Delenda Est Carthago

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

18.5.06

The Injustice League

There's a kind of sad acceptance I feel with regard to the direction in which the country is moving. It has little to do with my anger at Bush and his cronies - they're just buboes on the body politic masking the real disease. We have reaches a point in this country where Money is God. We worship it, revere it, assign ridiculous value to those who have it, ignore those who don't. It's frustrating, because I have no time for utopian socialist visions in which we all give our money to the Central Committee and they redistribute it equally. As conservative commentators are so fond of pointing out, there's a difference between equality and liberty, and they'll take liberty, and in certain areas I'm inclined to agree with them. But as a society, we are becoming sicker and sicker with this strange lust for an ultimately ephemeral thing, and it does not look like it will ever change. We can blame Bush and Big Oil all we want, but the Democrats in Washington are the same way. Very rarely does a person not born of privilege make any kind of difference. Clinton, ironically, was not necessarily a privileged individual, and although he had plenty of failings, his refusal to join the Wealthy Club and Play By The Rules was not one of them - and he was excoriated for it. Say what you want about Clinton - and it will probably be true - but he did work for all Americans more often than he worked for the Rich. That would probably not be true of Al Gore (even though Gore would have been a better president than Bush) and certainly not of John Kerry (and between Bush and Kerry, it's probably a toss-up).

This divide between rich and poor is probably more pervasive in society today than racism, but it gets less attention (except from crazy left-wingers, who are promptly dismissed as socialist), mainly because it's easier to "spot" racism. If a white person treats a black person poorly, it's racist. Easy. Wealth cuts across racial lines, however. We hear about poor blacks attacking middle class blacks for "going white" because they have made money and adopted a "white" lifestyle. It's silly and uses the language of racism (by assigning a racial change to those blacks who have accomplished it) but it still speaks to a gap between the rich and poor in this country. There are not as many barriers as there once were to blacks or Hispanics becoming rich, but there are many barriers keeping poor people - black, brown, or white - from becoming rich. More importantly, the rich, who don't care who joins them as long as they get to keep their money, are much better protected in our society, and that's where the worship of money and the failure of the government becomes pronounced. This is apparent in many ways, but the incident that, for me, set me off, is a local one.

I doubt if it's been getting national attention, but this story has been big in Arizona for a while. The link is just the latest (and possibly last) in a series of articles about the story. It's a sad and disgusting little bit of Americana. Two camp counselors in Prescott pleaded guilty to assaulting 18 kids under their care. How did they do this? In a "hazing" ritual in which they shoved broomsticks into the buttocks of the kids, who were wearing underwear or other clothing. The two counselors, Clifton Bennett, 18, and Kyle Wheeler, 20, told the kids, aged 11 to 14, on the first day of camp that they would be punished for breaking the rules. "Punished" meant, apparently, being sodomized with broomsticks and, in the case of three boys, being choked by Wheeler until they passed out.

The case has gotten a lot of attention here not only for the horrible nature of the crime but because of who Clifton Bennett is. His father is the President of the Arizona Senate, Ken Bennett. So politics, and more importantly money, enters the picture.

Clifton Bennett will get about a month in jail, 200 hours of community service, and three years probation. Think about that for a minute. We have people languishing in maximum security prisons for smoking marijuana. Not selling marijuana, smoking marijuana. This kid admitted to assaulting 18 children, and he's getting a month in jail. The Yavapai County District Attorney, Sheila Polk, has been ripped for not prosecuting the case more aggressively, but she says there isn't enough evidence to charge them with a sexual assault. So ramming broomsticks up some kid's butt isn't sexual assault, it's just regular assault, and therefore the perpetrator gets a month in jail.

The statements by the judge and the defendants are pretty astonishing, too. Judge Thomas O'Toole said, "The evidence clearly shows that both defendants engaged in conduct that was callous and reckless," and then added, "It's fair to say that the conduct was out of character for these young men." But he did not classify the convictions as felonies. So, if you're in the mood to choke kids until they pass out or drive sticks into any orifice they have, feel free - it's a misdemeanor. The judge also said that the actions were "not intended to be criminal in nature." Well, shit, that makes it all right, then. When I blow up my neighbor's house because he won't stop driving his motorcycle up and down my street late at night, I can just say that my actions weren't intended to be criminal in nature. Can I help it if there are laws against it? That's not my problem, after all. These defendants seem reasonably smart. Did they not think, as they were choking kids, that maybe these actions could be seen as criminal? That's such a dumb statement by the judge I almost have to bang my head against the wall. Meanwhile, the defendants were contrite. How nice of them. Bennett said he didn't think him going to jail would satisfy the victims as much as his heartfelt remorse. Yeah, okay. I'm shocked that he would think that.

The victims and their families were less than pleased. Their parents say many have trouble sleeping and going to the bathroom since the assaults, and their grades have slipped. 13-year-old Zachary Motcheck, one of the victims, said, "It's unfair, and it's just because Bennett's dad is a senator." Ah, yes, the political connection. Sheila Polk said that at no time did the office of Senator Bennett call her to influence her one way or another. Well, of course she would say that. At the Yavapai County Government page, there's a link to a press release by Sheila Polk (it's a pdf file and for some reason I can't link to it) in which she responds to some of the criticism leveled against her. It's all well and good, but the point is not that she failed and the judge failed (she, of course, blames the judge for the sentencing). It's that both she and the judge are caught up in a criminal justice system that favors the rich and powerful. Clifton Bennett is a fine, upstanding son of a Senator who is planning to go on a Mormon mission soon. Polk says that the fact that he is planning this also had no influence, but who can really tell. The fact is, district attorney is an elective office. Judge is an elective office. It certainly can't hurt to allow the son of the Senate President off with a slap on the wrist, and Sheila Polk and Thomas O'Toole can blather on all they want about proper procedure, but the fact remains that this is a slap on the wrist. Yes, it's up to judge's discretion to set the punishment. Are you telling me that the judge put aside any thoughts of political advancement, his own prejudices toward "fine, upstanding, religious citizens" who had never done anything wrong before (that we know of) and wept like babies in the courtroom, and the power of the father of one of the defendants when he sentenced these kids? He's human, after all. I'm not necessarily blaming him for it, because everyone is influenced in this way, but it's sad that we have come to this, when who the person is or is related to is more important than the crime they committed. If Clifton Bennett was a nobody, I would almost bet he would be in jail for longer than a month.

Senator Bennett was at the courthouse last Friday. He "hustled his son through the rear door of the courthouse" and said Clifton had "made a heartfelt apology in court."

"We hope today will begin the healing process for everybody," he said, before adding: "How would you feel if your son was going to jail?" As someone pointed out in the opinion page a few days later, how would he feel if his son was the one who had been sodomized and choked and the criminal who did it was getting away with a slap on the wrist? If my son came to me and admitted he did this, of course I'd want him to stay out of jail, especially if I thought he was contrite, but at the same time I'd want to beat him myself because this is a horrible thing to do. Senator Bennett might not have used his influence, but because of who he is, his son got away with his crime.

This case is just a microcosm of what's happening in the U.S. today. You can argue it if you want, but I don't think it's really debatable that the rich and powerful get away with pretty much anything they want to. This is frustrating because the middle class keeps shrinking and the U.S. begins to resemble a Third World country more and more. We're not there yet, but we're on the path to it, and as those of us who aren't rich become more and more marginalized, it will just get worse and worse. The government should be there for those who don't have power, but it's not. That's why Bush is a failure - not because he's an idiot, but because he, like most presidents, sees the office as just a way to accrue power to himself and make his friends richer. Bush and his friends don't need to be richer. They need to look after the powerless. That doesn't mean throwing money at them like Democrats want, but it does mean helping them in any way they can. Trickle-down economies don't work. Developing systems by which the powerless can get true justice would be a start. But we're a long way from that, unfortunately.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Krys said...

I've been wondering what would have happened if the two defendants had been Black or Hispanic. Think they would have just gotten a slap on the wrist?

18/5/06 8:59 AM  
Blogger GayProf said...

It’s a tricky issue because race and economic class tend to intertwine in the U.S. Still, last year I broke with many lefties on my campus over this issue. The university wished to implement affirmative action (though that was not the term they used) based on economic class rather than race. For me, this was a fine attempt (as long as they really lived up to it). Many on the left, though, wanted race to be the dominant factor. Poor, for me, is poor.

19/5/06 12:16 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

It's interesting about affirmative action, because like I said, racism is "easier" to spot, and race and class are so connected so often. It would be nice if we could move past that and focus on the poor, because you're right - poor is poor, no matter what race you are.

19/5/06 7:36 AM  
Blogger Roger Owen Green said...

Poor IS poor, but you ask anyone (say the musician in BBlack.White who was talking to the white guy Bruno) about making it, or stories of women on the Mother's Day edition of CBS Sunday Morning, or even Condi Rice, and you'll hear the same refrain: to make it, it was not enough to be good as the others, you had to be better. So class does rule, but so, unfortunately, does race, gender and any number of other factors.

19/5/06 10:47 AM  
Blogger GayProf said...

Yeah -- I agree with ROG that race, gender, and sexuality also play major roles. We need both class and race to figure into our thinking, not just one or the other.

19/5/06 11:38 AM  

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