Synthia China Blast: convicted for the rape, murder and abuse 13-year-old Ebony Nicole Williams (content note)

Image taken from Gender Trender

Let me be perfectly clear here: I do not like the US judicial system. They have sent generations of communities to prison for the crime of being poor or not white. The entire judicial system is racist, misogynistic, homophobic and simply not fit for purpose. The death penalty is barbaric and the three strikes rule inhumane. Incarcerating people for non-violent crimes is an asinine position – as is incarcerating juveniles with adult men. Hell, I’m not sure incarcerating men with other men, considering the sheer number of rapes which happen daily in US prisons, is anything but a human rights abuse.

That said, I am very concerned with the ways in which the media is covering Laverne Cox’s support of Synthia China Blast and the campaign to have safer housing for transgender people in US prisons. Blast, born Luis Morales, was convicted of the 1993 rape, murder and the abuse of the corpse of Ebony Nicole Williams who was only 13 years old. The campaign for safer housing writes this:

Synthia China Blast, an SRLP client and Prisoner Advisory Committee Member, has been incarcerated in New York for twenty-one years. Synthia identifies as a transgender Latina woman and proud native of the Bronx. Prior to incarceration, she experienced family rejection, lack of access to safe education, homelessness, police profiling and violence because she is transgender. The violent gender policing and various forms of trauma she experienced as a youth have only been reproduced and exacerbated while being held in various men’s prisons operated by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) over the past seventeen years.

There is no mention of Blast’s final conviction for child rape and murder – instead the coverage suggests that the Blast was incarcerated for being a transwoman.

Did Blast grow up surrounded by structural violence – absolutely. He was a member of a gang and had a history of violence. But, recognizing the violence within the system which results in boys like Blast perpetuating the very violence which harmed them does not mean we can ignore the crimes they commit.

We absolutely do need to talk about the criminal justice system and it’s gross failures to rehabilitate prisoners. We need to fight to spend our defence budgets on our own communities to prevent generations of children growing up experience poverty and violence. But, this doesn’t mean that we absolve people of their responsibility in committing crimes. We can believe the system is inherently corrupt and that prisoners deserve better treatment whilst holding individual people responsible for the crimes they committed.

Blast committed child rape and murder. We cannot ignore these facts.

You can read more here.

*As I was writing this blog, the video of Laverne Cox reading Synthia China Blast’s letter has been set to private and is no longer visible on Buzzfeed. These are the chunks of the video published on Buzzfeed:

“I was born and raised in the South Bronx, however since age 15 I’ve been raised in prison. In fact – since age 16 – I’ve only been home once, in 1993, for three months. I’ve been in prison ever since. I’m 38-years-young.”

“I am a political transgender woman ‘slash’ prisoner. I strongly support the rights of LGBT brothers and sisters in the community who are imprisoned also.”

“They may not live in a cage 23 to 24 hours a day like I do, year after year, with no fellow prisoner contact, but they too face the constant torment that LGBT prisoners face in here.”

“Lack of adequate medical care, abusive and evasive treatment by law enforcement officials, denial of basic human rights, the freedom to live among the straight society without fear of retaliation.”

“As a whole, in or out of prison, we all suffer,” Cox reads.

“My members consist of one voice. I want my voice to be heard, I want my dreams to matter, I want people to know who I am because tomorrow is not promised.”

“We each have to be an example for one another, we are minorities in here. If you are part of PAC, you are either directly or indirectly part of the LGBT family.

The letter concludes: “So when I’m asked why did I join the Prisoner Advisory Committee, I smile because I didn’t join anything. I found my family.”

UPDATE:

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project has released a formal statement in response to the removal of the video of Laverne Cox reading Synthia China Blast’s letter. Apparently, they didn’t bother to tell Cox what Blast was incarcerated for and don’t think it’s important. I’m glad Cox has demanded they remove the video,  although the lesson here in checking shit out before signing your name to it is one a whole lot of celebrities might want to familiarize themselves with.

I am very disturbed by the message within the SRLP which effectively states that it doesn’t matter why a transwoman is in prison, they must be supported regardless. Prejudice is a common reason for incarceration in the US and many people within the system should not be there, particularly those incarcerated for substance misuse, prostitution and petty theft. But, there is a huge difference between a transwoman incarcerated for prostitution and one incarcerated for rape, murder and abuse of a corpse – just as there is with any other group of  people incarcerated. We can understand that the carceral system is built on racism, poverty etc and that young men and women living in ghettos end up in gangs for millions of reasons which have nothing to do with personal choice whilst still holding them accountable for their actions. Understanding the system and campaigning to destroy it doesn’t mean that people who commit rape and murder should be forgiven because of the violence they grew up with. Lots of people grow up in families and communities ravaged by poverty and structural violence who do not go on to commit child rape and murder. Whatever we think of the system itself (and it’s a massive failure), the crimes committed by individuals within it need to be spoken about. Failing to address Blast’s actual crimes undermines the SRLP.

UPDATE TWO:

Laverne Cox has posted a response on her tumblr.

UPDATE 3:

This video was just shared on my FB. It is Cox’s reading interspersed with facts about the murder of Ebony Nicole Williams :

 

6 year old boy suspended for kissing classmate

6 year old boy suspended for kissing classmate is the actual title of a Sky News story. As with much of Sky News’ content, the article is high on drama but short on analysis of systemic violence against women and children which starts with grooming girls from a very young age that they have no bodily autonomy. Whilst everyone is an uproar about the suspension of 6 year old Hunter Yelton for kissing the hand of a six year old girl, no one seems to have thought to ask what the little girl thinks of the situation. All we have is Yelton’s statement that he has a crush on the little girl and that “she likes him back”.

What this rather sensationalist title doesn’t say is that this is Yelton’s second suspension for inappropriately touching a classmate and that he has a history of other disciplinary problems.  This is clearly not a case of a once off kiss on a hand in which a school grossly over-reacted with a punishment. It is a case of unwanted touching. If the children were 16, would we be dismissing the behaviour still?

Children are allowed to have boundaries and they deserve to have those boundaries respected. They need to know they will be supported if someone does violate their boundaries, and that includes when the person violating their boundaries is their six year old classmate. Young girls need to be taught that they can say no and young boys need to learn that their wants and desires aren’t more important than the bodily integrity of other people.

The response of Yelton’s mother, Jennifer Saunders, is quite concerning. She has dismissed the punishment as an over-reaction on the part of the school and seems to be implying that her sons ‘crush’ on the little girl means that he is entitled to touch her without her permission. This is rape culture. It is the grooming of a young girl into an object for the (sexual) exploitation by boys and men. It is a young boy growing up to believe that he has the right to touch whoever he wants whenever he wants.

There is a discussion to be had about the appropriateness of the punishment, but this must not come at the expense of the young girl who experienced unwanted touching from a classmate. Rapists and other sexual predators are not born; they are made in a culture which privileges’ men’s needs over the bodily integrity of everyone else. Both of these children have learnt a lesson here: the young girl will know that she has the right to bodily integrity and the young boy will, hopefully, learn that he does not have the right to touch others without permission.

Salacious and misleading headlines aside, we need to start discussing how young boys are groomed in a rape culture. We will not stop the sexual violence of women and children as long as we tell young boys that it’s okay to pull the hair of the girl they like or that they kiss whoever they want without permission.

We all have the right to bodily integrity and 6 year olds need to learn this lesson too.

Update: The school has backed down due to public pressure and is allowing the young boy back to school. Whilst I’m still unsure about suspension, because it would be inappropriate for the school to give out a full record of the child’s behaviour, I do not believe it is appropriate for the school to change it’s position because of public pressure. The article on CNN makes it clear that the young girl did not want to be touched by this boy and that he has done it before. What are we telling her about her right to bodily integrity?

Oh, More Rape Apologists Whinging About Poor Ickle Sexual Predators Lives Being Ruined

I think Savannah Dietrich is a pretty incredible teenager. Having been sexually assaulted by two teenage boys, she took the very brave stand of publicly naming and shaming them despite the fact that it was technically illegal for her to do so. Now, I’m a generally fan of the theory of a  juvenile justice system whose entire purpose is supposed to be the rehabilitation and education of young offenders. I think many teenagers end up caught in the system due to the failings of the adults responsible for them. I think sealing juvenile records and keeping their names from public knowledge is, in many cases, the best way to ensure that those teenagers have the possibility to go on to become important members of our communities. But, I have two qualifiers: those who commit sexual violence and murder need to have exemptions made on a case by case basis. A fifteen year old who shoots their stepfather who had been molesting them for 4 years deserves the chance to heal in private. A fifteen year old with every advantage who chooses to get behind the wheel of a car whilst intoxicated which results in the death of a pedestrian doesn’t necessarily deserve the protection afforded by anonymity [unless, of course, said 15 year old is also a victim of abuse]. I like to live in a utopia where our teenagers are nurtured and respected and not villified for crimes caused by the Patriarchy.

The two teenage boys who sexually assaulted Savannah Dietrich don’t deserve that protection. They had no respect for Dietrich’s bodily autonomy. Then, they published photos of the assault on the internet. They needed to be held publicly accountable for their crime; particularly since they seem to be playing the victims of a smear campaign orchestrated by Dietrich. Here’s a hint, if you commit sexual assault, your reputation isn’t being smeared by being publicly named. Your reputation was smeared because YOU chose to do so by committing sexual assault. It is YOUR fault. No one else is responsible for your behaviour. Just you.

Judging by this article in the Huffington Post, I suspect the boy’s defence attorneys might want to revisit the concepts of personal responsibility and free will.  Or, at least, contemplate not making public statements that make your clients look even more pathetic and guilty than they already are. Yeah, death threats were a tad OTT but suggesting that the victim of their sexual assault ruined the lives of the perpetrators by holding them publicly accountable is just stupid, rape apologist horseshite. Being kicked out of the high school you attend with your victim and being forced to move are the NATURAL CONSEQUENCES of sexual assault. NO ONE should be forced to live near or go to school with the person who sexually assaulted or raped them. The fact that the defence attorney of one of the attackers, David Mejia, thinks that the possibility that his client might lose a potential scholarship to an Ivy League university is worse than the sexual assault his client committed just demonstrates how fucked-up rape apologists are. His client should be in therapy. He should be in therapy as part of his legal punishment to deal with the fact that he’s a sexual predator.

We never hold sexual predators properly accountable for their crimes.

We always excuse them by blaming their victims.

Savannah Dietrich has kicked off a public debate which seems to be changing the discourse around sexual violence and personal responsibility. I’m glad she’s taking the very brave step of naming and shaming her attackers but how shameful is it that it takes a teenager to get the media to notice the vileness that is rape apologism?

I also notice a real lack of left-wing right-on Dudes declaring Dietrich a hero for her use of “Free Speech” but that’s because “Free Speech” protects the perpetrator’s right to publish photos of their sexual assault and not the victim’s right to publicly name them.

Assange: The Quintessential Example of White Male Privilege and Their Silencing Techniques

I haven’t blogged about the lying git that is Assange yet because it makes me both homicidally angry and thoroughly depressed at the number of people who are on the left of political spectrum but also seem to be clinically stupid. It is perfectly possible to have some good political policies whilst remaining a misogynist with a history of sexually abusive behaviour. Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy both being cases in point. Being critical of the Military-Industrial complexes isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card for rapists. Anyone who claims it is is, simply, a rape apologist who is perpetuating and perpetrating rape culture. We shouldn’t be allowing the existence of that kind of misogynistic bollox.

I haven’t blogged about Assange because I don’t want to add to his messiah complex. He is quite clearly an attention seeking whingefest of the most egregious sort. I didn’t bother to watch his speech from the balcony either. I don’t want to waste my time on someone who has their head jammed so far up their ass that they think they are The Second Coming. I genuinely think the media need to stop covering this case. That attention seeking arsehole doesn’t need the publicity. After all, the official Wikileaks twitter feed published this a few weeks ago:

Despite not even being charged, Assange is the most rape-smeared man in modern history. 2x to 4x that of DSK, depending on how you measure.

He doesn’t need the media feeding his messiah complex too. Assange supporters could join with certain footballer’s fans and form a supergroup of whiny-arsed, stupid nincompoops with serious delusions of grandeur. And, then decamp to some remote island somewhere so the rest of us don’t have to listen to their shit.

As much as I hate the idea of giving this arsehole even more publicity, I think keeping silent whilst supposedly intelligent journalists, like, say, John Pilger, are spreading myths is immoral. We need to change the language we use to discuss this case. We need to stop confusing Assange the person with Wikileaks. We need to stop pretending that being right about one thing means that someone is right about everything. It is perfectly possible for Wikileaks to be an important political tool whilst recognising that Assange is a nincompoop. After all, he isn’t the only person who works for Wikileaks AND it’s not like Assange doesn’t already have form for leaving Wikileaks supporters high and dry. We need to start challenging the myth that celebrities don’t need to rape because they could get anyone woman they want. These are exactly the kinds of men who are rapists because they believe they are entitled to whatever they want whenever they want.

The only reason we should be talking about Assange is to support victims of rape; including the two women Assange sexually assaulted. We need to start taking real action in the face of rape myths to support women who have been raped. After all, we all know that one of the reasons many, many women refuse to report their rape is because they are afraid of being disbelieved. The woman Ched Evans raped has had her reputation and name smeared across Twitter by Ched Evans supporters. The two women in the Assange case, who deserve to have their anonymity protected, have had their real names trashed across the internet.

The only reason to be mentioning Assange’s name is to ensure that rape victims know just how many people believe them and will support them.

We need to make our voices louder than the rapists, rape apologists and their handmaidens.

And, we need to get Assange to shut the fuck up.