Friday, December 5, 2014

Victim Blaming

Normally I am not a fan of the phrase "victim blaming."  All too often it is used by well meaning zealous advocates to silence any voice that speaks up for the rights of the accused or who asks reasonable questions about an accuser's version of events.  In some circles a call to reserve judgment or consider someone innocent until proven guilty gets one labeled as an "apologist."  That is wrong.  But there are legitimate cases of "victim blaming," and that sort of victim blaming is wrong.  An example of the difference is this:
  • Actual Victim Blaming:  Believing a woman was "asking" to be sexually assaulted because she wore revealing clothing.
  • Not Victim Blaming:  Choosing not to consider the word of an accuser alone to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty and should be punished.  
In the case of  Eric Garner's death we are seeing real and disturbing incidents of actual victim blaming that must be addressed head on.

Instances of Blaming Victim Eric Garner

First, let me establish, Eric Garner was a victim.  While a grand jury determined there was not sufficient evidence to allege that he was a crime victim, its indisputable that he was a victim of homicide, be it justifiable or not.  Another person killed him.  Just like a rape victim is no less a victim when he or she makes the decision not to pursue criminal charges, Eric Garner is no less a victim just because New York will not press charges. With that out of the way, lets examine the various types of blaming going on:

Resisting Arrest Means You Deserve to Die:

This Tweet is an example of this awesome type of victim blaming.  Its could apply to Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or or anyone killed by a police officer when offering any form of resistance whatsoever.

This is just absolute unadulterated crap.  Resisting arrest is not a capital crime, and unarmed resistance certainly is not a capital offense.  Hell, rape and child molestation are not capital crimes.  Pulling away slightly and verbally resisting like Eric Garner did is no where near as serious of an offense as rape, so the punishment should not be as severe.  Further, just because a person offers unarmed resistance does not mean that police should automatically escalate the situation to a lethal one.  Why should government agents be able to kill Americans when there are other effective options available?

Being Fat Means You Deserve to Die:

This one is really taking off among police and conservatives alike.  One example of this sort of victim blaming comes from Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who said during an appearance on CNN's "The Situation Room":

You had a 350-pound person who was resisting arrest.  The police were trying to bring him down as quickly as possible...If he had not had asthma and a heart condition and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died from this.  The police had no reason to know he was in serious condition.

Seriously?  The police had "no reason" to suspect Mr. Garner might have health issues?  Did the police officer look at him before killing him?  Mr. Garner was a rather large fellow--his body was a billboard for the fact that he may have obesity related health issues.  Obesity isn't exactly something that is hidden.  And given the state of our country's waistlines, officers should be fully aware of the health issues related to obesity.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a full 69% of Americans are overweight or obese, and a new FBI statistic that says that a whopping 80% of cops are overweight.

But this of course ignores the real issue.  The real issue is that the officer jumped immediately to deadly force, which was unnecessary.  It is unclear from the video of the incident why any arrest or any force was even necessary at all.  Perhaps a rational conversation would have been more appropriate and obviously would have had a better outcome.

If You Can Talk You Can Breathe:

This isn't really an incident of victim blaming per se, but it is a common response by police apologists and it drives me nuts so I had to include it.  I think it bothers me so much because it brought back memories of roughhousing as a little kid.  I distinctly remember times when things went a little too far when rough housing and I myself had difficult breathing.  So I choked out, "I can't breathe" and I instantly heard the nonsense retort, "If you can talk, you can breathe."  So what was I supposed to then choke out, "Yes, but I am in respiratory distress and if you continue along this path I won't be breathing at all for much longer?"  Come on, no one can do that when they are being choked, and they should not have to do so.  When, as explained above, a very obese person who you are in the process of choking for no particularly good reason starts saying he cannot breathe, it may be a good time to reevaluate your actions, or you may just wind up with dead obese man who very much cannot breathe.  I understand that sometimes suspects exaggerate their physical discomfort, but when law enforcement asserts physical control over another human being they also must accept responsibility for that person's physical well being.

Blame Those Responsible:

Of course, that includes the officers involved.  But responsibility goes further than that.  The officers who historically harassed Mr. Garner also share in responsibility for the situation developing in the way it did.  Our law makers are to blame for passing laws that allow police to get away with this sort of behavior, and in some ways, actually encourage it.  We ourselves are responsible for for continuing to elect "tough on crime" politicians who ignore the realities of our police state.  But do not blame the victim.

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