Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Little Justice for Rape of Black Women

Chester Dewayne Turner was convicted Monday of the murders of ten Los Angeles women and a fetus in a rampage that lasted over a decade. The Los Angeles Times reports that the former pizza deliveryman and crack cocaine dealer began his rampage in 1987 and the last known crime occurred in 1998. The savage crimes include one that was caught on a security camera where the victim was pushed down into an alley and raped for eighteen minutes. Others include female victims whose brutal rapes contiunued even after they had been strangled to death. In one instance, the savage force of Turner's strangulation broke the victims neck.

Since most of the women were Black, and many had histories of drug abuse and prostitution, the murders did not garner the same attention granted similar crimes of the era. The Night Stalker and Hillside Strangler cases causesed widespread hysteria in LA in the 1970's and 80's since most of the victims in these cases were white women, yet the stories of these Black women, whose bodies were dumped in gutters along the Figueroa Corridor, went largely ignored by the media.

What bothered me most about this case was the defense's argument: that the women has willingly submitted to sex with Turner in exchange for crack cocaine. Part of me wants to say that we've finally reached a historical moment when value is being placed (by the judicial system) on the bodies of Black women as not merely sexual objects, but human beings. Then I think back to the infamous case of Tawana Brawley. In 1987, the fifteen year old was found naked and brutalized in the woods of Wappingers Fall her attackers had been six white men, one of whom was a police officer. The case made national headlines, the six white men indicted were eventually exonerated, and Ms. Brawley became the subject of national fury as many accused her of lying about the entire attack. Eventually, one of the accused men successfully sued for defamation of character. Throughout most of the media scrutiny, Ms. Brawley remained silent, a silence that has come to characterize the long, brutal history of sexual violence targeted toward Black women.

What does Ms. Brawley's twenty year old case have to do with the Turner's conviction? Prosecutors in Turner's case argued that Turner's savage attacks were about power and control. I'd like to extend that argument even further and point out what I deem to be the obvious: Turner's victims, much like Ms. Brawley, were targets of sexual violence because they were Black women whose bodies and lives were deemed useless. Rape is rape, no matter who the perpetrator turns out to be, but I wonder if Turner would have been convicted if he had been white? It's much easier to place Turner within the historical role of the Black male beast than it is the hold white men accountable for similar crimes. Turner's conviction is undoutedly a victory for Black women, but it does little to turn the tide of sexually violent crimes that are often as much about asserting white male priviledge as they are about reaffirming the entire system of patriarchy.

Case in point: the Don Imus constroversey.

When a white male radio host can call a group of Black women a bunch of "nappy headed hoes" and the entire disourse turns into a debate over how Black men treat Black women in hip hop culture, it's easy to see that very little has changed. I'm in no way excusing Turner's crimes, or lessenining their impact because he is a Black man, but I am calling for white men to be held to the same standard of punishment. Imus' comments did not physically brutalize Black women, but they nonetheless reaffirmed the ideologies that make rape --physical, emotional, mental and otherwise -- acceptable, even necessary, as a way to mainitain power. So yes, Imus raped every Black woman (and women in general) in America with his comments. And each day that the discourse veers away from an analysis of racism AND sexism and how one inevitably works to define the other, the ideologies that make it acceptable to sexually objectify Black women, control Black women and brutalize Black women continue to be justified. Just as Tawana Brawley was silenced and Turner's victims were murdered into silence, Black women have been silenced as a whole in the Imus controversey.

Despite Monday's conviction of a Black serial rapist and murderer, there turns out to be little justice for Black women.

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