14 August, 2011

Blaming the Victims (Yet Again)

This sickens me so much I'm at a loss for words:
Fifteen year-old Larry King (no relation to the CNN interviewer) was shot twice in the back of the head by his classmate Brandon McInerney while sitting in school in Oxnard, California. Now that McInerney is on trial, the boy's legal team and the school administration are using the tried and true "he was asking for it" defense. This is totally disgusting.

According to a story in the L.A. Times today, "McInerney's defense attorneys... acknowledge that the boy pulled the trigger but say that he was pushed to the breaking point by King's taunts." Yes, it's the tried and true "gay panic defense" that preys on juries' homophobia to get confessed killers cleared for murdering gay people. It was even used against Matthew Shepard, when one of his killers said he was driven to kill the gay college student because he hit on him.
It only gets worse from there.

I know that defense attorneys have very few avenues they can take with an obviously guilty client. But this tactic is beyond reprehensible. What they're basically trying to argue is that, should you suffer an unwanted advance, it is perfectly right and fine to shoot a person in the head. You should be able to murder a human being and walk free just because you were briefly inconvenienced and made to feel a bit icky.

I don't imagine they'd be arguing that women have that blanket right to murder men who come on to them. But, y'know, gays. Ew. Of course it's all right for a straight guy to shoot a transsexual or a gay dude, because that's a threat to manhood. Kinda like when your wife sleeps with some other dude. It's okay to shoot 'em in the heat of passion - why not be able to shoot queers, too?

One can only hope that the jury is not so morally bereft as to buy this argument. But we need to have a conversation, a very long and unflinching conversation, about the kind of society in which arguments of this sort can even be entertained. We're supposedly a first-world nation, and yet there are not insubstantial numbers of people who don't see much wrong with demonizing and victimizing gays, lesbians, and transsexuals. When a little girl gets raped, an entire town rallies round the rapists, because, y'know, she wore makeup and was obviously asking for it. How dare those sorts of people lure nice, upstanding young men into performing savage acts?

Some folks, otherwise decent, may claim that the defense attorneys are only doing their job. Sure, they have to blame the victim - how else can they defend their client? I don't know the answer to that. I know this, though: that sort of tactic is devastating to victims, survivors, and the culture at large. There's probably nothing we can do to prevent defense attorneys from using such tactics, but that doesn't mean we have to accept them. We can speak out against them. We can tell our society that murdering a person because they made the mistake of flirting with a homophobic sociopath, that raping a girl because she wore makeup in the presence of men, is not justifiable. There are certain things you just do not do in a civilized society. There are some actions that cannot be excused on the grounds that the victim wasn't a perfect, straight, chaste person.

This dehumanizing bullshit may be a tactic defense attorneys feel comfortable using, but society at large never should. Victims have shouldered too much of the blame. Time to pass that blame to those who have earned it: the victimizers.


David Evans said...

I have an uneasy feeling about this. On the one hand, nothing can justify cold-blooded murder.
On the other hand, can it really be true that the school has no way to prevent a boy from wearing makeup and spiked-heeled boots? Even when this is done in conjunction with behavior clearly designed to provoke a confrontation?
For the record, I'm a strong supporter of LGBT rights. But I think there are common-sense limits to how far one should push those rights.

Steamforged said...

Can it really be true that the government has no way to prevent a woman from wearing makeup and spiked-heeled boots? Even when this is done in conjunction with behavior clearly designed to provoke a rape?


I feel you missed several points here. The biggest and most important one, however, is that VICTIMS ARE NOT TO BLAME FOR THEIR ATTACKS. THE ATTACKERS ARE TO BLAME. Anything else is secondary to that. Let's get one thing very clear here: Larry King did not obtain a gun, Larry King did not pull the trigger.

For what it's worth, I think Brandon McInerney is a victim as well: a victim of an awful childhood and a system that failed him several times, a system that led him to believe that a gun was the answer to things that troubled him.


He is certainly NOT a victim of another student's choice to express his sexual and gender identity. High school is, among other things, a cauldron of hormones and a testing ground for kids exploring their identities. Larry King was no different from a goth kid wearing black lipstick, or a metalhead kid wearing shocking t-shirts, except in one respect: his expressed identity is at the center of national controversy and debate, a hot button topic that makes pearl-clutchers queasy. For what it's worth, the school's own rules already established that Larry was in fact permitted to dress as he did. Unfortunately, their rules were more progressive than most of their employees, and apparently, more progressive than some self-proclaimed supporter of our rights.

Siria said...

Let's face it, I'm not *that* hot, but if I shot every man who made unwanted advances, the male mortality in the UK would have skyrocketed. Hey, they were asking for it!

Seriously though, the only acceptable reason to hurt a person is when one feels their own or someone else's life is in imminent danger and acts in self-defense. Anything else is MURDER, and any excuse or laborious debate is nothing but odious homophobia.

David, "there are common-sense limits to how far one should push those rights".. really? I so hope you won't have a gay child. Imagine having a father who thinks a bullet in the brain is probably a reasonable response at their campness. Nice.

george.w said...

Siria: "Let's face it, I'm not *that* hot, but if I shot every man who made unwanted advances, the male mortality in the UK would have skyrocketed. Hey, they were asking for it!

Exactly. Women put up with unwanted advances all the time, and they're just supposed to smile and shrug it off. But let a man get even ONE unwanted advance, and he's allowed to freak out and get all shooty? And men are supposedly the strong ones? Something's a bit "off" there.

Siria said...

Well said, George. Gay rape is such an extraordinarily rare event compared to women's rape. To all effects, women should theoretically have more reasons to over-react to unwanted advances then heterosexual men.

Trying to justify a cold-blood killing based on a few playful advances in high-school makes a mockery of the justice system. I feel ever so sorry for the family of the murdered child.

george.w said...

I suspect the real reason they react so violently is that the idea... intrigues them.

Dana Hunter said...

Erica emailed the following comment, as she couldn't post to the blog. Posted with her permission:

Here in New Zealand we recently removed provocation as a defence. The law change was given added urgency by a similarly sickening trial (anyone interested can google "Clayton Weatherston"). I don't know much about law, but what a relief to think that we might see fewer cases where the victims are pilloried in the court of public opinion.

Just wrote that and then caught sight of David Evans' comment. I'm gobsmacked. I'm a supporter of LGBT rights too, and as far as I'm concerned, people can push those rights until the only response is 'yeah, whatever, live and let live' instead of a widely-condoned bullet to the back of the head.

David Evans said...

Steamforged: your rape analogy is unfair. From the original news report it seems clear to me that the victim did want to provoke a confrontation. It is equally clear to me that women almost never wish to provoke a rape, and that for them to wear women's clothing does not constitute such provocation.

Everyone else: I did start by saying nothing could justify the murder. I apologise if I didn't do so strongly enough.

Woozle said...

I think David Evans is well-intentioned (i.e. not a troll), just misinformed.

The victim may have been trying to push a confrontation -- but I think he had every right to expect that such confrontation would stop short of bullets.

It seems to me that if the person he was supposedly harassing felt that things were going too far (i.e. felt victimized himself), that some civil form of remedy would be available: mediation, counseling, mutual friends helping to resolve the dispute.

I can't see any way that the victim should have known to expect that taunting someone within a school environment would result in being shot -- but perhaps David can help explain it to me.

Woozle said...

P.S.: When I posted my previous comment, I hadn't seen David's clarification: "I did start by saying nothing could justify the murder."

I'm not sure why he brought up the idea of the school needing to be involved in clothing choices or the victim's behavior being "designed to provoke a confrontation", but it sounds like there is no real disagreement over the key question, i.e. who is at fault in this case.

george.w said...

Just out of interest David, why's it so darned important that students dress in a gender-typical way? Couldn't we take school as a great opportunity to teach kids to live and let live?