Gender-based Violence: Three Stories
In the past several days there have been three stories that have been very disturbing to me, separately, and all as a result of the proximity in time–at least as news stories.
This week, the three NYPD officers were all indicted on several grand jury charges for allegedly raping 24 year old Michael Mineo with a police baton at a Brooklyn subway station in October. The most severe charges going to Police Officer Richard Kern, 25, is Aggravated Sexual Abuse in the First Degree, a Class-B Felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Police Officers Andrew Morales and Alex Cruz, both 26, are charged with several Class-E felonies, including Hindering Prosecution and Official Misconduct, for their participation in the attempted cover-up, and face up to four years in prison. Kern and Morales are both charged with Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, for their roles in the attempted cover-up. The lawyer of one of the officers is suggesting that the DNA evidence found on the baton may not prove that it came from Mineo’s rectum.
Just last night, I learned of the beating of Jose & Romel Sucuzhanay--two Ecuadorean immigrants in Bushwick, Brooklyn. They were brothers, walking arm in arm in the street, and were presumed to be a gay couple allegedly by a group of Black youth who ultimately attacked them with baseball bats, shouting racial and anti-gay comments at them. Jose, as far as I know, is hospitalized and life remains in the balance.
Lastly, in Baltimore, MD, a 25 year old man was arrested this week in the 2005 murder of his girlfriend, Shanika Pretlow, whom it is said he killed because he was told by someone that she was HIV+. Not that it makes the murder more or less tragic, but it turns out she did not have HIV. This kind of murder of women believed to be HIV positive, or that they were the ones who gave it to their male partners has been widely reported in South Africa.
Normally our society doesn’t think of these things being tied together. We are led to believe that police violence–especially of a sexual nature against other men–is an aberration. In addition, we are also led to believe that sexual violence against men in general (because “real men” would not get f****d unless it was rape, so goes the logic) is supposed to be worse, or command more sympathy than when women are raped (which presumes vaginal penetration to be natural, and inevitable, and especially for women of color–always consensual). Many times when gay men have been raped, courts, lawyers and police officers have tried to argue similarly that if a man is gay, he must “naturally” like getting f****d, so how can one determine the issue of force from a legal standpoint?
What is apparent to me, is that in all three cases, patriarchial power and dominance is at play, regardless of the genders of the people whom the violence was perpetrated against. For Mineo, the police saw a “punk”–with his tatooed body and slight frame, and the alleged rape an act of patriarchal dominance (not that one has to be slight of frame, of whatever gender to be raped. But in terms of the ways in which men who are subject to sexual assualt, whether it is physical stature or demeanor that is deemed to be “feminine” becomes part of the underlying logics that justify such assaults) For the Sucuzhanay brothers, the appearance of “same-sex” affection in “the hood” had to be literally stomped out. I know this is dangerous territory, and I am sure someone is going to try to use these words against me, but I do think those of us concerned with the racist imagery and portrayal of young Black men have to also create some space and language to talk about what it means when very marginalized and disaffected Black males understand the very gendered & racialized terror that the Black male body incites in the world, and how that gets deployed by black men who act out various forms of violence.
Similarly, Pretlow’s murder, predicated on the notion that women are potentially diseased jezebels and tempresses, also was the victim of popular notions of infectious disease, which are also gendered. She’s the woman who’s sexuality has been whispered about, talked about and dragged through the streets for centuries, and who pays the price for what was thought to be infecting an unsuspecting lover– which he wasn’t obviously thinking about when he had sex with her in the first place.
Without displacing our concerns, advocacy and outrage at the very real way that people born into the world and labeled “women” have to deal with gender based violence, how do we also think about the violence we read so often that happens between “men” and “boys” intra and inter-racial, as also being about notions of gender and power? One of the things that is becoming increasingly clear to me, and as I talk to several feminists friends of color, is the need for more analysis of the gendered nature of violence against male identified people that doesn’t try to displace women, but rather gets to the core of violence in a culture that encourages domination.