Holy Weekend Open Thread: “Victim Shaming” from Calvary to United to Anna Drive!


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As we wend our way through this holiest of seasons, as well as through the aftermath of United Airlines’ brutal removal of 69-year-old Dr. David Dao from an overbooked flight, we ask ourselves about the phenomenon that I now know is called “victim shaming,” and wonder why it is necessary for every media account to mention the doctor’s brush with the law 13 years ago, long since atoned for and certainly unknown to the roughnecks who hospitalized him.  

The Washington Post‘s skillful and droll satirist Alexandra Petri imagined how today’s media would have covered Jesus’ crucifixion which so many of us memorialize this week (although maybe we should forget “the media,” this is probably exactly how town gossips sounded in AD 33.)  From “Crucified Man Had Prior Run-Ins With Authorities”:

The gentleman arrested Thursday and tried before Pontius Pilate had a troubled background.

Born (possibly out of wedlock?) in a stable, this jobless thirty-something of Middle Eastern origin had had previous run-ins with local authorities for disturbing the peace, and had become increasingly associated with the members of a fringe religious group. He spent the majority of his time in the company of sex workers and criminals.

He had had prior run-ins with local authorities — most notably, an incident of vandalism in a community center when he wrecked the tables of several licensed money-lenders and bird-sellers. He had used violent language, too, claiming that he could destroy a gathering place and rebuild it…

Just read the rest of it here.  I don’t want to get randomly murdered by crooks or the law some day and then have my eulogists mention that I’d once re-printed a Washington Post piece in its entirety without permission, suggesting that maybe I sort of deserved what happened.

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What came into my head when I considered this phenomenon, however, was not the Messiah, but the many victims of police shootings that I’ve become aware of these last few years.  It’s practically standard practice, after some young man is killed by the cops, for the police and DA to release anything damaging from the victim’s past to an obedient press, with the aim of discrediting the victim in the public’s eye, even when these past incidents were completely unknown to the shooter.  Why did we have to hear so much about Trayvon Martin‘s past marijuana use, something (wannabe-cop / vigilante) George Zimmerman didn’t know or care about?

The classic case locally was Manuel Angel Diaz, shot in the back on Anna Drive by Officer Nick “Buckshot Backshot” Bennalack, who knew nothing about Manuel except that he was running from him.  The DA, and later Anaheim City Attorney Moses Johnson, went to great lengths to discredit Manuel with incidents from years earlier – a tactic that worked with a knuckle-headed OC jury, but didn’t fly with the 9th Circuit Court, which granted Manuel’s mother a new trial.

It’s easy to see why cops and DA’s want to stain the reputation of someone they’ve killed, but it’s a shame that the media plays along.  And if the oppo research on Dr. Dao came from United Airlines, in a lame attempt to vindicate themselves, then that’s another huge stain on them.  On the other hand, the media just gives us, the public, what we want, and we all love to hear gossip about people. 

But why do we like to hear this stuff, strangers’ old dirty laundry?  (And I say “we” sadly, although at least you and I are thinking about it.)

Some of us like to believe we’re superior to anybody who would get arrested, shot at, or dragged forcibly off a plane.  That would never happen to us.  Or our family members.  Or anyone we know.

And we need to believe the police and other authorities are there to protect us.  And that if they got somebody, even if it was unjustified at that moment, that person probably had done something in his or her life to deserve it.

Maybe, to be most charitable, most of us have a touching, childlike, and irrational need to believe that there’s some justice in this world.

Well, there’s not.  Or not nearly enough anyway.  But let’s go back and let Ms. Petri have the last word, sort of play us out

…Some say that his [Jesus’] brutal punishment at the hands of the state was out of proportion to and unrelated to any of these incidents in his record.

But after all, he was no angel.

And this, late as it is, is your goddamned Holy Weekend Open Thread.  

Knock yourselves out…


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.