17 July 2009


As many people are aware, this morning the jury reached a verdict in the trial of Dwight DeLee for the murder of Lateisha Green.  That verdict was that DeLee was guilty of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime, and of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.  I am relieved that the trial ended, and I hope that this verdict brings some small degree of closure to Green's friends and family, who have suffered tremendously in the months since Lateisha's murder.  I'm pleased to see that they have taken some solace in the ruling.

Personally, I am glad to see that the jury recognized that hatred against queer people (although the statute as written and interpreted applies only to actual and perceived sexual orientation) was behind this horrible crime.  I'm not a big fan of the manner in which our society uses prisons as a way of dealing with crime.  I don't feel that longer sentences deter crime.  However, I am tremendously upset that the jury did not recognize this crime for what it was-- murder.  In my opinion, pointing a gun inside a car window and firing represents an intent to kill somebody.  Further, while the jury did find Dwight DeLee guilty of a hate crime, I'm still concerned that the identity of the car's passengers may have impacted the way they viewed the crime.  I'm not a legal scholar, and am not aware of cases of other people who have been shot and killed in a similar manner, but I'd like to think that their cases brought murder convictions.

I don't share the excitement of many trans and LGBT organizations about hate crimes legislation.  I think that it's incredibly important that law enforcement gives a high priority to crimes committed on the basis of bigotry.  There is a long history of law enforcement agencies failing to adequately investigate and prosecute crimes against members of disadvantage groups, or even being complicit in those crimes.  Thankfully, that was far from the case in Syracuse, as it was in Greeley.  I also want the courts, the media and society to acknowledge the violence that occurs against minority communities.  However, I am less enthusiastic about arbitrary and extended sentences that the justice system may misuse.  We must not measure justice in the years of incarceration, but rather in the ability of all people to reach their full potential.

One of the things that struck me during this trial was the state's tremendous ability to wield power over arbitrary matters.  The judge was able to expel people from his courtroom at will, including Lateisha's mother, and just prior to the trial, a baby that was softly whimpering.  There were multiple armed court officers present to enforce the rules of the court.  The judge did not want people sending text messages from his courtroom, and his will was done.  Not only did a court officer demand that I remove my coffee from the courtroom, he also instructed me that it was unacceptable to return with my empty travel mug.  I saw officers confiscate water from members of the gallery.  In fact, the only way for those of us in the gallery to get water was to have a coughing fit, upon which time the judge might nod to an officer, who would pour and deliver a paper cup filled with court approved water to the parched observer.  Inside the courthouse and inside the courtroom, it was clear who held the power.

Everything that I mentioned above is, in my opinion, defensible at some level.  I don't mean to paint a picture of anything other than seasoned, courteous officials who were executing their duties.   Rather, my point is that there were lots of arbitrary rules, and that the county invested individuals with the power and resources to ensure that people followed those rules.

There was one rule that struck me as indefensible.  This was the insistence by attorneys, the judge, and government witnesses in referring to Lateisha Green by her legal name and male pronouns.  I understand that this practice wasn't personal per se.  As the victim of this crime, Green wasn't present, and official documents listed a name and gender that by all accounts, she didn't identify with.  However, identity is personal, almost tautologically so.  The whole business might have struck me as a silly game, were it not for the impact that it had.  Because of the bizarre legal requirements set up by a cissexual establishment, Lateisha Green all but vanished from a trial about her very death, and yes, very identity.  I find it tragically ironic that during the very trial where a young man was found guilty of killing Lateisha Green because of his profound disrespect for her identity, the legal system disrespected Ms. Green in its own way.  This delegitimizing of Lateisha's identity certainly did nothing to dissuade much of the local media from insisting on using her birth name and refusing to accept her womanhood in its coverage.  To me, the whole trial consisted of one big mixed message-- what I took from the government witnesses, the attorneys and the judge (whatever their intent) was that they believed killing a human being was wrong, regardless of how "different" they might be.  I suppose this is progress for trans people, but it's hardly an out-and-out victory.

As I've said, the authorities have shown that they are capable of displays of power for multiple ends, be it maintaining an orderly courtroom, or ensuring the sanctity of legally acceptable identities.  The issue is that real justice often isn't found in a courtroom.  Lateisha Green's family complained that she had been bullied and harassed throughout the four years following her coming out.  They had complained to school officials, and others, but I'm not sure that anyone ever lifted a finger to stop this bullying.  Green's mother reported hearing nasty comments in the courtroom.  I heard rumors of the harassment of LGBT friends of the Green family in the hallway outside of the courtroom.  I saw that the news media has footage of a fight between the Green and DeLee families outside of the courthouse.  What I did not hear about was any of numerous court officials stepping in to stop this harassment.

Don't get me wrong, the district attorney is looking into allegations of witness intimidation.  They appear to be taking Mark Cannon's statement that he was threatened with a gun seriously.  This morning, there was a very visible police presence outside the courthouse, presumably to prevent any violence.

It's not that people in power aren't doing their jobs, it's that their job descriptions are wrong.  Prevention of violence needs to be proactive, not reactive.  Those in power need to use their actions to affirm the value of all human beings.  This means taking bullying seriously.  This means speaking up.  If we're ever going to get to the just society that so many people surrounding this trial spoke of, we're going to need that same establishment that so ably controlled the flow of courtroom water to respect people's identities.  We need school teachers to take bullying seriously, rather than participating in it.  We need citizens to speak up when they see injustice.

I know that there are court cases to be heard and legislative battles to be fought, but let's not wait that long.  Justice isn't just about using the system to protect ourselves-- it's about fighting to replace an arbitrary system with one that values the dignity of all human expression.  Judging from the leadership that Lateisha's friends and family and members of the near-Westside community have shown, we're already on the road to that point.

I may add links later; at this point I'm looking for (and writing because) I need a certain degree of closure myself.  I definitely need to take a break (starting now) to spend some time with my family, my hobbies and my career.  However, watching these painful events unfold has certainly galvanized my desire to become a more effective advocate for change within our community.

1 comment:

  1. Kate, I have much appriciated getting to know you, even if just a bit, over the past few days at the trial. I SO APPRICIATE your throughts here. I have spent my professional career thinking and learning about power & control and was also greatly disregulated by what we observed this week. We have much work to do. I feel changed by this whole experience. I am not sure that I can articulate the change yet, but I can feel it. I have NEVER been more aware of the priviledge in my life that I was this week. It calls me to task, not to 'fix', but just be aware.
    Much solidarity.