Sunday, February 08, 2009

Injustice From Those Speaking Out Against Injustice

From the Statesman:

It seems some people who chose to comment online about the sad case of Timothy Cole, reported in yesterday’s Statesman and online here, blame rape victim Michele Mallin for Cole’s conviction in the case, long prison term and death behind bars in 1999 at the age of 39.

Mallin, at the time a 20-year-old college student at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, identified then fellow Tech student Cole (at right) as her attacker in 1985 in a photographic and live line-up. Lubbock police had no other evidence tying him to the crime and it turns out ignored evidence that another suspect, who years later confessed, could have done it.

Mallin, who is coming to Austin this week to help Cole’s family clear his name, has been reading the mean-spirited comments and defended herself in an e-mail:

“It just hurts that anyone would ever think that I did this maliciously. I mean I am a victim myself of a horrible rape which is how this whole entire NIGHTMARE began. If I had been made aware of the facts, such as the fact that there was another very valid suspect that I never even knew about or even that Tim Cole had asthma when I specifically told them the guy smoked, I would have been the FIRST one to want more of an investigation and to find the true culprit. Why on earth would I or anyone else want the wrong person to pay for any crime? That makes no sense and it just shows me how completely ignorant that people are to even think something like that.”

I wish I were shocked at these baseless attacks directed at a woman who has gone out of her way to correct a wrong that wasn't hers and to help see an innocent man publicly exonerated. The faulty methodology of the rape investigation and the decision by investigators to cling to that faulty methodology at the expense of a thorough investigation are to blame for this wrongful ID and wrongful conviction.

Attacks directed at this woman and the assumption that women who report rape are inherently unreliable witnesses miss the mark as to the cause of this injustice. Worse than not doing a thing to prevent a repeat of this type of injustice, their attacks inject additional injustices. These personal attackers become the very thing they hate: agents of injustice.

Different ID processes have been studied and some ID processes have been shown to lead victims and witnesses to ID a specific person who may not match the full description in obvious ways. Those who are traumatized by violent crime and those who were witnesses in a case when they were not traumatized can both have their doubts wrongfully shot down by investigators who see those doubts as wishwashiness rather than as potentially meaningful.

Too many jurisdictions don't have a standardized ID process or good training for all those who participate in the IDing process. This failure gets overlooked when people focus their attacks and criticisms on rape victims in cases where the wrong suspect was IDed and convicted.

This can result in the wrong person being convicted and it can also result in the right person being acquitted because the ID process which IDed the correct person is shown by the defense to be unreliable.

But for many people the first error is the only one that matters. If a bad process allows a rapist to rape again or if a bad process allows a stalker to murder the person stalked or allows a rapist to murder someone else that rape or death isn't viewed as a result of injustice by hose who are quick to make rape victims scapegoats because the person who was raped or murdered wasn't placed on death row or put into prison. Yet it is an injustice which is just as real as the death of someone wrongfully convicted.

For some of those who are quick to make rape victims scapegoats this second type of injustice doesn't seem to count because many of the victims of this type of injustice are women. Some of these people seem completely unaware that women are also falsely convicted of committing violent crimes. Victim of injustice for them equals male victim of injustice.

Because of this narrow awareness and narrow focus too many of those who claim to be against injustice turn around and support faulty methodologies and dangerous shortcuts when these lead real rape victims to be labeled as liars. This happens because those methodologies give these people results which supports their bigotry. That makes these people no better than investigators who use bad processes to strengthen the case against an innocent rape suspect they believe to be guilty because of their bigotry or their snap judgments.

The so-called second rape of those who report having been raped is too often defended as necessary to prevent injustice when it almost always creates an injustice. But rape victims being denied justice due to bad training or unethical practices is often seen as acceptable.

The faulty methodology of rape investigations is what gave us Eugene Kanin's study result which is used repeatedly to claim that about 40% of rape allegations are false. Yet many people who claim to be against faulty methodology and injustice quote Kanin's study as if it were gospel.

The replication of these study results do prove that the methodology of using tools such as the polygraph works quite well at getting confessions. But academic studies show that these leveraged confessions cannot be relied upon.

Further, DNA exonerations of those charged or convicted of violent crimes clearly shows that innocent people can be coerced into giving false confessions. Yet repeatedly those who acknowledge this fact will deny this same fact when the confession came from someone who reported having been raped. Or they simply fail to address the issue of false confessions when the person confessing rightfully reported being the victim of a crime.

This faulty methodology is what caused a victim of stranger rape in Madison, Wisconsin to be wrongfully charged with filing a police report. If this woman hadn't fought the system in her city the DNA in her case wouldn't have been processed and her rapist would have escaped justice. The city only compensated this woman for the injustice done to her shortly before the book Cry Rape was about to be released.

If this woman hadn't been able to prove that she was a victim of injustice, many of those who claim to be against injustice would have been willing to use her case as evidence to support the methodology which led to her false confession.

The attacks against Mallin are more than mean spirited, they reflect a dangerous attitude where injustice and false accusations are supported as long as the person being treated unjustly and being falsely accused was raped prior to that injustice.

Sloppy, unreliable and/or unethical investigation techniques are bad when they result in wrongful rape charges and they are just as bad when they result in wrongful accusations against real rape victims. If we are genuinely against injustice, we must be against all injustice.

Any one-sided solution will lead to injecting or supporting injustice. The approach to bad practices must be holistic for it to be effective.

And we must focus on the root cause which is the implementation of bad methodology whether practiced from ignorance or lack of ethics, and whether used against those who report a crime or those who are suspected of having committed a violent crime.

Here are a couple examples of approaches which miss the real cause of this injustice.

From The Black Man Next Door:

His family is extremely strong for not having ill feelings toward the rape victim for inaccurately singling him out in a lineup. I understand that she was traumatized -- but the right thing to do is simply be honest and say that you aren't sure.
This focus on the rape victim is dangerous because she was not the root cause of this injustice. She wasn't the one who singled him out. The photos presented to her did that.

Those who focus on her in this way are ignoring the root cause of injustice which is the faulty ID process and the investigators decision to ignore another suspect. Part of the reason people focus on the individual is because they need to believe that if they were a victim of a violent crime their responses could never be used to wrongfully convict someone.

That's as dangerously naive as assuming they could never be coerced into giving a false confession.

From Politics Unanimocracy: The Timothy Cole case: arrest and incarcerate Michele Mallin for conspiracy to murder by A. B. Dada:

Cole’s family worked to clear Cole’s name, with the lying Mallin attempting to help. Her weak excuse, as she states, was that she ”was very traumatized.” She says “I was scared for my life. I tried my hardest to remember what he looked like.” Her admission that she wasn’t sure, but tried, is proof that she is guilty of conspiracy to murder in the death of Timothy Cole.

This lying-under-oath “victim” says ”I’m trying to get his name cleared. It’s the right thing to do.” The right thing to do is to not lie under oath, or lie to the police, or put an innocence man in prison to watch him die a horrible and tragic death. The right thing to do is to turn yourself in, Michele, and go to jail for double the amount of time that innocent Timothy Cole did. You were a victim, but your crime against Cole is much, much worse.

I find sexual assault, or any property assault of an individual, disgusting and attrocious, but nothing is as evil as using the manipulative and powerful thuggery we call the State to do your bidding in revenge. Mallin’s desire for vengeance is as evil as Johnson’s act against her. Johnson assaulted women, Mallin’s words of hatred killed a man.

Let he who wields the sword be sliced by the sword. Let he who spits hate towards innocence have that hate returned to them in justice.

The correct ending of this last quoted sentence would correctly be "injustice." For that is what Dada is seeking, not justice.

This woman didn't spit hate toward someone she knew to be innocent. There is zero evidence that she lied. Being mistaken in a system which funnels a victim toward a mistake is not the same as lying. She did what all crime victims are told to do. She reported and she cooperated to the best of your ability.

Yet Dada labels her evil and wants to throw her in prison for doing so.

If Dada had been violently assaulted by a stranger and the investigators used the same methodology when they suspected the wrong man he would have been led to make the same mistake. Yet he needs to deny this in order to attack an innocent rape victim. He needs to view this rape victim as evil.

This faulty ID process isn't limited to rape cases and men have been led to wrongfully ID an innocent man. But Dada likely doesn't know or care about them. His vengeful ire is tightly focused on a rape victim.

Dada has made a false allegation of murder. But that's okay with him, and is in no way evil, because he's doing it in the name of fighting injustice.

This attitude contributes to wrongful accusations against rape victims and, even worse, this attitude contributes physical violence against rape victims. If he believes his rhetoric then he is guilty every time his assumptions are used to justify an assault on a rape victim by someone who believes that rape victim to be a liar.

According to his own logic he should go to prison for all retaliatory crimes committed against real rape victims. But his logic isn't valid so he won't go to prison for any crimes he helps people rationalize.

However, if his logic is used to justify an assault or a murder the person targeted won't have the same luxury Dada enjoys. That innocent person will pay the price for Dada's hatred.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:05 AM   16 comments links to this post


At February 08, 2009 11:33 AM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

From Dada's own words: "I find sexual assault, or any property assault of an individual, disgusting and attrocious, but nothing is as evil" the men who blame the victim.

Notice that he appears to equate the terrible violations of trust incurred by rape with property theft. In 2009, this guy doesn't believe women are human.

At February 08, 2009 3:41 PM, Anonymous Menstrual Poetry said...

This is yet another reason why victims are so weary to report their attacks in the first place. It has become not only socially acceptable, but expected for the public to blame a rape victim for seemingly anything at all. It's as if they are reading the paper or watching the news and as soon as they see a violent crime against a woman they immediately seek information to use against that individual and not only is just rape or violence cases, it's everything. It has become socially acceptable and expected to question every aspect of a woman.

At February 08, 2009 10:27 PM, Blogger James Landrith said...

It is not uncommon for the police to orchestrate a witness ID to achieve a pre-determined result, especially if the perp is black and the victim is white. It sounds like this was case here.

In addition, cross-racial witness IDs are notoriously unreliable. Both police and prosecutors know this well nationwide and exploit same regularly. The prosecutorial staff and police involved in this case need to be investigated thoroughly by an independent entity and the guilty parties should serve some real time. An "oops my bad" does not suffice when someone's life is ruined, regardless of what crime they were investigating at the time. Justice is about punishing the guilty and securing justice for the victim(s), not ensuring a win for the prosecution as it is all about today. The police and prosecutors murdered this man by ignoring key pieces of evidence, like his status as an asthmatic. He should have been ruled out as a suspect in 5 seconds. PERIOD.

Further, a woman who was raped was manipulated by the system to make a bad ID and she will now be haunted by that for a long time. Cole should never have been presented to her as a possible suspect. She couldn't have ID'd him if he had not been shown to her in the first place by the police who knew he was not a smoker.

I am glad to see that she was helping to clear his name upon learning of Cole's innocence. She could easily have been drowning in PTSD and self-guilt right now or even denied that an innocent man was convicted, as sometimes happens in such cases of wrongful convictions for any violent crime. I also have to say that I am impressed by Cole's family for not being angry with her over the ID. Regardless of what happened to her (which is not their fault or concern), their child was innocent and he is dead. They very easily could have blamed her and justified it to themselves without little effort. It would be misdirected blame, but it would ridiculous of anyone to expect them to be superhuman in their grief for a son who was murdered by the Texas justice system for sharing the same skin color as a Mallin's rapist.

I'm going to guess that Cole, given his asthma was not some big, tough athletic guy and probably did not fare well behind bars. While there has been no disclosure in such regard, I'd not be surprised if he was raped in prison as well - given his asthma may not have been treated well by the state and eventually led to his death behind bars.

In the end, we have a rape victim who is going to be haunted by the role that authorities manipulated her into playing by including this innocent man in the lineup and relying on a cross-racial witness ID, and a dead man who very likely endured the same crime he died in prison for after so many years.

This is a horrible tragedy no matter what angle we examine it from. There are no words...

At February 08, 2009 11:07 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

James, I disagree that it took superhuman effort for Cole's family to not hate a rape victim for IDing the wrong person. What it took was understanding how Cole was IDed.

The only way for this to be superhuman is for victim blaming to be automatic -- evidence be damned.

I don't think it's appropriate to assume that this man was raped in prison. I also disagree with the characterization that this man was murdered. He wasn't.

He might have lived longer if he hadn't been wrongfully convicted, but he might not have. What is certain is that he shouldn't have been in prison and he shouldn't have been included as a suspect to be IDed.

At February 08, 2009 11:37 PM, Blogger James Landrith said...


As you point out, the ID was bad. She did not intend to ID the wrong man. We both agree there.

However, and this is important and you may not understand this yourself, but the point that has many upset is not just that an innocent man went to jail, but an innocent black man was, once again by a white victim ID, incarcerated for a crime he did not commit and only later found to be innocent decades after it was too late. There is a bit more to it than just expecting the Coles to live in a vacuum with regard to how black males are treated in the criminal justice system. Having been married to a black woman for 15 years, I understand this on a level cannot be easily discerned by someone outside of such experiences.

It is not as simple as just understanding how witness IDs work.

As the father of two multiracial (half-black) sons, I am aware of this on a daily basis as my boys go out into the world. I have to worry not only about how justice can be miscarried without malicious intent, but how it can happen in conjunction with skin color.

You are I going to have to disagree on this point as this case is about more than the misuse of witness IDs. It was also about race, which the Coles have very good reason to be angry about.

To be perfectly clear, I did not say they should blame her for being raped, which is what your reference to victim-blaming seems to imply.

Being angry about a bad ID is not the same thing as blaming a woman for being raped. Not even close and I consider any inference to the contrary to be a deliberate misrepresentation of my comments.

Further, had this country not had a history of incarcerating black men for crimes they did not commit, there would be no need for the Coles to have a very large emotional hill to climb in order to not be angry about the ID.

You may not see it that, but to imply that equals victim-blaming is simply false.

As far as whether or not he was raped, you may disagree that it is inappropriate to assume he was, but there is no way to know to know for sure which of us is right without some form of confirmation anyway. It is a moot point.

But with regard to his dying in prison not being murder, I disagree, unless there is evidence that he received far better care on the inside than he would have as a college graduate on the outside had his life continued without interruption by the criminal justice system.

At February 09, 2009 8:19 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...


The victim blaming comes in because you focused on her and said that Cole's family not blaming her is "to be superhuman in their grief..." Her -- not the police, not the prosecution -- her.

If they didn't fall into the trap of believing that "women lie about rape" then they wouldn't need to be superhuman not to blame her for IDing the wrong man.

This would be victim blaming even if she wasn't blamed for being raped.

There is a systemic history of injustice against black men, but blaming white women who were raped by black men for that injustice is an injustice of it's own.

As for prison rape and murder, I believe it is dangerous to move beyond the evidence and the facts. This is true when investigators find their first potential suspect and fill in the blanks because of their emotional reaction to stranger rape, or in this case serial stranger rape. It is also true when people are responding to an injustice such as this one.

The evidence and the facts in this case and in the original case were strong enough on their own. If the focus were on what was known without throwing in unproven assumptions then all those who are innocent would benefit.

At February 09, 2009 8:33 AM, Blogger James Landrith said...


You have just misrepresented my comments in a way that goes beyond belief.

I blamed the police for putting Cole in front of her in the first place. I also said the police and prosecutors need to go to prison for this travesty. The facts remain that once again a black man was sent to prison on the basis of a white woman's incorrect ID. If the family had been angry about that ID, then I would not blame them. That would blaming the victim - Cole.

I then also said it would not have been unreasonable for the family to mad about the false ID, but that they have no ill will toward the victim for the manipulated ID - which I very clearly pointed out in my remarks above and you have now deliberately misrepresented in this response.

There is a great big gigantic world of difference between blaming a woman for being raped or not believing she was raped and not judging a family member of a man who died in prison for being angry about the bad ID that contributed to his death.

No one said they didn't believe she had been raped. If you are saying I said such, then you are asserting a falsehood that requires a retraction.

When people talk about white skin privilege, this is a prime example of such.

Again, I did not blame her for being raped nor did I blame her for the false ID, nor did I say she lied about being raped. Any claims to the contrary are called lies and I would expect a retraction of such. She should have never been presented with Cole in the first place and I pointed that out in great detail above, which you have now misrepresented in a way that goes beyone simple misunderstanding.

However, expecting the Coles to just ignore the role that race plays in this society, especially with regard to how it killed their own son is a form of victim blaming itself.

Thank you.

At February 09, 2009 8:39 AM, Blogger James Landrith said...

Marcella, you said "There is a systemic history of injustice against black men, but blaming white women who were raped by black men for that injustice is an injustice of it's own."

No one said or did this in this thread. You have again misrepresented my comments.

It is one thing to say she was not raped, no one did that here. It is quite another to say that the Coles would have no right to be angry about the false ID.

That is white skin privilege screaming out.

At February 09, 2009 9:13 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

James, I am not misrepresenting what you wrote. In your original comment you focused on the rape victim but in your follow up comments you focus on the police. My criticism is based on your original comment. Specifically this section:

"also have to say that I am impressed by Cole's family for not being angry with her over the ID. Regardless of what happened to her (which is not their fault or concern), their child was innocent and he is dead. They very easily could have blamed her and justified it to themselves without little effort. It would be misdirected blame, but it would ridiculous of anyone to expect them to be superhuman in their grief for a son who was murdered by the Texas justice system for sharing the same skin color as a Mallin's rapist."

You are implying that their not blaming her would be superhuman. I disagree that it takes superhuman effort not to blame her.

Blaming this and other rape victims who are led to make false IDs are injustices whether those who blame rape victims realize it or not. This is as true as stating that this man being blamed for a rape he didn't commit is an injustice whether those who were involved with the case, the conviction, and parole hearings, realized it or not.

At February 09, 2009 9:21 AM, Blogger James Landrith said...

Marcella, go back and re-read my comments in the first entry. I blamed the police for putting him in front of her, not her the ID. You just said I did not. This is not true and should be retracted.

Further, which you have ignored, I also said that their anger would be misdirected.

This is more than obvious and is not as you've inaccurately portrayed it in your responses which treat me, a rape survivor like you, as a victim-blamer for acknowledging that some Cole family members may be angry at more than just the police and prosecutors for reasons that go beyond this one case.

At February 09, 2009 9:45 AM, Blogger Peace Communities Solidarity Blog said...

Dear friends,

Hello. This is my first time commenting here. This is an awesome blog. I feel like there is a lot of pain on both sides of this article's issue. As a Black Feminist who has been a victim of numerous violent crimes, I can say that I can feel some of the pain on both sides.

I could explain all my feelings and experiences to all of you, but that would make my comment far too long. :)

So, I will simply say that the prevailing feeling in my heart is that Timothy Cole was a victim and Michele Mallin was every bit as much a victim... of a capitalist, patriarchal economic system that makes victims of everyone with an the out of control Prison Industrial System that makes all parties suffer. I do not think Michele Mallin's suffering should ever be seen as less than Timothy Cole's or his parents. Many victims of rape often live in limbo that has been vividly described as worse than death.

It is also worth noting, that even after the criminal's written confession and the DNA tests, The Statesman article worded Timothy's lifelong struggle that resulted in his being declared innocent as "...have since shown that Cole was probably innocent." Probably? So as we all know, there is something inherently wrong with the way media portrays certain so-called 'criminals' as well.

The NPR News Story written two days later, words Timothy's innocence as "Those tests proved that Cole was innocent, that he should be exonerated and released."

I have posted the entire NPR News Story on the Peace Communities blog, because it is certainly worth knowing all the facts involved, and hearing those facts worded in different tones and in a different light. I also included a link to this blog post on Marcella blog, because I think all of your thoughts have certain valid points.

More importantly, when you click on 'Prison Industrial Complex' in the article I wrote, it will take you to a Critical resistance webpage, an activist groups that educates people about the oppression of the Prison system and the quest for solutions.

The Link is here:

I am not taking sides on the issue, simply sharing my thoughts. Thanks for your thoughts everyone. :)

Love for the people,

At February 09, 2009 10:26 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

James, I believe after reading your followup comments that your use of "superhuman" in your first comment came across differently than you intended.

The way it came across to me is that you believe it was superhuman of Cole's family to not continue to this day to blame this rape victim even though their blame would be misdirected.

The widespread blame for misidentification of rapists which is placed on rape victims is what I was addressing. I don't believe it takes superhuman effort for those hurt by a wrongful ID to stop baselessly assuming that rape victims are liars when they ID the wrong person.

I don't know if the investigators in this case truly believed they had the right suspect. I don't know if they realized that the ID process used was fatally flawed. If I don't see evidence of intentional injustice I'm not going to claim it is there. I think the original investigation should be investigated to see if their was intentional injustice and if their was those responsible should be held accountable.

As long as a significant number of people can rationalize blaming rape victims for injustices such as this one they will refuse to support the systemic changes needed to address the real cause of this type of injustice. Instead their solution will be to support baselessly dismissing the testimony of those who are raped.

The reason I focus on the process rather than the motives of investigators is that we can regulate processes so that no matter the investigator's motive that injustices of all kinds will be reduced. I do this when discussing investigative practices in cases where no alleged rapist has been wrongfully accused or wrongfully IDed.

At February 09, 2009 5:01 PM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

A key reason I disagreed with calling Cole's death murder is related to how that assessment contributes to comments such as this one left on Concurring Opinions:

" Excellent post, Dan, but what is the fix for the significant problem you identify? "

The fix is when the wrongly imprisoned, or his family, 'takes care' of the proscecutor and/or others who lied or otherwise were dishonest in putting him in jail.
And yes, you know exactly what I mean when I say 'take care of'.

Posted by: Les Nessman at February 8, 2009 01:50 PM

This "solution" advocates for the murder of the people assumed to be guilty. Not proven guilty, assumed guity.

Another comment to this post clearly put the rape victim in the group of people this man believes needs to be "taken care of."

This "solution" rights no injustices and prevents no further injustices.

Instead of advocating for careful application of the law and the criminal justice system this "solution" calls for abandoning the law and embracing injustice wholeheartedly.

That helps injustice it doesn't fight injustice.

At February 23, 2009 1:23 PM, Blogger Luna said...

I'm a bit late to this, but I had to say something.

I too think that Cole's parents showed amazing strength in not being angry at Mallin for the wrong ID. If someone wrongfully ID'd my kid as a rapist, I'd be furious. Regardless of race. Regardless of anything. I'd simply be furious that she did that. Mistake or not. They'd have every right to be furious with her for making an honest mistake. The fact that they aren't, shows that they are phenomenal people.

It reminds me of the poor schmuck who was charged with raping a girl in Scarborough. She was actually one of Paul Bernardo's early victims. The guy plead guilty because his lawyer told him to.

Many years later, he confessed, and had enough knowledge of the case that the other guy was released. You should have seen the fury with the mother of the victim (she was the one who did the ID). People were calling for her to be jailed for lying about it, when it was clearly an honest mistake. Put the pictures of the two men together. Hanemaayer (I think was his name) is a dead ringer for Bernardo. Poor guy.

At February 17, 2010 9:38 AM, Blogger Michael Ejercito said...

This "solution" advocates for the murder of the people assumed to be guilty. Not proven guilty, assumed guity.
This injustice is a stain on our criminal justice system, and only the blood of those responsible can wash the stain away.

At February 17, 2010 11:08 AM, Blogger Marcella Chester said...

Michael E, you are admitting that you support murder and murder never washes any stain away it only supports turning our criminal justice system into a gang war which only gets more and more violent with each new action.

The only person who unquestionably knew that Timothy Cole was innocent is the man who actually raped Mallin, Jerry Johnson. This man knew an innocent man had been wrongfully charged and wrongfully convicted yet he waited until after Cole died in prison before contacting Cole's attorney. If anyone murdered Timothy Cole it was Jerry Johnson.

Yet those who call for murder have NOT been calling for his murder. Why?

This gang war mentality you are advocating has led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people, including young men who were just as innocent as Timothy Cole, yet you are holding this system of retaliation up as if it is some shining example of how justice should work.


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