Monday, December 12, 2011

Heidi Damon's Angry Letter

Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is not to condone rape, or to argue for exoneration an attempted rapist. Javon Cooper's crime was deplorable, he deserves to be punished, and I am happy that Ms. Damon has found the strength to continue on in life. Every victim of a sexual assault deserves the best treatment, psychological and physiological, that they can get. This is merely an examination of the situation from my own point of view. 

So, Mrs. Breh and I watch the Today Show almost every morning. It's a quality news program that manages to be entertaining and informative without feeling like heavy news consumption. And a lot of the hired talent isn't bad either.

This morning, though, we came across a story that really bothered us. Some might accuse me of racism chasing or something similar, and you might be right, but that doesn't stop me from being just a tad infuriated at either the Today Show producers and media at large (but that's another post), or at Javon Cooper, or Heidi Damon, or  everyone involved. 


From the Tampa Tribune:
Heidi Damon stared down the man who nearly killed her and told him she was a victor, he was a failure and she would never forgive him.
After her speech Wednesday, she turned away from the attacker and toward her boyfriend, who was standing next to her in open court. They hugged.
"I feel better now," she told him. "I'm so proud of myself."
The impassioned five-minute speech to 18-year-old Javon Cooper might not have brought total closure, but it allowed her to move forward in the healing process, Damon, 40, told The Tampa Tribune in a Thursday interview.
"Do I think that this was a huge building block?" she asked. "Am I standing taller than I was before? Absolutely."
Brad Allan, the boyfriend she began dating after the traumatic attack, immediately saw a positive change in her.
"A gloom has been removed," he said. "There's a brightness in her eyes, a bigger smile on her face.
In an Ybor City parking lot on Aug. 19, 2009, Cooper, then 16, choked Damon and she passed out. When the battered woman regained consciousness, she saw him running away. She realized her pants and underwear had been removed, but she hadn't been raped.
The attack devastated Damon, causing nightmares and headaches. She became more suspicious of others and less motivated.
Now, like I said at the beginning of the post, I'm not arguing that this young man shouldn't be convicted of a crime. That would be foolish. If Javon Cooper attempted to rape Ms. Damon, he should be punished, and should serve as much time as the court deems necessary.

But my problem isn't with the crime itself. It's with the narrative that the Ms. Damon constructs, writ large by the NBC and the Today Show.

Ms. Damon has every right to be angry. She has every right to want to castrate this young man and use his shriveled genitals as a door knocker. However, the construction both of the story and the snippets of her impassioned speech to Mr. Cooper lead to a familiar theme in the American crime matrix, one especially beneficial to the media: the longstanding "Look at this Scary Negro who rapes White Women" trope, which reinforces to the public that black men are responsible for most criminal acts in America, and are irredeemably immoral. Ms. Damon's speech was presented as this empowering manifesto that victims are supposed to latch on to, but it's not. It's what she means it it be: an angry letter to the boy man that attempted to rape her. And there's nothing wrong with that. The portion of this story that rankles me is the same thing that bothers me when I notice that every black man on TV is a rapper or a construction worker, or when I notice that the faces of the criminals that are shown on the nightly news are overwhelmingly black.

What if the racial roles in this situation were reversed? Would this similar narrative be constructed? If the accuser was a black woman and the rapist a white man, would the editors devote as much time to focusing on the attacker's appearance? Would the story even make the news at all, and if it did, which person do you think would be labelled as the party that shouldn't be trusted? If you think that this case would be presented fairly in that situation, I have some oceanfront property on Kepler 22b I'd like to sell you.

And then there's her speech. She repeatedly tells Cooper that he will be a failure, forever a criminal, that he doesn't deserve to be addressed by his name, only a number, etc. Again, I can't tell anyone how to express their anger, but I still have issue with this.
  1. I don't know court procedure like that, but is it general practice to be allowed to go into the courtroom and rip into someone who wronged you? And was it necessary to film it? Couldn't the same release technique been accomplished in private, or at least not on film? I realize I realize its potential as an empowerment agent for the victim, but getting a tongue-lashing from a victim doesn't seem like much of a deterrent to me. 
  2. Javon Cooper was sixteen when the attempted rape occurred. Who here at sixteen really thought about consequence and goodwill toward fellow members of society? At sixteen years old, we have knowledge of right from wrong, but at that age most men are ruled almost entirely by stupidity and testosterone. While he should definitely be held accountable for his actions, where's the attempt at rehabilitation and redeeming him for his crimes? He is (or was, probably, after this) able to be taught consequence and respect for other members of society, or at the very least been diagnosed and treated for some psychological condition, if that was the case. Instead, they let Ms. Damon speak to him like a child, and I'd be willing to bet that the state of Florida won't be extending the same rehabilitation rights that a child gets to Mr. Cooper, especially because he's eighteen years old now. This only increases the likelihood of repeat offense.
I cannot express enough how deplorable rape is. I have a wife, a mother, sisters, female friends, and I am aware of the sensitivity to the possibility of assault that women must possess. I understand the nuance of America's rape culture, and have, with the help of my wife, learned to be more respectful of people who are or may be victims. However, the fact remains that the underpinnings of the presentation of this story made me a bit uncomfortable. I also have brothers, cousins, and friends who could be accused of rape, justified or not, by someone, and to know that the likelihood of them being labeled a monster before any evidence is brought forward is high makes me really evaluate the plight of the black man in America.

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