Friday, June 26, 2015

GAY AMERICANS: PUT A RING ON IT!



One hour ago the Supreme Court of the United States issued the historic ruling legalizing marriage equality throughout the nation. Those of us who have lived long enough to witness or experience persecution and discrimination against gay Americans from the mid-20th century until now are still reeling. Our faith in the system just got a significant boost.  And those citizens who are much younger have just been handed a freedom that many of us could not have predicted.

As a gay man in America, I have experienced all of the predictable barbs, shuns and injustices, just like every other gay person. I know what it is to live your life in silence, rather than in sunlight. I lived almost 40 years before I decided to live authentically as a gay American. That’s a long time. I did everything they told boys to do who were born in mid-20th century: dated girls, went to college, married a wonderful girl, worked in the corporate system – but all in the guise of someone I really was not. My story is by no means unique. Sadly, millions of American boys and men did just what I did. The very last thing we ever expected was to be able to love another man openly, and marry him. We are stunned, to say the least. How different our lives may have been had this ruling come down 40 years ago, we will never know.

Inside all the joy we feel at the Court’s validation of our freedom, there is still the realization that every time one reaches a socio/political milestone, somehow "they" move the line up a bit further. So here is a list of issues that still concern me in this slow and steady race to equality:
I never want to see another young boy or girl feel so alienated from his or her family and peers that suicide seems the only answer.
Never again do I want to see a person randomly and viciously attacked on the street because of his or her sexuality. I do not want to see another working adult denied career advancement simply because the good old boys club does not admit gay members. I hope never again to witness a gay couple denied access or adoption privileges to their children. There should not be one more child living on the streets because his or her parents simply dismissed them due to their sexuality. I don’t want to hear religious zealots tell me that we can pass all the laws we want to pass, but same-gender loving relationships are still immoral. I defy one more production company to produce a sitcom or a romantic comedy in which one or more of the characters are gay stereotypes – it’s not funny.

This morning, after the Court’s ruling, Jim Obergefell, whose fight to be listed as the surviving spouse on his husband's death certificate initiated this court case, said this: “It’s my hope that the term ‘gay marriage’ will become a thing of the past.  And our nation will be better off because of it.”

We no longer need that term, if we ever did. We don’t even need the term “marriage equality.” We only need the full recognition that love is love, that people have a right to live their authentic lives, that discrimination based on sexuality is taboo, and that marriage is just marriage.

I, and many others, come from a time when who we were was not acceptable at all. We were not “allowed” to be gay. So we tried our damndest not to be gay, because everybody wants to be recognized and accepted.
We kept our mouths shut when our peers called someone a “fairy” or a “fag.” We dutifully laughed along when someone told a “gay joke.” We did not speak up when even members of our own families made derisive comments about gay people. (My own father once said, “If they can send a man to the moon, surely they can find a cure for homosexuality.”) And sadly, many of us were never able to truly be a full-fledged member of our own families, simply because we had a secret that we knew would just do us in if they knew who we really were.

Honestly, I thank God that I am alive to see what happened in Washington, D.C. this morning. The air seems somehow clearer and more breathable now. The joy that I witnessed on the faces of those on the steps of the Supreme Court came right through the television screen and into my own heart. Civil rights were granted expansion in a way that would have seemed impossible just a few years ago. And as President Obama said in his remarks after the ruling, “Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.”

For me, thunder never sounded quite as harmonious and welcome as it did on June 26, 2015.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

WHY DO WE NEED THIS FLAG?



Dylan Roof executed a plan to murder black people. He said as much. His aim, evidently, was to do his part to wipe out what he perceived as a threatening part of the American population, black people. Although he managed to murder nine human beings, he failed to achieve his goal. Instead of initiating the race war indicated in his "manifesto," Dylan Roof has ignited the strongest, most activistic conversation about race this country has seen in decades.

For a long time I have maintained my position that racism in America is far worse now than it was during my childhood in the 1960s. Back then discrimination was widespread and rampant, but organized hate was minimal compared to what it is now. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), by the end of 2014 there were 930 known hate groups active in America. It is known that the majority of these groups are based in a white supremacy philosophy and lifestyle. White supremacy is simply the contemporary outgrowth of a time when it was legal in the United States for white Americans to own human beings.

Some perspective: The SPLC reports that in the year 2000 there were 602 known hate groups in America. That’s just 15 years ago. That same year there were 194 known “patriot” groups.
These groups were often armed militia organizations that identified as anti-government. After Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, that number rose continually, until by the end of last year there were 1,000 known such groups. Coincidence? I think not. In case I have to remind you, the President is black.

 Here is how racism has morphed into the mainstream since the 1960s. Back then, of course, there was the KKK. And there was the lesser heard of White Citizens Councils, groups that fought desegregation of just about everything, although the primary focus was keeping the nation’s schools segregated. That was then, but as recently as 2007, the Council of Conservative Citizens, which is the modern outgrowth of the old White Citizens Council, had this to say on its own website: “We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called
‘affirmative action' and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races."

Today it is difficult for any group to gain national recognition or credibility if it overtly labels itself anti-black. So, instead we have become a nation of liberal vs. conservative as it pertains to all things race related. That’s unfortunate, because there are many fine politically conservative Americans whose ideology is sullied by hate groups that choose to fly under the banner of conservatism.

Little did young Dylan Roof know that each shot he fired in the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston served only to ignite a fire under the American people. Rarely do we see the type of mass activism these days that we have seen in opposition to the display of the Confederate flag. And so, to all of the narrow-thinking Facebookers who keep sarcastically posting comments about how taking down the flag won’t solve anything, consider this: No one is trying to convince you that racism will end with the disappearance of the flags. No one is trying to convince you that your Southern heritage doesn’t count; it’s simply that there are parts of the Southern experience that we cannot in good conscience emphasize in contemporary America. The flag is a symbol of a time when a relatively young America made a tragic mistake in judgment, forcing human beings to become property. And most importantly, no one is trying to tell you what to think. If anything, you are being encouraged to think bigger – to be bigger.

Despite public protest and widespread national support for removal of the Confederate flag from the State Capitol building, it took South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley one full week to publicly call for the flag’s removal. Still, that effort has to wind its way through the General Assembly, which actually adjourned on June 4. Lawmakers are due to return next week to work on budget considerations, and at that time it is expected they will take up the flag issue.

SC Governor Nikki Haley
This is a no-brainer. The flag clearly represents the historic, albeit unfounded supremacy of one race over another in America. The vast majority of Americans do not subscribe to this type of racism. The biggest online retailer in the world, Amazon has stopped selling confederate flag merchandise. EBay and Etsy have followed suit. So has Google Shopping. The biggest retailer, period, WalMart has stopped selling Confederate flags. The Governor of Virginia wants the Confederate flag symbol removed from state license plates. The speaker of the House in Mississippi wants the state flag redesigned to eliminate the Confederate flag symbol.

Why should this issue wait another hour, much less another week in South Carolina? We would all like to believe that Governor Haley does not support the subordination of black citizens in South Carolina, particularly since blacks make up 27.9 per cent of the state’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Why doesn’t Governor Haley simply issue an executive order and have the flag removed? The Governor of Alabama has already done so, and the flag has been taken down from the state capitol building. Perhaps Haley is sending it to the General Assembly because it is not politically advantageous in her own state for her to issue an executive order. But, to paraphrase a certain U.S. president from yesteryear: “Governor Haley….take down that flag.”

Monday, December 8, 2014

WE ARE ERIC GARNER

 Eric Garner was a 44-year old black American, married with six children, living in New York, about 350 pounds and 6’4” tall. I am a 61-year-old white American, unmarried, no children, living in New Orleans, 200 lbs, 6’1” tall. Garner reportedly had a string of about 30 arrests for petty crimes, and I have no arrest record. Eric Garner is dead and I am alive; yet I am Eric Garner. And guess what: You are Eric Garner.

If that sounds confusing, just know that you and I are but one unlawful misstep away from an overzealous, ego-inflated law enforcement officer placing us in a chokehold and cutting off our air supply. Maybe our chokehold may come from smoking an illegal joint, or jaywalking on a busy city street, or carrying the wrong item in our luggage through airport security, or cutting in line outside of busy nightclub, or….you fill in the blank. After all, would our getting high, walking in the wrong place, packing a pocket knife in a suitcase or being over-anxious to get into a club be any worse than Garner selling untaxed loosies? If Officer Daniel Pantaleo, 29, could murder Eric Garner in broad daylight on a busy Staten Island street, couldn’t any unnamed, over-testosteroned 20-something who spent a few months in the police academy take me out just as easily? So, you see, I am Eric Garner and you…yes you are Eric Garner.

And yes, indeed I did just use the world murder. I have watched the tape of Eric Garner’s takedown over and over again, and what I witnessed was clearly Daniel Pantaleo murdering Eric Garner.
Eric Garner in a chokehold (Inset: Daniel Pantaleo)
About Dan Pantaleo: Here are a few juicy items we have come to find out about the young cop who clearly saw no value in the life of Eric Garner: At the beginning of this year the NYPD settled a civil rights suit against him, after he and another cop stopped a convicted drug felon and made him and his friend drop their pants on the street and be searched. The officers then took the two to the station and strip searched them again. Since they were apparently unlawfully stopped, the two sued and each was awarded $15,000. Charges were dismissed. Charges were also dismissed in a separate case against a Pantaleo arrestee where the citizen alleges Pantaleo stopped him for no reason and filed a police report that accused him of crimes that were never committed. That person’s suit is still pending.

All of these suits hover around thousands of dollars charged to the NYPD. But that’s chump change compared to the $75 million Garner’s family will reportedly ask for in their suit against New York City. If you ask me, Pantaleo is a rather pricey employee for the city to keep, but so far he is still employed. Two days after Garner’s murder, Pantaleo had to surrender his gun and his badge, but he’s still on desk duty. One wonders how his hair trigger impulses will play out in the office setting, rather than on the street.

More about Pantaleo: After he cut off air supply to Eric Garner, while Garner lay on the street, barely
EMS worker checks for Eric Garner's pulse. No resuscitation efforts were made.
alive, Pantaleo and his four fellow officers on the scene did nothing to try to offer medical assistance. For five full minutes. Long enough to die. During the fourth minute, EMS workers on the scene took Garner’s pulse, but did nothing to try to resuscitate him.

Reaction to Pantaleo’s power trip and ultimate murder of Eric Garner has been swift and widespread, including Mayor DiBlasio of New York, who says he now fears for the life of his bi-racial son. None other than Judge Andrew Napolitano, the senior judicial analyst for Fox News said there should have been an indictment for criminally negligent homicide.

When Pantaleo issued a statement apologizing for Garner’s murder, Garner’s widow had this to say: "Hell no! The time for remorse would have been when my husband was yelling to breathe. No, I don't accept his apology. No, I could care less about his condolences. He's still working. He's still getting a paycheck. He's still feeding his kids, when my husband is six feet under and I'm looking for a way to feed my kids now. No, I could care less about his condolences," she continued. "Who's going to play Santa Claus for my grandkids this year?”
Esaw Garner

I’m with Mrs. Garner. How could you not be? My greatest concern is the selection process for these young cops. First, every local and state police organization requires officer applicants to go through a psychological evaluation, but none of them make the details of the evaluations or the individual results available to the public. Just how deeply are we delving in to the psyches of these 20-something, over-aggressive males who are patrolling our cities? Are they being adequately tested for behavior traits such as impulse control? Are they being deeply questioned and investigated as to their beliefs about racial issues? What do the hiring agents at these agencies know about the applicants’ family and peer influences as it regards race? Why are there so many instances of police brutality and over-use of excessive force that go unpunished? Could there really be a citizen in NYC who believes Dan Pantaleo should be put back out on the streets of their city?

Think about that tonight and for many nights to come while you watch protests, demonstrations and even rioting in major cities coast to coast. The American public is speaking its collective mind about Eric Garner’s murder. That is because each of those individuals who braves the elements and spends his or her nights on the streets knows that they are all Eric Garner. We are all Eric Garner. Here is a clip of Mrs. Garner’s interview last Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Listen to her describe the disrespect with which the police treated her husband and her on a daily basis. Listen to the fear she lives with for her two young sons.

Esaw Garner goes through her days in America in 2014 in fear. That is not what this country is supposed to be about. All Dan Pantaleo accomplished when he brutally murdered Eric Garner was to destroy an American family and bring to the surface the escalating problem of police brutality and the street war between police and the citizens they are charged to protect. When immature, 20-somethings are released on the street to “enforce” the law, having little life experience and almost no worldly wisdom from which to draw, we are all in danger. Put a gun in their hands and we are in mortal danger. If they have a history of falsely arresting people as Pantaleo has, the danger is even greater. America is fighting back now, as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of citizens taking to the streets each night, from Ferguson to Staten Island, from Berkeley to D.C., from Detroit to Dallas. Speak up. Be heard. Don’t wait until nightfall, or until one of us Eric Garners is murdered again, or until someone else has to speak for you. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

WHEN KARMA MET COSBY



Scary, powerful, intimidating, threatening, aggressive….these are some of the words used in recent days to describe Bill Cosby. Prior to the recent and increasingly pervasive accusations of rape, Cosby would likely have been described as “America’s Dad,” intelligent, funny, influential and beloved. But now that his accusers number in the teens, and now that their stories are strikingly similar, Cosby has become persona non-grata in entertainment circles and certainly an international disappointment. Could this be the same man who once charmed us with kids and pudding, who elevated sitcoms and made room for black families, who broke barrier after barrier simply with humor and pathos? Indeed it is. But he is also the same man who once said, “Civilization had too many rules for me, so I did my best to rewrite them."

Although we can’t know how valid the many rape claims are, the sheer number of women who have come forward bolsters the credibility of each, and for the past several days a new woman has emerged almost daily. While most of them do not seek money, they do seek an apology and accountability from Cosby. So far they have received neither. In fact, when an AP reporter interviewed Cosby about another topic, and then segued into questions about his accusers, Cosby cut him off with an air of superiority.  Watch:

Cosby’s non-communication about his accusers follows an NPR interview just a day earlier in which he would not speak at all when asked about the accusations. His attorney issued the requisite denial and refusal to acknowledge the alleged victims.

Here I feel compelled to point out that some of Cosby’s fellow national celebrities were readily sent to prison for sexual assault: Mike Tyson, 2Pac and Darren Sharper, to name a few. Others, like Ceelo Green, R. Kelly and Ben Roethlisberger were strongly suspected and accused of sexual assault but to date have not served any jail time. It’s almost cliché now to say that some men in positions of power tend to use it for sexual gratification.  We could say it speaks to the multi-layered psyche of a male animal. And we could say an otherwise good person may have a dark side. Or we could more accurately say, rape is rape.

The repetitive story that emerges from Cosby’s alleged victims is that he preyed on young women in or around the entertainment industry, that he routinely used Quaaludes to render them helpless, and that the victims woke up not quite sure of why they were unclothed, but sure they had been sexually assaulted. Here are a few thing we can be sure of: 1) Cosby could not have come by the Quaaludes   legally, so in addition to his alleged sex crimes, he may be guilty of procuring illegal drugs;
2) Where there is smoke, there is fire; not every one of these women can be lying about every single accusation. For many of them it is humiliating and demeaning to have to describe what happened to them; 3) Ultimately Cosby will indeed have to respond to the accusations. That’s how things work in contemporary society. The story will continue to grow via social and other media until Cosby either admits what he did, or completely discredits all of the women who have come forward. That would be quite a feat; and 4), Cosby’s career is not likely to rebound. NBC, Netflix and TVLand have already 86’d him from the airwaves. Even Cosby is not powerful enough to overcome such giant corporate entities.

While it is true that none of us were there to witness any of Cosby’s alleged crimes, we can draw some conclusive questions that need to be addressed.  As mentioned above, where did he get the Quaaludes and why was he always in possession of them when these “opportunities” presented themselves? Who is and/or was complicit in keeping Cosby’s veil of secrecy about these alleged sexual acts? It is not conceivable that no one in Cosby’s inner circle knew what he was doing.

When one has enjoyed as much success and as many accolades as Cosby, 77, one might tend to have an inflated view of himself. But the fact is that Cosby is from another era, when sometimes men could indeed get by with this type of thing. Before the Internet, before social media, before widespread obsession with pop culture and celebrities, and before his alleged victims came forward with these tales, Cosby might have pulled it off.  After all, most of these alleged incidents happened decades ago, and only now when privacy is almost a distant memory and male dominance is not what it was back then, Cosby is  the deer in the proverbial headlights.

Because of a little something we have in America called the “statute of limitations,” Cosby has not been charged with a crime.  Prison is not a likely outcome here. But when one has had the intense and long-lasting fame that he has enjoyed, perhaps the loss of public respect and the loss of career is far worse than incarceration. In fact, perhaps it is an incarceration of sorts. Since there does not seem to be any type of judicial justice forthcoming,
Cosby’s losses at such an advanced age may be considered a type of justice. Certainly, for those women who may have been harmed by Cosby, it is not the type of justice they desire. The bigger picture for our society, however, is that the statute of limitations should be revisited. Why is it that one American can commit a crime against another American, and because a certain period of time has passed, the victim cannot seek justice?

The takeaway from this story is this: We have somehow elevated certain human beings to untouchable status. We, all of us, have enabled entertainers and star athletes to bring forth their worst selves, at our own expense.  Had O.J. Simpson been O.J. Jones, do we not believe he would have been found guilty of his wife’s murder? Had Bill Cosby been a tire salesman at Sears, would he have been able to overpower and use women as he did?
In addition to revisiting the concept of the statute of limitations, perhaps we should revisit our own ongoing obsession with celebrities. Fame does not and should not equal exemption from prosecution for crimes for which the rest of us must be accountable. Money and power should not serve as manipulators of the American justice system. And Cosby? Well, people come in layers, as they say, and as the layers of Cosby’s character area peeled away, our disappointment in him is really of our own making. He was just a man, like any other, and just as easily swayed by his own ego.  Surely he knows that now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

LIFE IN A POST-FERGUSON WORLD



Possibly the greatest visual irony I have ever seen happened the night the Ferguson Grand Jury’s decision was announced. It was that split screen on TV, one side featuring President Obama addressing the nation in his appeal for peaceful protest, and the other side a live shot of Ferguson, MO erupting in flames and violence. Obama read these words from Michael Brown’s father: “"After the grand jury’s decision, we are asking for four-and-a-half minutes of silence to remember why we lift our voices. We are not here to be violent. We are here in memory of our son." As he read those words we witnessed a scene of a police car being smashed and set on fire in the streets of Ferguson.

My initial reaction was to draw a comparison between what I was witnessing in St. Louis, and what happened in cities nationwide in 1968, the night Dr. Martin Luther King was killed. One could argue we are as racially divided right now as we ever were in this country. Some might go so far as to say we are increasingly divided. Almost a half century after the end of the Civil Rights Movement, racially-based strife has once again caused flames in the night in major American cities.  

Demonstrators in New York City
When protestors gathered in Philadelphia and New York (left), it was clear that the East coast was standing in solidarity with Ferguson. On the opposite coast, protestors in L.A. and Oakland gathered at the same time, while the fires spread further through Ferguson, and crowds thickened, even in almost freezing temperatures. Earlier widespread hopes that the protestors would not appear in large numbers in Ferguson’s frigid night were dashed when massive looting happened and even gunshots were fired in the direction of the police.

The next morning marchers peacefully demonstrated in front of the courthouse in Clayton, MO, near Ferguson. As I drove to work here in New Orleans I saw about 200 black citizens lined up on a major street ready to march. The important thing to remember, in my opinion, is that the demonstrators in various cities are not marching or protesting only the killing of Michael Brown. They are making a statement about the ongoing racial inequities in our country. They are lifting their voices and offering their physical presence to question why Michael Brown’s body was allowed to remain on the steamy hot Ferguson pavement for four hours before anyone made an effort to move him. They are trying to bring awareness to the inexplicable fact that Ferguson’s police force is made up of 50 officers, but only three are black. And in a larger sense the protests have everything to do with abuse of power by law enforcement officers.

Darren Wilson
The journalist in me is trying very hard to remain objective about what is transpiring right now in city streets coast to coast. As such, I will never know why Michael Brown stole a box of cigars and allegedly punched a cop. But I will also never understand why Officer Darren Wilson, a trained marksman, saw fit to shoot so many times at Brown, and why when he did shoot him he was not more careful to avoid a lethal shot. If you shoot somebody in the lower part of the body, they are likely to live. If you shoot in the head, they are not. The one question that has been asked more than any other in the Michael Brown killing is, why didn’t Wilson wound Brown to subdue him, rather than shooting to kill?

It is not the first time this question has been asked. In 2006, David Paterson, then a NY state senator from Harlem, and later Mayor of New York City, tried to introduce a “shoot to wound” bill in the state legislature. The aim of his bill was to require police officers to use minimal force to subdue aggressors. Stipulated in that bill was a requirement for officers who used excessive force that resulted in a suspect’s death to be charged with felony manslaughter. There was such a vociferous outcry from law enforcement that Paterson was forced to withdraw the bill. Other such bills have been introduced in other parts of the country, to no avail. 

Law enforcement officials hold that when a potentially dangerous interaction is happening between a perpetrator and a police officer, it often happens in seconds, causing the officer to use his or her training to react quickly to neutralize the threat. That seems to be what happened in the early stages of the Brown/Wilson interaction. Left open to debate is why Wilson fired more shots at Brown after the initial wounding. The Grand Jury, in refusing to indict Wilson, apparently found evidence to support Wilson’s decision to keep firing. But to its credit, based on inconsistencies in Grand Jury testimony, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that their investigation is still open and ongoing. 

The other element of the Ferguson rioting that offends me as a journalist is the manner in which the rioting was covered by media. CNN saw fit to keeps its reporters’ boots on the ground, even as gunfire was close by and even as some of them were unable to speak after being overcome by teargas.
CNN's Sara Snider hit by a rock while reporting from Ferguson, MO
Why does the company not value the safety of its employees over a street level commentary? Second, it is clear the reporters from MSNBC, FOX and CNN were actually chasing the story. By that I mean that even though rioting was not taking place in the entire city of Ferguson, the reporters were actively pursuing every outbreak of violence, no matter how minor, to seemingly sensationalize the coverage. Oh, and about that split screen I mentioned earlier: Why? The President of the United States was speaking to the citizens, encouraging peaceful protest over violence, but CNN saw fit to show the fires, looting and rioting at the same time. Why?

The media will ultimately move on to the “next big story,” but do not expect the issues that have been raised after Brown’s death to go away. They will not.  The massive coverage will, however, fade away. Does anybody remember the round the clock coverage of the plane that disappeared a few months ago?  The Adrian Peterson coverage? The NFL concussion coverage? Ebola? Boko Haram? All of these stories are ongoing, but get very little coverage. Pretty soon the words “Cosby” and “Ferguson” will join their ranks.

Eric Garner being killed by NYPD illegal chokehold
Right now we are left with far more questions than answers about Ferguson. So here is a little prediction for you: The issues raised via Michael Brown’s death are probably going to stay in the headlines a bit longer than stories usually do. Here's why: Do you remember the case of Eric Garner in NY, the man who was selling cigarettes illegally and was later killed by a NYPD officer using an illegal chokehold? The Grand Jury in that case is about to announce its decision as to whether the cop should be prosecuted. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that if the Grand Jury says no to prosecution, all hell will break out in the streets of New York City. And if we thought Ferguson erupted, chances are New York will make Ferguson look like child’s play. And that is the next big story. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

FRIDAY NIGHT WITHOUT THE LIGHTS


Just think: Sayreville, NJ is a borough that dates back to the beginnings of this country, but until last week you may never have heard of it. Even though it was home to luminaries like rocker Jon Bon Jovi and actors Dule Hill (The West Wing) and Greg Evigan (My Two Dads), nothing exceptional calls attention to this town of under 50,000 residents. We know it is a majority Democratic town that strongly supported Barack Obama, but voted mostly for Chris Christie for Governor.  We now know that football is something of an obsession in Sayreville, even though the Friday night lights are now dimmed indefinitely.

That’s because we also now know that several high school football players allegedly sexually assaulted other students on school property.  How to put this delicately: Let’s just say the alleged perpetrators digitally penetrated the alleged victims. High school students. In the locker room.

Seven of the accused have now been charged in the attacks.  Three of them face aggravated sexual assault, criminal restraint and hazing charges. The other four are charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact. All have been suspended from school, and the Sayreville Superintendent, Richard Labbe, has publicly stated that he is not sure if the football program will be reinstated. The local prosecutor is reportedly weighing options as to whether he will attempt to try the seven boys as adults.

Here is what I know for sure, and I do not have to be familiar with Sayreville to state this: These boys knew exactly what they were doing. Their age has nothing to do with it. When a group of people band together to restrain another person so that they can use their fingers to penetrate the victim’s body, everyone involved knows that what they are doing is wrong.
Sayreville's longtime coach, George Najjar    
Here is what else I know: When that same group of people commits the act repeatedly, there is clear intent to harm the victims. Intent to harm and commission of sex crimes are very adult behaviors.  Reportedly, there were four separate incidents in the Sayreville locker room, and authorities now want to know who else on the team witnessed the attacks on the younger players. The perpetrators should be imprisoned. According to New Jersey law, some of the seven alleged rapists could face up to 20 years in prison.

If this were an isolated incident, it would certainly be horrific enough, but the fact is that similar crimes have happened in many places in this country, perpetrated by many teenage boys. Last May, for example, three high school soccer players were convicted of crimes much like the Sayreville incident. The harshest sentence imposed was three months in a juvenile detention camp. The other two boys got probation.  In Greenfield, Iowa last April, members of the high school wrestling team allegedly punished a younger wrestler for missing practice by restraining him and penetrating him with a jump rope handle.  CBS New York reported in March that three high school track team members were accused of violently attacking another student athlete by hitting his genitals with a bottle and then penetrating him through his clothing with an object. In August, 2013, five high school student athletes in a suburb of Chicago were charged with restraining and digitally penetrating a fellow high school team member.  Other similar incidents have been reported at U.S. high schools, but the pattern is clear.

Also clear is the reluctance on the part of prosecutors to charge the teens as adults. My guess is that had said prosecutors been restrained and anally penetrated in a locker room, had they experienced the terror of a sex crime, the humiliation of being so victimized, perhaps they would not be so quick to afford these boys the light, sometimes non-existent sentences they receive. These sex crimes are not rough housing on the school playground, or bullying in the high school cafeteria. They are sex crimes. In our society, sex crimes are severely punishable. They are grownup transgressions that merit jury trials and imprisonment.

Sayreville vigil for alleged rape victims
Unlike high schoolers of the past, today’s teens have full access to the same reading materials, video presentations and other informational sources as adults have. Today’s 16 and 17-year-olds are a lot savvier about the dark sides of society than teens in the past. Everybody is wired or wireless and everybody has free entre into the realm of adult-oriented information.  Increased awareness at a younger age may not be society’s first choice, but it is the reality of our tech-flooded world. 

Maybe overexposure, or too much information too soon in life has contributed to juveniles committing very adult crimes. Who knows. But let’s not blame parents, schools, television, movies, music and the Internet. It almost isn’t necessary to figure out who to blame for 16-year-olds perpetrating heinous sex crimes against their peers. What is necessary is to make it stop. In my mind, that happens when juveniles start seeing other juveniles locked up for a long time.

And might it also be time to take football down from the pedestal we have put it on? Word is that many, many residents of Sayreville are livid that the superintendent of schools cancelled the football season. It appears the some townspeople, while not unsympathetic to the juvenile victims of the sex crimes, are far more passionate when they talk about their outrage at the
season being prematurely terminated. What is going on that the game of football has become of greater import than the well being of their own children? It is largely varsity athletes that commit these crimes in high schools. What is the message being sent to their peers when these varsity rapists get away with it?

Bottom line: In 2010, almost 10,000 minors were arrested for sex offenses, including rape, according to a report from the FBI. Their punishments and jail sentences varied from state to state, but it is unlikely that many or any of them are still in jail today. The numbers are telling us the story. All we have to do is listen, and act. Keywords: ZERO TOLERANCE.