Bad Behavior Does Matter When Meting Out Justice

New Orleans      Young and stupid go together like peas in a pod.  Sure, we all make mistakes.  Sure, many of us were wild and crazy when we were younger.  Sure, many of us eventually got our acts together, got a grip, and moved forward with our lives as best we could.

It said something about our character though as men – or women – that we found the moral compass in understanding that “we knew better,” as our parents might have said, so we knew we could “do better.”  But, even as 17-year-old boys, drunk or sober, didn’t most of us know that it was past the pale to sexually harass girls, much less grope or rape them?  Yes, in fact we did.  At least most of us.

And, it matters.

One of the first collective bargaining contracts Local 100 negotiated found us representing the food service workers who had recently been subcontracted at Tulane University in the early 1980s.  In some cases, the servers on our side of the line were teenage men and women serving the students on their side of the food line that were also teenage men and women.  One young woman, Gail Kelly, was constantly being propositioned by young men on the other side of the serving stations, and after repeated incidents of this sort was disciplined and fired for “not smiling on the line.”  We took on that fight and won her job back.  Later she was a union organizer for us and for SEIU for years.  Standing with women and girls is the right thing to do, and it matters.

Are there really any men who don’t know women and girls in their lives who have not been sexually assaulted or raped?  Are there really men who don’t worry about their partners and daughters, younger or older, in this culture?

I had a close friend who at 19 was date-raped by a boy she had been seeing in college who wouldn’t stop.  Seeing the impact this had on her, I swore to myself if I ever ran into this man, I would kill him.  Would I really have done so?  Probably not, because I knew better, but my point is about the damage bad behavior can cause permanently to the victims.  These are not things that the victims ever forget or “get over.” I’ve lost touch with my friend and the perpetrator now 50 years later.  He may have sorted himself out at some level, but would his past ever have qualified him to pass judgement on anything involving millions of men and women, much less the sanctity of their bodies and sex?  Of course not!

In 5th grade, a girl behind me kept hitting me in the back.  Finally, I stood up, turned around, and flipped her desk over.  I did the crime and earned the punishment.  The message I got all those years ago was that “boys never hurt girls.”  I didn’t hurt her, but I understood that was our culture.  Boys were supposed to physically protect girls.  Boys were never to physically hurt girls.  I taught my son the same thing.  We weren’t unique.  That was our culture in America then and ever since.  There were no excuses.  Those were the rules we all lived by, right or wrong.

I’ve sat on juries in New Orleans on cases of rape, guns, drugs, and mayhem involving teenagers.  In one case, we were asked if we would be able to send a 16-year old to prison for life without the possibly of parole who was being accused of raping his middle-aged next-door neighbor.  To be on the jury, we had to agree that if the facts fell that way, we could vote for guilty even knowing that would be the automatic sentence.  Despite the fact that we all agreed we could do so, once the jury was closeted, several couldn’t so the teenager got a life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Sure, teenagers make mistakes.  We all did.  But, even making mistakes, we didn’t molest or rape, kill or maim, and, for those that did, we salute their progress.  Maybe they earned parole.  Maybe they learned from their mistakes.  We want them to make contributions to society, no matter the past offenses.

Nonetheless, we have to think of the impact on the victims.  We have to understand that bad behavior has consequences, even if worse for a black teenager than a white prep school boy, egged on by his friends.

Regardless, we don’t make them Supreme Court Justices able to impact the lives of millions for decades.  Such behavior speaks to character.  It speaks to fundamental attitudes towards women and girls.  It worries all of us about the weight and directions of future decisions.  Administering justice fairly and impartially should not be in the hands of such a man.  Period.

Are there no Republican, conservative, white men or women who cannot be nominated who have not abused others in their lives?  Is that so difficult to find in these days and times?  And, even if it is difficult, isn’t that still our duty?


Please enjoy Grace Potter’s Muscle Shoals.

Oilfield Blues by Comanche Moon.

Thanks to KABF.


The Poor Pay the Price for Another Hurricane

Residents at Trent Court Apartments try to wait out the flooding. (Gray Whitley/Sun Journal via AP)

New Orleans   Keisha Monk made the front page of the New York Times.  I doubt if this was on her top ten list of life’s hopes and dreams.  She lives, or at least lived until recently, in the Trent Court public housing project in New Bern, North Carolina, which turned out to be in the path of wind, rain and flooding when the river rose in the wake of Hurricane Florence.  Her unit and others, not far from the river’s bank, were flooded, ruining virtually everything, and likely making her unit uninhabitable.

The rivers in North Carolina are still rising.  I got a call from a Local 100 person in Houston who was being sent alerts by FEMA to get ready to be deployed as a contractor to do home inspections as soon as the water receded and anyone could drive in and assess the damage.  Keisha Monk will not be on his list.  She’s not a homeowner.  She’s simply a lower income, public housing resident, who was happy to have finally found a home in Trent Court.  She might get a check from FEMA.  Eventually.  After a mountain of paperwork.  She won’t get anything but temporary housing though.  If she is lucky.

An article mentioning Monk was on the front page of the Times, but what really caught my eye was not Keisha or Florence, but the word, “Katrina” which still has a visceral trigger for me even after thirteen years.  There were some sentences from reporter, Richard Fausett, that capsulized the horror of the aftermath that Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Ike, Irma, and many others that have brought stigma to their human counterparts for life and scarred millions for the rest of their lives as well.  He wrote,

She [Keisha Monk] also realized that she was now a player in the kind of redevelopment drama that tends to swamp storm-battered places like this – a story of race, class, gentrification and safety fears, and questions without easy answers about who gets to live on often alluring, sometimes treacherous, waterside real estate.  She is also being reminded after Hurricane Katrina, that the poor are always vulnerable – to the vagaries of the real estate market and to the perceived value of their residences in good times and the ravages of Mother Nature when disaster hits.

The future of Trent Court, like so many center city public housing projects in cities both large and small, was already precarious.  There was a plan to relocate people and build something new, maybe there, maybe nearby with market rate housing and eighty units still available for the poor.  Many, like Monk, would likely not be on the list for those eighty units, and they are years away as life continues to grind down hard on low-and-moderate income families.  The problem is global, not local, as we heard in Asuncion about the relocation of thousands of families there from areas where they have lived for generations because of flood risk.

Organizations and individuals talk about a “right to the city,” but as we know from Katrina, this is another right that requires a constant fight, and is often lost.

We all know this is not a story that will end well.  At least not for Keisha Monk, her family, and the other residents of Trent Court.  Living on the wrong side of the tracks was about yesterday, but on the bad side of the floodplain is the new and constant misfortune for the poor.  As one of Monk’s neighbors said, it will just be a case of another area where riverfront property is opened up for rich people “to walk their dogs.”