to the best of her ability to identify the correct person and who when she realized that the wrong person was convicted worked to see him exonerated, those who are genuinely responsible for this injustice benefit.

If the tools of injustice are allowed to remain because most of the focus is on blaming the rape victim then there will be more injustices against innocent suspects in violent crimes and more injustices against innocent victims of violent crimes.

I don't want to see either of those happen again.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 9:45 AM   2 comments links to this post


At February 13, 2009 2:27 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

Ida B. Wells was a very courageous black woman who researched the issue of lynching and it was Wells who discovered how white men demonised black men as 'rapists' and these same white men used white women as pawns. The white men who engaged in lynching black men were determined to maintain white male supremacy over black women, black men and of course white women. White men rather than as they claimed wished to 'protect white women' believed and many still continue to believe, that white women are white men's sexual property not autonomous human beings. Black women, however were viewed by many white men as non-rapeable but simply sexual commodities for white male consumption. This meant white men were able to escape justice because the law refused to prosecute white men for raping black women. This incovenient truth is all too often ignored.

Likewise present day legal systems all too often use the myth of 'black rapist' in order to promote and maintain their white racist and misogynistic male supremacy.

Blaming Michelle Mallin is a clever way of hiding male law enforcement officers' accountability. Women rape survivors are commonly viewed as either 'inate liars' or else they are used as pawns by white males to maintain the myth black men commit rape but never white men. Truth is both black and white men commit rape against black and white women. But this does not mean all white and black males are rapists.

Ida B. Wells was castigated and newspapers of the time regularly demonised her because she attempted to portray the truth rather than white men's lies. History is once again repeating itself and it is white rapists who are escaping justice and rape survivors being blamed for the ingrained failures of white male-defined legal systems.

At February 15, 2009 2:01 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Anonymous from Georgetown, South Carolina,

If you want your defense of your earlier comment approved drop the personal attacks and use your real name.


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