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 neighborsâ€™ 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 publicâ€™s indifference to spectacles like BETâ€™s exploitation and R. Kellyâ€™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 governmentâ€™s failure to protect black female bodies. In fact, Carrasquillo himself had beaten a 2002 rape case despite overwhelming evidence of guilt. Whoâ€™s to say that he wouldnâ€™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 communityâ€™s brand of justice is both appropriate and necessary.