Monday January 30, 2006

Beacon sex assult censorship scandal

Honestly, situations where a number of people are acting like assholes are not uncommon in this town. What’s breathtaking in this particular story, though, is the sheer scope of stupidity that comes into play, how at each turn, the player that comes along somehow manages to up the ante of, as Kathleen would say, assholery. It all starts very simply, though, and it hinges on a modern American classic: the fine line between getting frisked, and getting felt up.

It all began on July 7, 2005, when the victim (let’s call her “Girl X” – “victim” is so one-dimensional, and Critical Miami editorial policy forbids the use of names of sexual assault victims), who is 18, by the way, was making out with her boyfriend in a car in Tamiami Park (this is at 1:30 am) after an evening on the town, as teenagers will. An FIU police car rolls up on them, all lights off, and an officer knocks on their window. Appropriate questions at this point:

  1. Why not leave two people minding their own business in a parked car alone?
  2. Why should law enforcement officers sneak up on people with his lights off?
  3. Why is an FIU campus police officer in Tamiami Park, decidedly OFF the FIU campus, anyway?
  4. Come to think of it, why does FIU need a freaking police force? What are they, like, the Sovereign Nation of FIU? What possible advantage could their be, except to make sure no student late for class ever parks on the grass without getting an immediate parking ticket (been there) . . . but I digress.

Anyway, the allegedly asshole cop (“allegedly” is holding real actual water here, because it was her word against his, even though he’s been convicted now, so technically it’s actually not “allegedly” anymore) orders them out of the car, searches it, then orders them back in one by one, while he frisks the other. All of that, in my opinion, would be bad enough, but then he goes and feels up Girl X.

How, specifically, is unclear; heck, she wouldn’t have been the first one to take a perfectly normal frisking and be offended by it, but nevermind – she was able to convince a jury of his peers, and the cop, Frederick Eugene Currie, was convicted of sexual battery and battery. This takes us up to last week, when the verdict was handed down, and he apparently made a big scene, collapsing the courtroom and all.

In a way, though, the real story is just getting started, as all the media in town are getting their reports together. For the most part, it’s accepted practice to leave the victim’s name out of the account, and all but one newspaper did just that. Who gets the clueless dipshit award for printing it? Look: it’s The Beacon, FIU’s own campus newspaper. In the Beacon article (which you might have a hard time getting to, because apparently the Beacon, too, needs to protect it’s precious content with some horrible user registration scheme; maybe don’t bother, because they’ve since removed the name from, at least, the online version of the story, but more on that in a second), they decided to throw caution, and common human decency, to the wind.

A stupid decision, but there’s an even stupider decision right around the corner: FIU’s general counsel, Cristina Mendoza, sends the FIU Police out to confiscate all the copies of the paper, basically sieze them from the racks!

By the way, Florida did, in fact, use to have a law against revealing the names of victims of sexual assault in print. The law was declared unconstitutional in 1994, a fact that Cristina Mendoza, who is, remember, FIU’s General Counsel, didn’t bother to check into (she also apparently hasn’t heard of the 1st Amendment). Someone at the school did, though, and the papers were sheepishly returned to Beacon staff. The staff promptly found a lawyer willing to represent them (for free, of course) in action against the school; one Tom Julin. Oh, and we get this golden nugget:

“Basically, they censored us. That’s the issue here,” said editor-in-chief of FIU’s Beacon newspaper, Harry Coleman, 21, a junior. “The issue is not about printing the girl’s name.”

Is that right, Harry? You’re the victim here eh? Then why’d you backpedal and take the girl’s name off the (previously mentioned) web version of the article, if that’s soooo not the issue? Maybe ‘cause you realized how, even though allowed by law, doing certain things just makes you a big jerk?

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  1. Mister E    Mon Jan 30, 11:37 AM #  

    The practice of keeping a (specifically female) sex-crime victim’s name out of a newspaper story harks back to a time when the stigma of victimhood was considered even more horrible than the crime itself. “Assaulted in the streets and raped in the headlines,” people screamed. What bullshit. While cloaked as a protective measure, it actually reinforces stereotypes of women as “fallen,” “ruined,” or “marked” following the crime. They’re not. They’re victims of a brutal crime entitled to justice. Their privacy is another issue entirely, but newspapers’ motivation for respecting it are more often than not ill-founded.

  2. john    Mon Jan 30, 02:15 PM #  

    BAM! Right on target Mister E.(That is what people say when others validate their opinions I know.) At the same time I have always been willing to defer to the chicks, ahem, women in these cases.

    If you were Mayor Alvarez’s son you could be the RAPIST and not have have your name published.

    Perhaps they should follow MDC’s lead and only pick up newspapers (MNT)and harass student writers, as Madelein Pumariega, MDC Dean of Student Affairs did, when someone is criticizing the school’s president or administration.

  3. Kent Standit    Mon Jan 30, 04:09 PM #  

    Even as dense a creature as a college administrator should know by now that confiscating newspapers from newstands never works. It’s just wrong. On every level. This is the same mentality of the nimrods who go into the basement of the strange house after everybody else goes to bed. Like, haven’t they seen this movie a thousand times by now? Don’t they know how it comes out? When did “PhD” become shorthand for “Pure Hindsight Deficiency”?

  4. Hugh Bris    Mon Jan 30, 09:59 PM #  

    ‘’Basically, they censored us. That’s the issue here,’’ said editor-in-chief of FIU’s Beacon newspaper, Harry Coleman, 21, a junior. ``The issue is not about printing the girl’s name.’’

    Not exactly.

    The issue of censorship is the issue of censorship (duh), and the issue of printing the girl’s name is (duh—see above)is printing the girl’s name. In other words, Junior, 21, can’t count to two.

    Maybe you print her name and maybe you don’t. That’s an internal policy decision. The paper may censor itself,if you wanna call that “censorship,” but apparently the courts have ruled that the paper may not be censored from outside without violating the First Amendment.

    That aside, FIU general counsel Cristina Mendoza, who ordered the papers confiscated, needs a reminder that in fact there is this pesky First Amendment thing. If Junior can’t count to Two, this brilliant legal mind can’t make it to One.

    Pervert cops, ignorant lawyers, shallow journalists. How much money is this academy of higher education costing the taxpayers? Why are we known around the nation as “Flori-duh?”

  5. alesh    Mon Jan 30, 11:20 PM #  

    The problems revolves around the phrase “from the outside,” Hugh. As originally conceived, the 1st Amendment protects citizens from censorship by the FEDERAL government only. At some point later (help me out, constitutional scholars!) this was extended to protection from STATE governments, and maybe governments in general. But the constitution does not protect you from “censorship” by private companies, media owners, your friends, lovers, or your momma. (If it did, I’d be working at MPAC right now.)

    Look at it this way: If a Herald reporter had wanted to run the name of the victim, even if he’d been able to get the editors to go along, the publisher would have stopped him. If they slipped it past the publisher, they might (conceivably) try to yank the issues from distribution even after they were published. Far fetched, but it’d be within their rights – it’s their paper (Freedom of the press belongs to the bloke who owns one, blah blah).

    So is FIU the “publisher” here, or is the newspaper independent under the law, and FIU represents a branch of the government? In the end, this’ll come down to subtle legal distinctions. Morally, they’re all wrong.

  6. Hugh Bris    Tue Jan 31, 10:02 AM #  

    Good point, Alesh, and I agree wholeheartedly with your very last statement. But remember that morality is for us little losers without money, power, or guile. Real men don’t dirth their hands with it.

    I’m not an attorney, and I don’t even play one on a blog. However, I have this statement from the constitutional expert who offered his services: “The university cannot stop the publication of the paper without violating the First Amendment rights of the students, even if the university disagrees with the content,” Julin said.

    That makes it look like (in his opinion) a non-governmental agency CAN violate an individual’s constitutionally sanctioned right to free expression, at least under certain circumstances. Perhaps it’s because the university accepts Federal funds? I dunno. It’s interesting, though. And worth fighting for.

  7. Hose B    Tue Jan 31, 10:22 PM #  

    Look at the bright side. They got the cop off the street, the papers back in circulation, and most importantly,justice for the crime victim. Can we go back to a discussion of pig-mauling dogs now? All this intellectual discussion gives me a pain in my little Florida brane.

  8. alesh    Tue Jan 31, 10:30 PM #  

    Hugh~ Julin is the lawyer for the prosecution! Holding that opinion is a prerequisite for that position, or a result of it, take your pick.

  9. Hugh Bris    Wed Feb 1, 09:19 AM #  

    No, Julin is not a prosecutor: that’s a governmental position and he’s in private practice. Presumably you mean he’s a plaintiff’s attorney, retained by private parties to initiate actions (in this case, first amendment litigation). Doubt that a lawyer would take a case of this kind unless genuinely sympathetic to the cause, and a review of his bio suggests he is. The Herald article reported he offered to take the case “for free” (condescending Herald-speak for “pro bono”).