When I read this news item on Tuesday evening, I was so appalled, so disgusted, that I was at an complete loss for words about it:
LOGAN, W.Va., Sept. 11 — A 20-year-old woman was held captive for more than a week in a mobile home, where she was raped, stabbed and tortured by at least a half-dozen people, the police said. Sheriff’s deputies rescued her on Saturday, and she remained hospitalized Tuesday in stable condition.
The police said the people charged, all of whom are white, yelled racial slurs at the woman, who is black, during some of the attacks. The woman endured horrific torture, according to court documents. She was raped by multiple men, some of whom poured scalding water on her during the assaults, according to the criminal complaints.
She was forced to lick up blood, eat animal feces and drink water from a toilet, the documents said, and she was also stabbed repeatedly in the leg and was told that if she tried to leave, she would be killed.
Deborah, at litbrit, was not at a loss, or at least could cut through that, and posted about it. Please go read that; it’s necessary.
In the comments over there, we had a bit of discussion, some of which I want to highlight here. Lisa S. said this:
There’s a lot to say here, and Deborah and I have been discussing this via e-mail, so I’m not going to post all my thoughts here. I just want to pop in and put one unsavory idea out there that people don’t like to acknowledge: homo sapiens is a violent species. Yes, it’s depressing, it’s nasty, it’s tragic, it’s demoralizing, it’s infuriating, and it’s true. That doesn’t mean that we should accept crimes or bend over backwards trying to find “excuses” for them. Quite the contrary. It means acknowledging a nasty reality. I think we progressives can get bogged down in trying to discover the “why” of everything. Sometimes you can’t find the “why” you’re looking for, or, indeed, any “why.” Sorry, I just don’t think it’s helpful. The perpetrators need to be convicted and punished — no matter why they did what they did — and the victim has to be helped. Even if you discover a “why” that you think is satisfactory, that doesn’t negate the fact that some people are prone to cruelty, that sadists exist, that a whole host of hideous human behaviors exist. We all want to believe that understanding the “why” will let us prevent similar crimes in the future. If only it were so.
I read about this yesterday, and simply didn’t know what I could say about it. I have two comments, Deborah, after reading what you’ve said.
- I always have to shake my head when someone invokes Christianity in their puzzlement about this sort of thing. “How can this happen in a Christian community?”, is the essence of what they always ask. And my response is “How can you not expect it, when your whole basis for ethics and morality is designed to divide people? It’s appalling to me that people can behave this way. It’s almost as appalling to me that we think it’s a good thing to set ourselves up to be so divisive.
- On the issue of “hate crimes” I have very mixed feelings. I blogged about it once, but I’m not in the mood right now to look for it. My point is that we need to consider “hate” as a motivation for non-violent things that we’d normally look at with leniency. If I paint the design of a gecko on the side of a building, we might say, “Tut-tut.” If I paint a swastika on the side of a synagogue, we’d like to treat that more harshly.
We do not need a reason to treat this harshly. Whether they shouted racial slurs at her or not while they raped and tortured her, what they did deserves the harshest penalty. These people should spend the rest of their lives at hard labour in prison, and should never have the slightest hope of seeing freedom again. Behaviour such as this is “hate” by very definition, and needs no more “official” classification as such.
- [OK, I lied: three comments.] I’m pleased to see this treated quite seriously, with no apparent attempt by the authorities to whitewash it. We haven’t gotten it all right yet, but we’ve come a long way in 45 years.
Okay, I’m going to post about the hate crime category after all. As I said to Deborah earlier today, I have never been and am not now a supporter of so-called “hate crime” laws. Because it doesn’t matter why someone commits a heinous crime like this. Whether they don’t like blacks or they don’t like redheads. It doesn’t matter. Vicious crimes have to punished. The perpetrators have to be convicted and punished. All this hate crime legislation is just feel-good stuff. Legislators want to show they’re modern, hip to the realities of racism, or whatever other -isms are out there. What difference does it make?
(And if hate crime laws actually mean anything, then how come every single domestic violence assault or domestic violence murder and every rape doesn’t qualify as a hate crime? These crimes are clearly motivated by hatred — the hatred of men towards women. They happen every single day.)
But again, what difference does it make? Is it a worse crime to beat the shit out of somebody because you don’t like his skin color than to beat the shit out of somebody because you don’t like his shirt color?
This crime is very reminiscent of a notorious case in the Midwest in the ’60s or ’70s, I can’t remember now the name of the victim and the assailants, but another white lower-middle-class family systematically tortured and abused a young white girl, who eventually died from her wounds. This was a family, led by a mother, who, with her children, tortured this girl to death. I wish I could remember the names. Anybody out there remember them? I think it happened in Wisconsin or Illinois. Anyway, they were all white, but again, who cares? A hideous crime is a hideous crime is a hideous crime.
Thanks too, Barry and Lisa - my moment for contemplating Hate Crime laws was Matthew Shephard, and I found myself saying “never mind hate crimes, I just want these men prosecuted for murder, which is what they did.” I tend to think Hate Crime law is pursued because people didn’t, and don’t, have faith that the law will plainly identify and deal with the underlying crimes — harassment, assault, even murder. And that’s a bad way to make law. I want people who gay bash prosecuted for being violent. Hating gays isn’t the problem in that instance — beating on them is.
As for this case, depressing as it is, the fact that it’s West Virginia and mountain people tends to suggest to me a lot in the way of class differences. This is what my old friends in Baltimore, to cut to the chase, would call “ignorant.” These are terrible people who did terrible things, and right now, I tend to think they will get what they deserve. If they don’t, if we see “she was asking for it” logic pop up and be accepted, then I may get angrier. But I have faith that the local prosecutor knows what he’s doing and that his investigation into things like how she wound up there are about establishing the strongest case possible — that she was lured under false pretenses, and held against her will, strikes me as key to a kidnapping charge.
Is this behavior depressing? Sure. It’s also way, way out of the norm in pretty much every community; which is why we can clearly know that it’s wrong and deal with it appropriately. It’s my faith in the system, really, that keeps me hopeful, odd as that may seem. I’m naive enough and American enough to believe that we can look at these things and deal with them. If we can’t, that’s when I get depressed.
Finally, Deborah has a followup entry, adding some of her views on the crimes and punishments.
A few final notes:
- I got around to looking up my earlier post about hate crimes. It’s this entry, about Nicholas Minucci beating Glenn Moore with a baseball bat.
- There’s something in weboy’s comment that’s quite disturbing: it’s so easy for us to look at where this happened, West Virginia, and do some labelling of our own. It’s easy to think that it happened in a backwater place, that these people are low-class “mountain people”, that maybe we’re not surprised that they behave this way because they’re “ignorant”. And in doing that, we associate everyone in that area with the six depraved sociopaths who did this.
It disturbs me that I thought it too, before weboy said it, and had to tell myself that, no, that’s wrong, it’s not like that.
- I mostly agree with Lisa that we're a violent species, and that we have some natural wiring that makes us want to reject those who are “not like us”. But I think we can, as individuals and as groups, transcend those things. I don't think it's hopeless to think that we'll get there some day.
- It also bothers me that this is getting less press than, say, the natural death of a white businesswoman. Stories like this, when they happen, should be the ones to lead every news report, to be above the fold on the front page of every newspaper. I hear all the time from people that racism is mostly dead, that but for isolated incidents these things don’t happen any more. I want everyone to see clearly that they’re wrong, that these things do happen, far too often and in every corner.
Update: A clarification on the first point in my comment that I quote above: I don't mean to pick on Christians; it's that religions in general are divisive by their nature. If you don't believe in our god(s) and don't worship in our way, then you're not part of our group, you're one of “them”. What's more, our god(s) will punish you eternally for it. That necessarily creates a climate for intolerance to breed.