Hiram Monserrate & Gucci Mane: On Violence Against Women & What We Don’t Do About It

Despite my outrage at the continued and ongoing disrespect for Black male life exhibited by police departments all over the country, (the death of Oscar Grant in the San Francisco Bay area being the most recent case), I am equally as disturbed by the continued and ongoing violence against women, LGB and transgender people that receives hardly as much as a footnote by the Left, Black, Brown, or otherwise.

Two cases in point:

New York State Senator (and former NYPD officer, military officer, and chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus of the NYC Council) Hiram Monserrate, was arrested in December for allegedly slashing his girlfriend Karla Giraldo in the eye with a broken drinking , apparently in a “jealous rage.” He denied the charges, but security cameras in his apartment building were pulled and showed him dragging the woman down the hallway and trying to throw her out of the building. Other video shows her banging on doors and asking for help–and though people were home and heard the commotion, no one responded. Monserrate had the audacity to refer to the NYPD investigation as a political lynching. Like Clarence Thomas before him, Monserrate, in order to defend oneself against allegations of violence and harrassment of women, invokes the language of lynching to suggest that this, like the numerous Black men who were lynched when accused of sexual advances toward white women, is another historical instance of a false allegation against a man “of color.”

Of all the Black and Latino, other people of color ,and white lefties who mobilize when (presumably straight) men are assaulted by the police are dead fucking silent about this? I haven’t gotten one email, text or phone call from the usual suspects in NYC demanding Monserrate’s resignation. I am not sure if Giraldo is white or not, but if she is white, how do people of color activists and organizers think about, and operationalize an analysis about violence against women when the perpetrator is of color?

In Atlanta, the following video shows a local rapper, Gucci Mane performing on stage and violently shoving his collaborator and lover (according to her), ATL hip-hop artist Mac Breezy. She retaliated by throwing her cocktail glass at him, and he punches her in the face. In an interview after the event, she explains that he did that because his other girfriend of 8 years was present, and he didn’t want her to know he was seeing someone else. I am reminded of the lack of a response by Black folks in 1990 when hearing about Dr. Dre assaulting Black woman rapper and radio DJ Dee Barnes. Wikipedia recalls the details of the incident:

After a 1990 interview with Ice Cube in which the rapper discusses his leaving N.W.A. at the height of their feud,[2], the group, feeling they had been negatively portrayed, sought retaliation. On January 27, 1991 Dr. Dre would encounter Barnes at a record release party in Hollywood. According to Rolling Stone reporter Alan Light:

He picked her up and “began slamming her face and the right side of her body repeatedly against a wall near the stairway” as his bodyguard held off the crowd. After Dre tried to throw her down the stairs and failed, he began kicking her in the ribs and hands. She escaped and ran into the women’s rest room. Dre followed her and “grabbed her from behind by the hair and proceeded to punch her in the back of the head.” [3]

N.W.A.’s MC Ren later said “bitch deserved it“, and Eazy-Eyeah, bitch had it coming.” As Dr. Dre explained the incident, “People talk all this shit, but you know, somebody fuck with me, I’m gonna fuck with them. I just did it, you know. Ain’t nothing you can do now by talking about it. Besides, it ain’t no big thing– I just threw her through a door.” Barnes sued in February 1991, telling reporter Alan Light: “They’ve grown up with the mentality that it’s okay to hit women, especially black women. Now there’s a lot of kids listening and thinking it’s okay to hit women who get out of line.”[3] In February, Barnes would file assault charges bring a $22.75 million lawsuit against Dr. Dre, who pleaded no contest to the assault. He was fined $2500, placed on two years’ probation, and ordered to perform 240 hours of community service and produce an anti-violence public service announcement.[4]

What’s sad (but not atypical) is that in the Giraldo case, she has apparently stopped cooperating with the investigation and her story has changed from what she initially reported at the hospital. Mac Breezy says she threw the glass because she never lets anyone get away with disrespecting her, but by the end of the interview, says she still loves him and that basically everything is all good. I don’t blame either of these women for the violence they suffered, and then their attempts to cover up or try to make some sense of it (for personal or professional reasons), but rather to question why so-called movement people continue to ignore partner violence, and violence against women and queers in general?

People will point to the popularity of Byron Hurt’s film “Beyond Beats & Rhymes” as a step in that direction. I think that the film is an important intervention on Black masculinities and violence, and I completely think we need to intervene on violence and misogyny among Black men, but I do think that work (like Aishah Shahidah Simmons’ “NO!”) that centralizes the experiences of women and queer Black people’s relationship to intra-racial violence is marginalized. It’s not that the two have to be diametrically opposed, but I know political organizations (black, “people of color” or white-led) or who have hosted screenings of Hurt’s film but who won’t show NO!, Tongues Untied, or a range of other work that exists.

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.