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.
Thanks to KABF.