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Community Attacks (Alleged) Rapist: Is “Mob Justice” Necessary?

20 Comments

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On Monday, an 11-year old Philadelphia girl was brutally attacked on her way to school. The assailant dragged her into the alley and raped the middle-schooler so viciously that she required surgery. Soon after, based on witness reports and compelling physical evidence, the police publicly named Jose Carrasquillo as a person of interest. Before authorities could apprehend him, however, Carrasquillo was recognized by neighbors and beaten until police arrived. While some have applauded the neighbors’ response, others have decried the deployment of mob justice against the alleged rapist.

Without question, rape is the most vile, indefensible, and dehumanizing act that a person can commit. As such, I have absolutely no sympathy for Carrasquillo. I also have no antipathy towards the ghetto kangaroo court that sentenced him to a thorough ass whupping. Still, I remain wary of hasty rushes to judgment (and punishment) regardless of the circumstance. After all, it is the ostensible need to quickly avenge rape that has led to the physical and juridical lynching of thousands of Black men throughout history. Also, if the racial tables were turned, we would surely disapprove of a White mob beating an accused Black rapist. Such a comparison, however, is improper, as Black and White do not represent two sides of the same racial coin.

Unlike Whites, and to a lesser extent Black men, Black women have never received the full protection of the State. This is largely linked to early conceptions of black women as both sub-human and hypersexual, rendering them literally incapable of being raped. These notions continue to inform the public’s indifference to spectacles like BET’s exploitation and R. Kelly’s pornography; our national obsession with the dubious stories of missing white women and simultaneous refusal to search for their black counterparts; our reluctance to report or investigate instances of sexual assault against Black women. Although the police appear to have done everything right this time, the neighbors were undoubtedly animated not only by righteous anger, but an awareness of the long and deep history of the government’s failure to protect black female bodies. In fact, Carrasquillo himself had beaten a 2002 rape case despite overwhelming evidence of guilt. Who’s to say that he wouldn’t again?

In a perfect world, law enforcement would be enough. Unfortunately, we live in a world so fractured by racism and sexism that black female bodies are still rendered unimportant, even disposable. On Tuesday, the neighbors decided to send a different message. Until the broader society gets this, the community’s brand of justice is both appropriate and necessary.

20 comments

  1. DCI74 - June 4, 2009 12:59 pm

    Man I was right there with until your very last sentence “Until the broader society gets this, the community’s brand of justice is both appropriate and necessary.”

    When I heard about this I immediately thought of all the e-thugs that roam various hip hop sites advocating for and applauding street justice and a strong adherence to a street code that as we both know partly includes never talking to police under any circumstances. So here we have street justice almost running full-circle where a neighborhood mob beats the snot out of a person of interest, a man not yet pegged an actual suspect but certainly someone the cops want to talk to. What if it turns out they’re wrong and this man isn’t involved at all? What if the mob beat him to death before the cops arrived? Think of the bizarre dilemma this poses to that entire neighborhood and the chances of justice for that little girl. Will neighbors who weren’t involved in the beating point out the ones who were or does the “let the streets handle it” cycle go on to the point where the neighbors are beating up the neighbors who beat up a guy who is a person of interest in a rape, meanwhile no real suspect has been identified? What kind of message does this send to the girl, other young kids, the rest of the neighborhood and general society at large? I agree that there are larger social and historical issues at play but if we advocate for street justice what happens when the streets get it wrong, then what? I can’t say I’d feel comfortable around a neighbor I was cool with for years and just yesterday I see him/her completely out character and beating somebody with a bat, that kind of behavior completely changes the neighborhood dynamic.

  2. Bitter Brother - June 4, 2009 3:35 pm

    First off, I can respect an argument from either side of this question due to its complexity. However, the real question that should underlie each of our positions on whether vigilante justice is warranted in situations such as these, is whether we feel that our historically proven inept “injustice” system provides justice beyond simply its appellation. Truly, from a principled standpoint, I repudiate the actions of those who took it upon themselves to punish an unconvicted rape suspect. I do so based on the premises that Dr Hill mentioned, but mostly because of the danger that turning a blind eye to this brand of street justice could create in the long run. On the other hand, my visceral reaction was one of guilty gratitude. To me, it is the safer and more conditioned response for many of us to reject the actions of these people based on the fallacy that our court systems invariably administers justice more efficiently than ourselves. After all, at the end of the day it is still people, just as the ones on that street, who will decide the fate of that man. It is everyday people from which judicial power is derived. Frankly, sometimes our system of justice only serves to obstruct true justice that only can be meted out among those of us in the street. The question you should ask yourself DC is: What kind of message has our “legitimate” justice system sent a generation of Black people who who ultimately decide to resort to this means?

  3. DCI74 - June 4, 2009 4:24 pm

    Bitter Brother, I already addressed and answered that question. I stated that their reaction is partially due to historical and social issues as well as a reaction to the unsaid “code of the streets.” My issue is what happens when the street justice turns out wrong and you end up with people getting shot, stabbed and assaulted by their neighbors for things they didn’t do. Then what? Who’s responsible when all this street justice that’s meted out is wrong?

  4. Bitter Brother - June 4, 2009 5:28 pm

    DC174,

    My question to you was an answer in question form, to a question you posed in your thread. What I do disagree with you on is your seeming timidity and paranoia when it comes to dealing with problems on he community level. Your concern for miscarriages of justice should be concentrated on the system whose failures you inveigh against. I firmly believe that the “slippery slope” position is an argumentative bailout. It allows people to casually dismiss an action like this by stating it would lead to increasingly more problematic occurrences in the future. That series off logic simply isn’t demonstrably true. It reminds of the drug propaganda about weed being the gateway drug! The connotation of the phrase “street justice” or “code of the streets” unfairly parallels the arguably noble actions taken by those in this community, to those of a depraved, faux gangsters characterized by rappers. This was the response of a community outraged at a violent sexual act perpetrated against a young girl, not a Smack DVD with Camron discussing not snitching on the serial killer next door.

  5. DCI74 - June 4, 2009 6:24 pm

    Bitter Brother I have no idea how you surmised all of that (…your seeming timidity and paranoia…Your concern for miscarriages of justice should be concentrated on the system whose failures you inveigh against….) from my statements and the questions I posed. You are looking for something that isn’t there because nowhere in any of my comments is there an indication of paranoia or timidity. You’re disagreeing with a point I’m not making and haven’t. If the term “street justice” bothers you because of its hip hop connotation then fine we can go with mob justice (that Marc used) but terms and semantics aside its the same principle “we the mob don’t trust that the police will do anything so we’ll handle it ourselves.” I only brought that up because my suspicions were confirmed when I looked at a website earlier today that also posted this story and there were quite a few “e-thugs” applauding and cosigning the behavior of the mob with statements like “yeah that’s how we do it in streets.” So again if that bothers you that I referenced it, it was only because it was somewhat relevant to the point Dr. Hill was making in that for some this kind of behavior is acceptable.

    My focus is very, very clear, if the mob kills and badly injures a suspect who was never charged in a crime and it turns out that person is completely innocent, how does that get addressed? That’s all I’m asking, if the mob gets it wrong, then what? If people cosign when the mob gets is the mob culpable when they get it wrong?

  6. Bitter Brother - June 4, 2009 8:08 pm

    I’m not disagreeing with you for the most part, when I said “timidity” and “paranoia”, I didn’t intend them to be insulting. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t chosen a different word than the latter. I write in stream of conscious, so I apologize for the choice. I was referring to what seems to be your hang up on the citizens being wrong, as if that isn’t a prime concern for the justice system you would prefer handle it.

  7. Disagree - June 4, 2009 8:18 pm

    Certainly you would agree that no matter the shortcomings of our justice system (which I join you in acknowledging) individuals — regardless of how heinous their alleged crimes — should be considered innocent until proven guilty and granted a fair trial by a jury of their peers. The beating of Carrasquillo should not be defended as his attackers skipped any form of a trial and went straight to doling out their idea of a fair punishment.

    Your stance strikes me as hypocritical. If we are going to critique our justice system for treating certain populations unfairly and often forgoing fair trials, I don’t see how condoning this “community justice” as “both appropriate and necessary” when it fails in the same way makes any sense.

    I am all for radically reordering the criminal justice system to put more power into the hands of normal people, but we need to strive for something better than mobs patrolling the streets and nearly beating suspects to death without any semblance of a trial.

  8. DCI74 - June 4, 2009 8:58 pm

    “I was referring to what seems to be your hang up on the citizens being wrong, as if that isn’t a prime concern for the justice system you would prefer handle it.” See I don’t get this, if we’re having a real conversation then just ask me if I have hang ups instead of building an entire comment on a perceived hang up I don’t even have. There’s no reason to assume by my comments how I would handle it, if you really want to know all you have to do is ask, I never said anything about what I personally would or wouldn’t do so there’s no way to surmise that from any of my comments.

    You’re reading way more into what I’m specifically saying. I don’t have any hangups on what the citizens did. Nowhere did I say that these citizens were wrong, I just raised a hypothetical regarding what happens IF the citizens are wrong. I am just expanding on the point that he was a person of interest and not a suspect which leaves the door open for a completely wasted assault if he didn’t commit the crime and therefore a mistake was made, Then you potentially have citizens being charged with a crime against someone they thought was a criminal while the real culprit is still out there. I’m just presenting a devil’s advocate perspective. That is the only point I’m referring to, just raising questions.

  9. Tom Penn - June 5, 2009 1:22 am

    Just goes to show you how suffocating with political correctness our society is becoming when the media refers to a wanted rapist as a … “person of interest.”

  10. marland - June 5, 2009 4:12 am

    Guilty gratitude. Me too. It was right-on-time and right-on-track justice this time.

    DC174 could be onto something though. When we are blind with rage, perhaps unleashing the rage is primary, and getting the right guy is secondary. When my 12-year-old son was assaulted and robbed by a gangbanger while walking home from the school bus stop, I drove through the streets hoping to find the man who fit my son’s description. EVERYBODY looked guilty, and I had to keep reminding myself to back it up, go home and leave it to the professionals. The police never found him.

    The instant gratification of this recent incident is delicious. No long waits, no attorney games, no long, drawn out appeals, just the right thing, happening to the right guy, at the right time.

  11. porky - June 5, 2009 6:07 am

    Claptrap – it’s all very simple, the guy hasn’t even been convicted and that’s all there is to it, all else is obfuscation.

  12. Fluffy - June 5, 2009 9:11 am

    Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people are currently in prison for crimes of violence and crimes of sexual violence against women of color. The criminal justice system is there, and rapists are subjected to it every day. But the fact that you don’t intend to make a serious argument is revealed by your inclusion of disparate treatment in the “news media” as a justification for the mob’s violence. Talk about confusing perception for reality. “Oh no! If it’s not on television, it’s not real! The fact that TV stations fail to stalk me means I’m not a real person!” If the fact that the news media does not sensationalize the disappearance of black women means that the criminal justice system’s pursuit and incarceration of the rapists of women of color “didn’t really happen”, then I guess the news media’s utter indifference to the millions of black men imprisoned for petty drug crimes means that those incarcerations “didn’t really happen”, either. That’s a load off my mind, I was under the mistaken impression all those guys were in jail. But perception is reality so I guess the prisons are empty. Whew!

  13. DCI74 - June 5, 2009 9:38 am

    Sorry to hear that marland, that has to be tough for a parent to go through.

    Tom. the media didn’t call him a person of interest, that’s what the police labeled him when they released his sketch to the public.

  14. james - June 5, 2009 10:28 am

    problem is, by justifying this community’s actions, are we going to be swamped with copycat vigilantes all across our country. for example, many folks in the anti-abortion camp feel that dr tiller pretty much got what he deserved. in fact, i heard some folks describing his killer as a hero.

  15. Marc Lamont Hill - June 5, 2009 11:19 am

    Tom,

    He wasn’t a “wanted rapist” yet. Many suspects are initially called “persons of interest” prior to being labeled suspects. It’s not political correctness. It’s because of the amount of evidence they’ve compiled to date. Sometimes, it’s to throw criminals off. In this case, after compiling the physical evidence, he went from person of interest to “suspect” to, thankfully, “defendant”.

  16. Tom Penn - June 5, 2009 8:27 pm

    Thanks for that explanation Dr. Hill.

  17. Eric Jackson - June 7, 2009 9:05 pm

    BET is definitely playing their part in exploitation and basically broadcasting musical porn. Take a look at these lyrics from Ashanti’s new song, “Want It. Need it”

    Plies ft. Ashanti – Want It Need It Song Words
    I neva knew you felt like dat, baby
    (I never knew you felt like dat)
    Pleasures all mine

    Ashanti
    Oh boy I think of you on two occasions
    That´s wen I want it (that’s wen I want it)
    That´s wen I need it (that’s wen I need it)
    You know I think of you on 2 occasions
    That´s wen I want it (that’s wen I want it)
    That´s wen I need it (that’s wen I need it)
    Hey

    Plies
    I think it so cute how you use me wen you want sex
    I´m who you come n see
    I´m tha one you call wen ya
    Body on e you need a refill I who you cum see
    They give you 87 I give you 93
    Premium top of the line straight deep
    Say it again in my ear
    (Plies you a beast)
    How could one dis gutta be so sweet wateva
    You need it´s my treat all I want frum you
    Is to let me go deep
    I´m on call for you seven days a week sex on delievery s.o.d
    Song words are provided by Geniusbeauty.com

    Ashanti
    Oh boy I think of you on two occasions
    That´s wen I want it (that’s wen I want it)
    That´s wen I need it (that’s wen I need it)
    You know I think of you on 2 occasions
    That´s wen I want it (that’s wen I want it)
    That´s wen I need it (that’s wen I need it)
    Hey

    Plies
    Wen she think bout me she get so wet
    Every time she want she send me a text do I want it tonite
    Baby yes between her legs she so blessed
    She the best thing in the bed dat I met you need a good jug be my guest
    Wateva you want I´m at yo request Til I get to ya baby
    I can´t rest all I can think about is feelin yo sweat
    Playin in your hair feelin your flesh watchin you as you re undressed
    I´m yo goon you my goonette

    Ashanti
    Oh boy I think of you on two occasions
    That´s wen I want it (that’s wen I want it)
    That´s wen I need it (that’s wen I need it)
    You know I think of you on 2 occasions
    That´s wen I want it (that’s wen I want it)
    That´s wen I need it (that’s wen I need it)
    Hey

    Plies
    I´m sleepin I feel yo hand in my boxers baby
    It´s 5 in tha mornin you rubbin on Oscar know if
    You wake him up it´s gon be problems I know you
    Playin with wat ya want so I ain´t gon stop ya jus
    Let me open my eyes so I can watch it you want a
    Dose of ya medicine you wanna see tha doctor gon’
    Take em off so I can gon’ lock ya I call you momma
    You call me poppa
    Tonite I wanna make you tonite
    My baby mama scent like water me no aroma
    Come a lil closer so I can put it on ya
    You my property I´m yo owner

    Ashanti
    Oh boy I think of you on two occasions
    That´s wen I want it (that’s wen I want it)
    That´s wen I need it (that’s wen I need it)
    You know I think of you on 2 occasions
    That´s wen I want it (that’s wen I want it)
    That´s wen I need it (that’s wen I need it)
    Hey, hey, hey

  18. Mario - June 8, 2009 1:11 pm

    Eric Jackson, I’ve only heard that song once THANK GOD! When I heard Ashanti’s part all I could do was shake my head. If those are the only times you think of your boyfriend or girlfriend then you need to get another one. A physical attraction is alright, but it’s the inside that will make or break a relationship.

  19. Anthony Scott - June 9, 2009 12:39 am

    It’s clear to me now what sort of morons (knocking at your door, Hill) cause people to believe rioting and burning down their own neighborhoods is beneficial to them. Hill’s laughing all the way to the bank writing / speaking this crap at the expense of his ‘hip-hop’ audience.

  20. Jane - June 12, 2009 3:53 am

    I noticed you deleted all of the posts that disagreed with you in an articulate and understanable form.

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