This Sh*t Makes Me So Mad!!!

Assiya Rafiq, right, in front of her mother, Iqbal Mai. (Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times)

Assiya Rafiq, right, in front of her mother, Iqbal Mai. (Nicholas D. Kristof/The New York Times)

After being kidnapped at the age of 16 by a group of thugs and enduring a year of rapes and beatings, Assiya Rafiq was delivered to the police and thought her problems were over.

Then, she said, four police officers took turns raping her.

The next step for Assiya was obvious: She should commit suicide. That’s the customary escape in rural Pakistan for a raped woman, as the only way to cleanse the disgrace to her entire family.

Instead, Assiya summoned the unimaginable courage to go public and fight back. She is seeking to prosecute both her kidnappers and the police, despite threats against her and her younger sisters. This is a kid who left me awed and biting my lip; this isn’t a tale of victimization but of valor, empowerment and uncommon heroism.

“I decided to prosecute because I don’t want the same thing to happen to anybody else,” she said firmly.

Read the full story here.

How come it’s the victim who has to bear the shame, has to suffer ostracism from her family and community, who has to commit suicide? Why aren’t the men who kidnapped, beat , sold, and raped her the ones who have to bear the shame?

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Gates Case has Everything to do With Racism, Which is Probably why it Won’t go Away.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. participates in a panel on CNN's live show 'Moment of Truth: Countdown to Black in America 2,' Wednesday, July 22, 2009 in New York.  (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. participates in a panel on CNN's live show 'Moment of Truth: Countdown to Black in America 2,' Wednesday, July 22, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The ink had barely dried on Henry Louis Gates’ arrest record before people were falling over themselves to debate whether or not the arrest had anyhing to do with race. Even President Obama was asked to weigh in at a White House press conference. But at least one person involved in the scandal—the eminent Harvard professor himself—believes race was a factor.* In fact, expressing this opinion to Officer Crowley is what got him arrested.

Somewhere in this mess is Lucia Whalen, the 911 caller who’s been accused of racism for mentioning to the dispatcher that the suspects were Black. The recently released 911 tape provides some vindication—some vindication because, while she does not specifically use the word “Black,” she does tell the dispatcher that one of the suspects looked “kind of Hispanic.” Kind of Hispanic? What exactly does kind of Hispanic look like anyway? Because pictures of Gates’ accomplice have been hard to come by, it’s safe to assume Gates—with his mocha skin—was very likely the Hispanic-looking one. But it doesn’t matter because in Boston—which doesn’t exactly have a great reputation for racial inclusivity—“kind of Hispanic” translates into “not White,” which pretty much answers the dispatcher’s question about the suspects’ race.

If race was not a factor, why then does a suspect’s skin color matter in the first place? Wouldn’t “what are they wearing?” be just as good for identifying suspects? After all, the police are perfectly capable of identifying suspects by their clothes, hairstyles, or physical features, no? Gates, for example, has a very recognizable limp. So again, if race didn’t play a role, why was it so important to the dispatcher?

But wait! Just when things couldn’t seem more cut and dry, genetics throws a spanner into the works. In an ironic twist, professor Gates has traced part of his genetic ancestry to an Irish warlord! Even more astonishing is the fact that Officer Crowley, who maintains that his decision to arrest Gates had nothing to do with race, is descended from the same warlord!!! This means that Professor Gates and Officer Crowley are related!!!

So the question becomes: if not for racism, how on earth could Officer Crowley and Professor Gates end up in the confrontation that splashed their photos all over the national press and got them invited to the White House for beers with the President? On the one hand you have Crowley, a White police officer, a symbol of law and order in his community. On the other hand, you have Gates, a Black man and a renowned Harvard professor—albeit surprisingly unknown and unrecognizable to Crowley. On the 911 tape, Crowley tells the dispatcher, “I have an ID of a Henry Louis Gates.” Apparently, he had no idea who this “gentleman” even was! So again, how did Gates become a burglary suspect in his own home? More importantly, how did these two men—who share DNA!—wind up on opposite ends of the racial binary, one presumed to be an upstanding, fairminded citizen and the other so easily mistaken for a burglar? It seems pretty cut and dry.

According to Officer Crowley, Gates was “uncooperative”—as anyone with any dignity or self-respect would have been in that situation—so the handcuffs had to come out. But giving a police officer a piece of your mind because he basically accused you of burglarizing your own home is not disorderly conduct, it’s freedom of expression. Expecting any person to grin and bear such indignity and humiliation is not only unfair and insenstive, it borders on tyranny. Isn’t protection from the caprices of an overbearing executive one of the foundational principles of the Constitiution, a document with which Professor Gates is no doubt familiar? Luckily, Cambridge PD sympathized with the professor and dropped the charges. That should have been enough vindication.

But not for everyone. In nearby Boston, Officer Justin Barrett was so incensed by a local columnist’s defense of Gates that he wrote her an email in which he called the professor a “banana-eating jungle monkey”! Even more troubling is Barrett’s assertion:

I am not a racist, but I am prejudice [sic] towards people who are stupid.

Apparently, Officer Barrett, despite his dislike of stupid people, is incapable of recognizing racism. He goes on to conclude that Professor Gates “has indeed transcended back to a bumbling jungle monkey,” and adds that, had he been in Officer Crowley’s place, he would have pepper-sprayed the professor in the face.

So we’re back to the same question: on what foundation did Barrett’s letter rest, riddled as it was with “frequent grammatical and spelling errors”? This barely literate man, despite having been an English teacher, does not even know the meaning of transcend—to rise above, to move onwards and upwards—or that it has a positive connotation (the word he was looking for is “regressed”). Yet for some reason, he confidently and mercilessly denigrates an acclaimed Harvard professor! In fact, this incident defies logic and can only be understood as an irrational emotional response born of prejudice and ignorance. Kinda like . . . racism?

But, lest anyone get the impression that this case is all about race and nothing else, it’s only fair to point out that Officer Barrett also had a few choice words for the columnist, Yvonne Abraham:

Barrett, who identified himself as a veteran . . . also took issue with Abraham’s journalistic ability, calling her ‘a hot little bird with minimal experience in a harsh field,’ as well as ‘an infidel.’ The rambling e-mail also suggested that she ‘should serve me coffee and donuts on Sunday morning,’ later returning to that line of thought with, ‘I like a warm cruller and hot Panamanian, black. No sugar.’

Good to see that Officer Barrett is well-rounded in his prejudice. After all, his sentiments give the impression that having been born with a penis—kinda like having been born with  the right skin color—entitles him to insult and dismiss a professional journalist for no reason other than that she was born with the wrong genitals. Oh, and he disagrees with her on the Gates issue.

The only good that might come out of this episode is that Officer Barrett will be removed from the police force, prompting a huge collective sigh of relief from “infidels,” “hot little birds,” and “jungle monkeys” all over the Boston area. In the meantime, I gotta cancel my subscription to Ms. Magazine and tear up my NAACP membership card. I won’t be needing those anymore!

*Considering Professor Gates has written books on the question of race and racism in America, I’m going to have to assume he knows what he’s talking about and agree with him.

Let the Spin Begin: ABC Downplays Torture of UF Student.

Now that everyone and their mother has seen how free speech is “protected” on college campuses, the mainstream media is lining up to mitigate, apologize, and justify.

Anyone watching ABC 7 (the local Washington, DC affiliate) this morning would have thought the anchors were commenting on a comedy sketch and not a video depicting a student’s free-speech and human rights being violated. I’m referring, of course, to the manhandling and eventual tasering of University of Florida student Andrew Meyer, who dared to take more than his allotted two minutes to ask Senator John Kerry some tough questions. Although the video ended with a handcuffed Meyer screaming each time he is shocked with the taser gun, the most fitting comment one of the female newscasters could come up with was something to the effect of, “One sure way to get yourself tasered is to use the word ‘bro.'” Ha ha ha, ABC 7, you kill me! I almost forgot that I was watching police brutality and the suppression of free speech.

I searched and searched the Web for the ABC 7 segment but I couldn’t find it. Instead, I found a segment from Good Morning America which also shows ABC’s attempts to mitigate. Thirty-four seconds into the video, the ABC commentator clearly feels the need to make us understand that Meyer brought it all upon himself for asking John Kerry “obnoxious” questions. The rest of the video goes on to make it seem as if Meyer somehow deserved to be “forcibly dragged from the campus forum” and get “much more than he bargained for.” Much more than he bargained for? That’s right. Apparently that’s the newscaster’s euphemism for the totally unnecessary close-range tasering of Meyer after he had already been subdued (he was face-down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind him). Lest we think this incident is the huge deal it actually is, ABC reminds us that this was not the first time campus police had used tasers on a student, referring to the tasering of a UCLA student who refused to show his identity card to campus security. Really? Silly me! It’s no big deal after all! This kind of thing happens all the time.

During his narration of the UCLA incident, however, the narrator rediscovers journalistic objectivity and decides to keep his opinions to himself, which is a pity otherwise we might have heard him use words like “excessive,” “brutal,” or “uncalled-for.” Sadly, such adjectives are notably absent from his commentary. Instead, as the video nears its conclusion, he gloats that “The taser may now be the least of Meyer’s worries,” since he has now been charged with resisting arrest and disturbing the peace. You can actually hear the humor in his voice as he shares this last tidbit! Finally, we discover that Meyer is famous for practical jokes and for posting short, funny videos of himself on the internet. Good Morning America ends the segment with the words “But his 15 minutes of fame are from a video that is no laughing matter.” I guess we are now supposed to think this was just a prank that backfired? I don’t think so!

Play ABC News Tasering Cops Put on Leave3.flv

Clearly, this ABC presenter and I live in opposite worlds. When I see the video of Andrew Meyer having his microphone cut, being surrounded and literally carried off by campus security, and finally being shocked with a taser, I don’t see anything trivial or humorous. I see a young American whose First Amendment rights to question a public servant—whatever happened to freedom of speech and the right to petition government?—are denied, who is then violently manhandled although he posed no physical threat to anyone, and finally tortured in plain view of fellow students and a United States senator, who by the way did nothing to intervene.

Accuse me of hyperbole if you will but what happened to Andrew Meyer is torture, pure and simple. Taser guns are designed for long-range use to electrically incapacitate an assailant from a safe distance. The guns shoot small darts that strike the target and deliver an electric shock through connected wires. The shock is usually enough to disrupt the target’s muscle control, rendering him/her temporarily paralyzed. Although taser use is controversial—elderly people and people with heart conditions have died after being tasered—and has been criticized by human rights and civil liberties groups, the argument could be made that they are an effective and non-lethal way to disable a violent or threatening person from a safe distance. Fair enough.

But in the case of Andrew Meyer, the taser was not used for self defense. Meyer was already under arrest and was already incapacitated. Sure, he was still mouthing off but he did not pose a physical threat to the security officers, who were armed and outnumbered him by a factor of about six to one. Even worse, the taser setting for close-range use—as pointed out by Machinist—does not deliver an electric shock powerful enough to incapacitate. Rather, it causes excruciating pain and is used to get the target to comply. In Meyer’s case, the taser was used not to incapacitate him for officers’ protection, but to get him to comply; in other words, to make him shut up and leave the auditorium.

Let’s revisit the scenario. A student asks a question, then he is arrested, cuffed, and tasered. The setting isn’t high enough to incapacitate him and in fact, he doesn’t need to be incapicated because he’s already handcuffed and face-down on the ground. This rules out self defense and leaves only compliance as a motive. Basically, campus security used an electrified weapon to cause excruciating pain to a student in order to get compliance from him. What do you call it when pain is used to make a human being do something? That’s right, torture.

So here we have a student tortured in front of fellow students and a senator who, in an extreme act of callousness and cowardice, continues to speak into the microphone as if nothing was going on. For its part, ABC also tries to spin this by reporting that Sen. Kerry later said he had no idea Meyer had been tasered until after he finished speaking. So what? He should have intervened, or at the very least spoken out, as soon as Meyer was approached by security. Some University of Florida students have redeemed themselves by speaking in defense of Andrew Meyer and free speech, and for organizing an anti-taser rally on their campus. All Sen. Kerry has done is plead ignorance. Shame on John Kerry for not speaking out against the violation of a student’s rights and shame on ABC for attempting to turn a clear case of undue force into a joke. We should all be very worried when newscasters try to use comedy to mitigate the suppression of free speech.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s only fitting that newscasters try their hand at comedy since comedians—like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, and Al Franken—are doing a much better job of reporting and analyzing the news.

That’s just sick! I thought this was a free country!!!

Today, a new torture video started making the rounds on the internet. No, it wasn’t shot at Guantanamo or Baghram or Abu Ghraib. It was shot at the University of Florida. The victim, a journalism student, asked Senator John Kerry a series of tough questions during a question and answer session. For exercising his First Amendment rights, the unfortunate student is hauled off by security while he screams for help and asks why he was being arrested. He ends up face-down with his hands cuffed behind his back, while one of the security guards repeatedly shoots him at point-blank range with a taser gun. Taser guns were designed for long-range use to incapacitate, from a safe distance, someone who poses a physical threat. But in this case, the student was already subdued and handcuffed so the taser was used merely to cause pain, not for self-defense. Using an instrument to cause pain merely for its own sake is nothing more than torture.

When did asking tough questions of political figures become a criminal act? What’s even more disturbing is that everyone else just sits  there and lets this kid get dragged off by a mob of armed guards simply because he took too long to ask his question. For his part, Sen. Kerry keeps on talking as if violations of a human being’s fundamental rights—not to mention the US Constitution—were not being committed in his presence.

I hope this guy sues the pants off those security guards and the University of Florida. And I hope this incident haunts John Kerry for the rest of his career.

Republicans Gone Wild!! or, Why is the Republican Party Home to So Many Sexual Deviants?

I have a theory.

I believe that many (if not most) male right-wing politicians are hypocrites. They rail against homesexuality and infidelity while, at the same time, they fight the urge to give in to their “immoral” or “indecent” desires. And, as recent sex scandals prove, they don’t always win.

Take, for example, the cases of abstinence-only campaigner Randall Tobias, gay-bashing reverend Ted Haggard, and family values champion Senator David Vitter? All these men publicly promoted such “family values” as marital fidelity, heterosexuality, and other manifestations of moral fortitude and Christian values. Yet Tobias and Vitter were both exposed as clients of the DC Madame, who ran an escort service specializing in sexual fantasy and roleplay. It turns out Ambassador Tobias likes to have sex with women who are not his wife while Senator Vitter enjoys being diapered by them. For his part, Reverend Haggard, a relentless anti-gay campaigner, was outed by a male prostitute who revealed that he had received money and oral sex from Haggard.

More recently, Florida State Representative Bob Allen (R-Merritt Island)—sponsor of legislation against “Lewd or Lascivous Exhibitionism,” “Sexual Solicitation,” and “Lewdness and Indecent Exposure”—was arrested in a public men’s restroom after offering to pay an undercover cop $20 for the pleasure of performing oral sex on him. To clarify, Allen offered the cop $20 if he (the cop) would let Allen fellate him. Allen later told a news conference that he was so intimidated by the cop (who was Black) that he offered to suck him off just so he could walk out of the public bathroom alive. At least Representative Allen is well-rounded in his bigotry.

But if these conservatives like to blow men and/or cheat on their wives, why can’t they just be honest about who they are? I mean, although they still face a lot of bigotry—most of it coming from people like Haggard and co.—millions of gay men and women live honest lives outside the closet. And while there is nothing commendable about marital infedility, many swinging and swapping couples manage to work out arrangements that work to the detriment of none. While I know Democrats and liberals cheat on their wives and engage in other “immoral” behavior as well, it seems like the conservative ranks—home to those who most vociferously denounce anyone who doesn’t conform to their idea of decency and morality—produce the most sexually deviant and hypocritical public figures.

As I see it, people like Allen, Haggard, Tobias, and Vitter affiliate themselves with the conservative party and adopt the most anti-gay and moralistic stances in an attempt to distance themselves from who they really are. I think they do it to avoid suspicion. After all, who would suspect a leading gay-basher like Haggard of wanting to suck another man off ? Who would suspect that a family-values politician like Vitter enjoyed cavorting with hookers while wearing diapers? Who would suspect that Randall Tobias, a champion of abstinence and fidelity, enjoyed paying for extramarital sex? By denouncing the people who openly do the things they themselves secretly do or would like to do, these conservative hypocrites hope nobody will ever question their moral fortitude or discover that they are not 100% morally upstanding.

And it usually works.

Not on me, though. By now, whenever I hear a conservative ranting and raving against homosexuals, I think to myself, “Somebody stick a c*ck in this dude’s mouth already so he’ll shut the f*ck up.”

Ninety hours of sex work would have been more fitting.

A judge in Painesville, Ohio, has sentenced three men to 30 days of standing outside the courthouse in a chicken costume, holding a sign that says “No Chicken Ranch in Painesville.” The men were arrested after they solicited sex from an undercover police officer. “Chicken Ranch” is a reference to a brothel in Nevada, where commercial sex work is legal.

Judge Michael Cicconetti, famous for his unusual sentences, once ordered a man who called a policeman a pig to stand next to a live pig in a pen and hold a sign that read “This Is Not a Police Officer.” A couple who stole a baby Jesus statue from a manger were sentenced to dress as Mary and Joseph and walk with a donkey.

But wearing a chicken costume three hours a day for 30 days doesn’t seem stiff enough a penalty for taking advantage of women who—through no fault of their own—are forced to sell sex. For these men to really understand what it’s like for these women, three hours a day in a chicken suit just won’t do. They should have been ordered to dress in drag and stand on a street corner while sleezy men drove by and offered to pay them for sex.

In the meantime, wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a society where women wouldn’t have to choose this demeaning line of work?