Category Archives: legal issues

Excerpt: On Race, Class, and the Duke University Lacrosse Scandal

Race, gender and class aside, it is important to note several Duke students sincerely felt this particular team had it coming — a viewpoint based largely on their antics. Like the lawless monolith that was Goliath, they witnessed the lacrosse team carry on unruly and unchecked, a male alumnus describing them as a “rowdy, rambunctious and privileged” group gripped by an elitist attitude whose Friday-night frolics would be felonious if were committed by Duke’s predominantly black football team. Worst, he felt their supporters purported their innocence by virtue of this very privileged identity, as if “there’s no way that these rich guys who grew up in upper middle-class New England could possibly do something like this.” 

He also found fault with the issue of race superseding gender in several of the discussions that ensued in the aftermath. “The main issue should have been sexual assault and gender equality, but [people] can’t look at it without the racial lens. And then, there’s no way to even try to defend either side without it being, ‘Oh you’re just saying they didn’t do it because they’re white,’ or ‘You’re just saying that they did do it because she’s black,’ and I thought that just crowded the whole situation.”

Even as the evidence for legal wrong-doing became scarce and their innocence increasingly apparent, some students, particularly the racial minority and the low-income, still could not embrace the team as wholeheartedly as others. Yes, the legal case was spearheaded by an overzealous district attorney hellbent on seeing the players rot in prison, but when one couples the racial insults that surfaced from that night with African-Americans’ 400-year rendezvous with an unjust criminal system that at several points in time seemed to intrinsically function to disenfranchise them, black folk just weren’t that sympathetic.

I even recall several students thinking it was an opportune moment for influential (read: white) people to be subjected to the biases and corruptions that can rear its head in the judiciary system whenever race and class are influential factors. Don’t cry for them, Argentina. This was a common sentiment amongst several student groups.

- From “Duke Lacrosse Rape Case Still Hits a Nerve 5 Years Later”

Mr. Cee, Brooke-Lynn Pinklady, and Transphobia

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

On March 30 hip-hop producer Calvin “Mr.Cee” Lebrun—he of Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die fame–was busted by New York City police allegedly receiving oral sex from a sex worker. Reports said Lebrun supposedly received the sexual favors from “a man” .  This got some people feeling some kind of homophobic way, complete with saying that “we all should have seen this coming” because of his alleged “golden showers” kink.  As Sister Toldja wrote earlier this week :

To be totally fair, this isn’t the average gay rumor; not only was the other person in the case allegedly paid for the act, the writer who dropped this gossip also claimed that Mister Cee has a thing for urinating on female strippers. So while much of the chatter is about Mister Cee being (allegedly) infected with The Gay, folks are aghast by this pee thing, too. Considering our attitudes about sexuality, that’s no surprise.

With homophobia and anti-kink sentiments roiling—and Lebrun and his supporters doing the NYPD Hip-Hop Conspiracy Step hip-hop artist and critic dream hampton provided some level-headed analysis about the situation:

While highly regarded in the hip hop industry and in New York, Mister Cee is not necessarily famous. Still, his arrest gave opportunity to talk about the persistent poking around hip hop’s “closet,” where speculation about sexual orientation is practically a sport. Charlamagne actually elevated the conversation by asking why a married 44-year-old man was seeking sexual favors from a 20-year-old, professional or otherwise, and if that, then why in a parked car? I argue that none of this would be a discussion, viral or anywhere else, had Cee been arrested with a 20-year-old woman, be she prostitute or not. I also don’t believe, 2011 or not, that hip hop is a safe space for anything other than aggressively heterosexual public behavior or affirmation. While obviously lesbian women MCs and personalities remain silent if not closeted about their sexuality, there is even less space for men to appear bisexual or homosexual.

I believe that Mister Cee’s sexuality is a personal matter, one he must reckon with himself and his wife. But Charlamagne’s co-host Angela Yee took the position widely held by heterosexual women—that closeted bisexual men are a health hazard, exposing trusting women to AIDS and more. While I’m not dismissive of those concerns, particularly in a marriage, where condom use is expected to be abandoned, I do know that we heterosexual Black women don’t exactly offer safe spaces for bisexual men to express their desires.

I’m also far more concerned that the transgendered 20-year-old who allegedly serviced him be safe, particularly if he is a sex worker. I wished aloud on my own Twitter feed that the discussion about Mister Cee would be one about decriminalizing sex work and focusing on harm reduction rather than speculating if Mister Cee is closeted.

Hampton is right in this respect.

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Top Gear Update: BBC Shifts Into Neutral, Lawsuit Reportedly Filed

By Arturo R. García

On Thursday, the BBC issued a response to the calls for an apology from the hosts of Top Gear after the program’s hosts engaged in racist rhetoric about Mexico and its’ people earlier this week.

The gist of the BBC’s statement? “It’s just what they do.” Full transcript under the cut.

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Kelley Williams-Bolar Sentence Ends Early; Appeal forthcoming

By Arturo R. García

Kelley Williams-Bolar was released from jail on Thursday, a day ahead of schedule. But the attention – and outrage – over her case shows no sign of ending anytime soon, even garnering notice from some celebrities.

Williams-Bolar had originally been sentenced to 10 days in jail, out of a possible five years, on Jan. 18 after being convicted of forging documentation allowing her children could attend school in a more affluent, mostly white school district than the one she resides in in Akron. Williams was also required to two years of probation, and ordered to complete 80 hours of community service.

According to Change.org, which has been petitioning Ohio Governor John Kasich to pardon Williams-Bolar, her father said her decision to enroll her children in another district was made because of concerns over their safety – her house had been broken into, he said, and she’d had to file 12 different police reports because of crime in her neighborhood – and not the educational quality of her local schools.  Williams-Bolar told WEWS-TV, “When my home got broken into, I felt it was my duty to do something else.”

Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove, who delivered the sentence, told the Akron Beacon Journal that Williams-Bolar received jail time because local county prosecutors rejected lesser sentences:

Cosgrove said the county prosecutor’s office refused to consider reducing the charges to misdemeanors, and that all closed-door talks to resolve the case — outside of court — met with failure [...]

Cosgrove said numerous pretrial hearings were held since last summer.

”The state would not move, would not budge, and offer Ms. Williams-Bolar to plead to a misdemeanor,” the judge said in an interview Wednesday.

”Of course, I can’t put a gun to anybody’s head and force the state to offer a plea bargain.”

County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh declined requests from the Beacon Journal to respond to the judge’s comments.

Cosgrove also said she was not responsible for Williams-Bolar’s conviction preventing her from earning her teaching license, a process she was 12 credits shy of completing, and that she would write a letter to the Ohio Board of Education asking it not to revoke her license.

‘I did not mandate or order that her teaching license be suspended or revoked,” Cosgrove said Wednesday. ”That is absolutely inaccurate.”

Cosgrove said Williams-Bolar’s nonviolent felony offenses do not necessarily mean that she will lose her teaching certificate. She said Ohio law only states that a felony conviction ”may” be grounds for such action.

The judge said the Ohio Department of Education will hold a hearing and make the final decision ”whether or not they will revoke her license.”

”I have nothing to do with that as a matter of law. Once she was convicted by a jury of any felony, that conviction has to be reported to the state, and then it’s up to the state at that point in time to decide whether or not they’re going to revoke her license,” Cosgrove said. ”This is the Ohio legislature who wrote this law, not [this] court.”

Cosgrove said her reading of the statute leaves open the possibility Williams-Bolar can be a teacher ”because she was not convicted of an offense of violence [or] offenses of moral turpitude.”

In the week-plus after Williams-Bolar’s initial sentencing, her case became the latest cause célèbre out of Ohio, following the Ted Williams story late last year. Actor Donald Glover discussed his own empathy for her on both Twitter and tumblr:

This really hit me close to home because my mom did the exact same thing to make sure I got into a school where I could experience something as small as going to a county fair or just studying around people and places I felt safe.

One day the school found out and kicked me out. My mom argued with the principal for an hour, but I ended up going to a very shitty school for a couple years.  It sucked.

This sucks FAR more.  It really makes no sense.

Questlove, the twitter-active drummer for The Roots, also drew attention to the Change.org petition:

In the wake of her release, Williams-Bolar will reportedly seek to appeal her conviction, while the Akron chapter of the National Action Network has started a donation drive to pay for her legal fees. In another indication of how much attention the case has gotten, the Rev. Al Sharpton has agreed to help the Akron NAN in its’ efforts.

Dirty Girls Author Offers ‘Additional Retractions, Corrections’

By Arturo R. García

Dirty Girls Social Club author Alisa Valdes-Rodríguez revisited her campaign against Ann Serrano López, Luisa Leschin and an adaptation of her book Sunday afternoon, recanting some of her earlier allegations about López, while at the same time accusing López’s attorney, Marty Singer, of harassing her.

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This week in Blackface: ‘Hip-hop Cupcakes’ and a shop owner’s ‘Joke Drawer’

By Arturo R. García

A reader sent us this ad for what Duncan Hines is calling “Hip Hop Cupcakes.” Uh huh.

I couldn’t embed it because the coding’s wonky, but as you might expect, the commercial for these cakes takes its’ cue from the old California Raisins ads, which adds another layer of weirdness: if you’re going to call them hip-hop cupcakes, then shouldn’t at least one of them at least do a verse? Or was “Beatboxing Biscuits” already taken? At least some folks on the ad campaign’s YouTube page have caught on to its’ problematic nature and pointed it out.

Meanwhile, in Indiana …

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How Native Women Built the Tribal Law and Order Act

By Jessica Yee, cross-posted from Ms. Magazine

As a Native feminist without apology, I’m thrilled that the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 has been passed to protect Native women from violence. I have fellow Native woman warrior and feminist to thank for coining that exact phrase, and in fact, the bill itself: my shero Ms. Sarah Deer.

Sarah and I first met through Facebook, then face-to-face at the Tribal Policy and Law Institute of America in St. Paul, MN. It was Indigenous feminist love at first sight.

A Mvskoke (Creek) from Kansas, Sarah is a Tribal Law Professor at William Mitchell College of Law and served on the advisory committee (while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer) for Amnesty International’s 2007 report “Maze of Injustice: The Failure to Protect Indigenous Women from Violence“–the fire behind getting the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 passed.

It’s been a whirlwind three years–from the Amnesty report to the bill signing just days ago–but as Sarah says here it’s really been 500+ years in the making. And since women are the life-givers, matriarchs, and center of our communities, we all have a responsibility to keep fighting.

JY: How are you feeling right now?

SD: I’m feeling exhausted and exhilarated. We–the five or six of us women who were connected in making this happen–kept saying to each other outside the White House, “This is so surreal!”

JY: When did it become real for you?

SD: It became very real when Lisa Marie Iyotte–a Lakota woman from the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota who is a rape survivor–spoke [at the bill's signing] and said unequivocally, “If the Tribal Law and Order Act had existed 16 years ago, my story would have been very different.”

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Sprinkle Some Brown on It

by Guest Contributor G.D., originally published at TAPPED and PostBourgie

Thurgood Marshall

Along with his fellow Republicans, Jeff Sessions spent much of the first day of Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings weirdly taking aim at the storied judicial career ofThurgood Marshall. Why? Because Marshall was an enemy of originalists, and the senators wanted to portray Kagan, who clerked for him, as cut from the same ideological cloth.

Later in the day, though, Sessions compared the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which granted corporations the right to make unlimited political donations, toBrown v. Board of Education, the landmark civil-rights case that declared de jure racial segregation unconstitutional. In the Citizen’s United case, he said, the court went back to the principles of the Constitution to apply equal protection of the laws.

“Is it treating people equally to say you can go to this school because of the color of your skin and you can’t?” Sessions asked rhetorically. “We’ve now honestly concluded and fairly concluded that it violates the equal protection clause.”

How is that like Citizens United? “I think this Court, when they said ‘Wait a minute! If you’re talking about a precedent that says the government can deny the right to publish pamphlets, then we’ve got get rid of this one outlier case Austin — 100 years of precedent — and go back to what the Constitution [says].’ I don’t think that’s activism.”

Buried in this tortured analogy is a pretty illustrative example of how amorphous originalism actually is. The decision in Brown, arguably the most famous case taken on by the legendarily activist Warren Court, was (and still is) decried by many conservatives as judicial overreach. Yet as Sherilyn Ifill points outChief Justice Roberts actually invoked Brown in the Citizens United ruling precisely because it eschewed precedent; “if the court never departed from precedent, ‘segregation would be legal.’”

Because Brown is one of those moments that affirms the goodness of American character, and because its fundamental rightness is taken as a given now (in a way that certainly was not true when it was decided), it’s often brought up this way by conservatives, as a cover for expansive readings of the Constitution that bring about results favorable to their ends.

So they want to give corporations new ways to involve themselves in the political process but are bound by campaign finance laws from doing so? No worries! Just sprinkle some Brown on it.