parallels and judicial violence
An important thing happened yesterday. Ghomeshi got a non-guilty verdict to the surprise of almost no one. The judge in charge basically blamed the victims and there was a lot of talk about ‘credibility’ and ‘evidence’.
For people who know me, they might understand the personal connection I have to this case. Not because I know ghomeshi or anything like that. But because of the timing and parallelism to my own life.
This case broke into the news just a few months after my own Thing began. And people were quick to make comparisons and parallels. For myself, I wasn’t particularly happy with the parallels because other than a few broadstrokes the two Things were very different1. Nonetheless, people made the comparisons.
People are rightly outraged by the non-guilty verdict and the high profile evidence that even in a purportedly ‘progressive’ country like Canada, the judicial system remains a site of violence for victims and/or survivors of sexual assualt (and other vulnerable and marginalized people). I think the hashtag I saw was ‘ibelievevictims’ or something like that.
Its the sort of thing that makes me want to lolsob. Obviously, believing victims and survivors is an important value of mine. Its certainly one of the things I got harassed about the most as a result of the Thing. Its probably what I’ll be most infamous for. It is, after all, what got me mentioned in the now infamous vox.com piece about how some liberal college professor is afraid of his liberal students:
In another instance, two female professors of library science publicly outed and shamed a male colleague they accused of being creepy at conferences, going so far as to openly celebrate the prospect of ruining his career. I don’t doubt that some men are creepy at conferences — they are. And for all I know, this guy might be an A-level creep. But part of the female professors’ shtick was the strong insistence that harassment victims should never be asked for proof, that an enunciation of an accusation is all it should ever take to secure a guilty verdict. The identity of the victims overrides the identity of the harasser, and that’s all the proof they need.
Awesome, eh? This is actually one of the nicer (if factually inaccurate) descriptions of the Thing and how many people perceive it.
Given the timing, its quite possible that we’d currently be in front of a judge trying to defend ourselves. I’d not be surprised if our outcome was similarly Not Good. I’m fairly certain that it couldn’t have ended any other way.
Anyway, that actually isn’t the focus of this post. The real focus is how unwilling so many of my harassers and detractors are to use their basic critical thinking skills. This liberal college professor is a great example. Presumably if he’s teaching at that level, he has a PhD (or is working on one). Essentially, he is what is normatively considered to be ‘highly educated’. So too with popehat (which he links to but I didn’t bother replicating here). Same with most people in the library field, given that most of us have at least two degrees.
All this education and pretty much none of the people who now hate and revile me have actually managed to grasp the basic point of the Blog Post of Doom. I wonder how many of these same people are, in seeing the ghomeshi verdict, shaking their heads and decrying the injustice.
The Blog Post of Doom literally had ‘community accountability’ in the title. And despite recent and valid criticisms of the concept (and its possible applications), it still has one desirable feature – the precise one that my haters missed. This feature? It is an alternative to the current carceral, judicial system. It is meant as a replacement for the system we currently have.
Take another look at the quote above and tell me if you can now see the problem.
The problem, of course, is that this liberal college professor apparently cannot understand that interpreting a statement outside of its framework makes it incoherent at best and a logical fallacy at worse. He uses this as an example of social justice gone amok.
Certainly, within the carceral system, implementing a policy of believing victims and changing the burden and threshold of proof would be a fucking disaster. Having nothing but the ‘opinion’ of a person secure a guilty verdict in this carceral system would be terrible. Indeed, given the current inequalities of the system, such a policy would only mean more vulnerable and marginalized people in prison. Which is basically the exact opposite of what I actually want.
What do I want? I want this judicial system to be entirely destroyed and prisons to be abolished. I want some kind of alternative that isn’t inherently violent to the marginalized and vulnerable. I don’t actually care if this alternative is community accountability/restorative justice or not. I just want something that will support and aid victims/survivors.
I also actually do want there to be distinct resources and infrastructure to help perpetrators learn how to change their behaviour and be better people. As an altenative to punishment via incarceration or, perhaps, punishment at all.
But, of course, this one, not even subtle or covert aspect of my contribution to the Thing was lost in all the pearl clutching, reactionary responses to my post and my position on victims/survivors. It was literally right there in the fucking title. And I wrote several follow up posts talking on these points again.
Worse yet, was all the people mobilizing the Thing as an example of ‘crying wolf’ and how it’d make it harder for people to step forward in the future. I wonder if these same people are looking at the ghomeshi verdict and actually realizing that this is also the reason why it remains supremely difficult to come forward about these types of crimes. But, yeah, they aren’t wrong that the Thing is also a good example for why it is hard or undesirable to step forward.
Which actually isn’t a ‘negative’. We are and should be a cautionary tale. Both of these things, which ended in very different ways, are examples of the violence of the carceral, judicial system. Both reveal the ways in which the system is broke and must be dismantled and replaced with something else. Something capable of bringing real and substantive justice when harm (or any kind) happens.
So yes. Learn from these cautionary tales. But learn the right fucking lesson. Which is: dismantle the carceral state and abolish prisons.
I think the main disanalogy between the two was that people framed our Thing as being about free speech and the other Thing was about sexual assault. Of course, my focus the entire time was on survivors and victims (in the generic sense). ↩