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Five Ugly Pieces, Part 2: Hiding In Plain Sight

The MySpace Page (thanks, to Grayson) of the “30 Deep Gang” is, according to the creator, “all about money.”  There are images of dice, diamonds, blocks of gold, rap stars, and twenty dollar bills.  There is a photograph of a young man pointing a gun at the camera, and another photo labeled “Lil’ Wayne . . . Prostitute Flange” showing a smiling woman towering over the rap star.  In the “friends” section, there is a picture of a young man with the caption, “Zone 3 shawty money men da longway.”  Zone 3 is where bartender John Henderson was murdered, and the police are looking for “30 Deep Gang” members in Henderson’s death.

Zone 3 is also where I used to live, and the sound of gunfire was a regular thing there.  In order to get by you had to ration your response to it, or you would spend every day responding to it, which is an impossibility.  This is what the mayor and the chief of police are denying whenever they announce that residents are being hysterical about crime.  Residents police themselves, even more than criminals are policed.   Innocent people are held captive by the threat of violent crime, but, still, there are people who believe it is distasteful to demand to be freed.

You cannot say that crime is abnormal when the criminals actually define themselves by the police zone they live in.  Clearly, crime is the most normal thing to these young men.  The page’s creator, “$Booman Da S***$,” describes himself this way: “single, straight, Capricorn . . . income: $30,000 to $45,000.”  Income?

Another “30 Deep Gang” friend is a pretty young woman flashing two fingers at the camera: her photograph reads, “F*** Yo Baby Mama She Aint Got No Money.”  A culture that says this about women is a dead culture.  Four of the fifteen “friends” are photographed taking photographs of themselves with cellphones.  They stare at the phones in their own hands, hypnotized.

“OmG iTZ KiTTy KaTT” poses sexually, staring into her phone; “Tonio(Y.M.G. B***h)” holds a cellphone in one hand and a gold chain in the other.  This is not about money but about poverty.  People who take photographs of themselves with twenty-dollar bills or gold chains or cellphones in their hands cannot think of anything else to do.  These are portraits of tragically stunted lives.

Is it at all surprising that people like this seem prepared only for future acts of violence, then prison time, the way others prepare themselves for the SAT, then college?

After the murder of John Henderson, some in the media agonized over whether the killing was done “gangster style,” as if the angle of the gun mattered in discerning the intention of the murderer.  Some actually reported the killing as an accident, as if shooting an unarmed crime victim in the leg, manhandling him to a locked room, then shooting him again through the door is something that just happened.  This type of thinking is a sickness that benefits nobody beyond the person who prides himself in believing it.

On the “30 Deep Gang” page, the young man pointing the gun at the camera is holding the weapon sideways.  He is very clear about his intentions.  Why is it hard for so many otherwise well-educated people to see this?

The “Benjy Brigade”, Part 1: Boston’s Finest Mount an Attack on an Elderly Victim of Rape

The theme this week is punitive attitudes towards victims of crime. At the most primal level, the mere existence of victims threatens to spoil all the fun that can be had as you lift your glass from the tray, turn to Professor Ponytail (who could dress better at these things), and say: “When I was mentoring at the federal pen last weekend I met the most inspirational young author — wrongly convicted, of course — we must do something about getting his poetry published. We must!”

Oh, the headiness. That Seventies Susan Sarandon vibe, edgy alchemy of righteousness and rebellion — what a shame if it were all interrupted by flashing on the pensioner in her wheelchair in ugly tan compression stockings, rope scars on her wrists from where the young poet had bound her so tightly the paramedics had to peel the phone cord out from under layers of swollen skin.

No, that will not do. Better not to think about it.

Better still, picture the pensioner as a malevolent hag, somebody deserving of the torture she got (for there is no way to stretch the truth around the fact that she got it) — a racist, of course, accusing the ethereal and handsome young poet out of pure malice.

This is what the city leaders of Boston did throughout the 1990’s to the victim of Benjamin LaGuer, a sadistic rapist who become the toast of the city’s elite, from Boston University President John Silber, to noted pseudo-intellectual Noam Chomsky, to now-governor Deval Patrick, and, sadly, human rights activist Elie Weisel, as well as scores of law professors, judges, lawyers, journalists (including Barbara Walters), celebrities, and authors.

Although the victim identified LaGuer, her neighbor, as the attacker, and other evidence linked him to the crime, Boston’s elite was quick to rush to judgment of the victim after the rapist reached out to them. The story that the victim was a racist and that LaGuer was framed “without evidence” became the only story that mattered in the pages of the Boston Globe, the classrooms of Harvard Law School, and the courtrooms of the Massachusetts appeals courts, where supporters of LaGuer, who adolescently named themselves the “Benjy Brigade,” wielded their considerable social power to push for his release.

LaGuer was showered with literary prizes and honorary degrees, including a magna cum laude degree from Boston University and a PEN award for his barely-literate “memoir,” A Man Who Loves His Mother Loves Women. He became pen pals with dozens of journalists and authors. Although, in reality, LaGuer is no writer, his supporters spoke volubly of his literary talents and personal presence. “My masculinity was like Jimi Hendrix’s guitar on acid,” LaGuer said of himself. John Silber said that LaGuer was “a highly talented young writer who can express himself with remarkable ability.”

LaGuer also said, repeatedly, that he was a victim of prejudice on the part of the rape victim and even suggested that she had not actually been raped. His followers lapped it up.

Only a few spoke for the victim. Dean Mazzarella, a rookie cop at the time of the rape who went on to become the mayor of Leominster, Mass., was the officer who found the woman in her apartment. “The thing I’ll never forget is the smell,” he said years later, “[t]here’s still nothing I’ve come in contact with that’s been that bad.” The rape lasted eight hours: LaGuer broke bones in his victim’s face and left her, naked and bound, to die on her apartment floor. She nearly did die in the hospital, from a heart attack brought on by the assault.

None of this, however, fit the story the Benjy Brigade longed to see fulfilled. Consciously or unconsciously, journalists supporting LaGuer excised the story of the rape and prosecution evidence and details about the victim from their extensive, years-long coverage of LaGuer’s appeals. The Boston Globe went so far as to report that the victim had died not long after the attack, though she was still alive sixteen years later. This wishful thinking, amounting to an excruciating desire that nothing interrupt the rescue fantasy being painted by LaGuer and his supporters, would verge on funny, if it were not horrifying.

The victim’s life story was also distorted by the press. Reporters, reprinting defense arguments as fact, claimed that the woman was both too mentally unstable and physically incapable to identify a suspect after the attack. Family members disputed these allegations, but over the years their statements were rarely included in the long feature stories that focused on LaGuer’s celebrity supporters and legal battles.

The victim’s military service during World War II and her career as a nurse were never mentioned in print: in contrast, LaGuer’s military service was approvingly cited, though his brief stint in the army actually ended when he was caught selling drugs.

Even the wounds inflicted on the victim by LaGuer were used against her. Returning to the case files years later, reporters cherry-picked details in an effort to strengthen LaGuer’s claims. The victim was merely “white,” or “a schizophrenic,” or “a diagnosed schizophrenic who was heavily medicated for pain when she identified LaGuer in a photo line-up.” Few articles failed to mention her race, implying that she made a questionable cross-racial identification from her hospital bed. Most failed to mention that she knew LaGuer because he was the son of her next-door neighbor and no stranger to her.

The fantasies of rescuing LaGuer from his evil captors, especially the recently deceased victim, and the undercurrent of rage directed at her took on a life of their own, mounting to a crescendo in 2001 when Dr. Edward T. Blake, a colleague of Barry Scheck’s, announced that advances in DNA testing had evolved to the point that the small sperm samples taken from the victim’s body could now be identified. John Silber led those preparing for the celebration of LaGuer’s presumed immanent release, but he also said that LaGuer should be released even in the case that he was found guilty. “He has been rehabilitated to any degree that rehabilitation can be measured,” a fawning Silber told the fawning press.

Tomorrow: Journalists Identify the Real Victim: Themselves

Meanwhile, In the Groves of Academe and the Forests of Newsprint

There’s no such thing as a crime problem. It’s just a perception problem, you silly hysterics. From the Houston Chronicle, which wants you to know that daring to be worried about crime is the only crime problem that matters:

In the words of a statistician, the decrease in criminality appears to have an inverse relationship, at least for now, with political rhetoric on crime, which has ramped up in recent months.

Is it possible that continually heaping contempt upon the concerns of newspaper readers has a non-inverse relationship to the decline of newspaper subscribers?

“It’s probably very difficult for any politician to acknowledge that the problem of crime is decreasing, because that undermines the importance of the issue,” said Dennis Longmire, a professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University who has studied public attitudes toward crime. “Politicians use a fear of crime to garner support and get voters’ attention.”

Or perhaps the public is concerned about crime because they do not want to see the fragile progress of recent months dissipate. Or perhaps crime rates are still astonishingly high despite a modest drop in incidents. Or perhaps people are successfully preventing certain incidents of crime, but only because they are remaining alert and focused on the issue, even though reporters and academicians find this more troubling than crime itself.

This type of canned denouncement echoes recent statements by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and Chief of Police Richard Pennington, both of whom responded to truly horrifying incidents of crime by scolding the public for caring.

Public concern is not going to go away, not in Houston, not in Atlanta, not anywhere. As daily newspapers tank and the public begins to question “studies” put forth by academics who don’t even pretend to objectivity, the internet is stepping in. You can expect more accusations of “vigilantism” and “hysteria about crime” from the usual suspects. And you can ignore them, too.