NY State has just granted parole to one of three killers in the Black Liberation Army who in 1971 shot two cops in the back, shooting one 22 times as he pleaded for his life. The three member State Parole Board claimed that the 70 year old prisoner had finally taken responsibility for his actions and expressed regret and remorse for his crimes. Think of that standard compared with the Metropolitan Opera firing 74 year old James Levine for incidents of purported sexual harassment which took place many decades ago and were not reported until years after. Think of the 83 year old architect Richard Meier whose exhibition of collages was just canceled by Sotheby’s and whose gift to his alma mater Cornell was similarly declined due to allegations of sexual harassment, which included the affront to one of his assistants in having to look at images of female genitalia in the collages.
The pack hysteria that has overtaken America has been headlined by the Hollywood response to Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey , Bill Cosby and many other members of that community, largely on the basis of testimony of sexual harassment or assault given years after that may have occurred. In the case of James Levine, the media reported abuse of teenagers and of interest, the film which received many Academy Award nominations, winning the Oscar for its screenwriter, is Call Me By Your Name, a languorous look at a homosexual affair between a teenage student and a much older graduate student. The difference in age is never questioned, nor is there any trace of assumption that the older man might have unduly influenced the younger one. To the contrary, the boy’s father confesses his own regret at not having had the courage to experience a similar rite of passage in his own youth. Almost every man accused by the MeToo and TimesUp posses has apologized profusely either for wrong-doing or for being insensitive albeit misinterpreted, yet this has been insufficient for the various corporations, foundations, museums, universities and media centers for whom dismissal is the only appropriate response.
When it comes to shocking criminal behavior, America wants to be on the side of the perpetrator, forgetting the insult to the families of the victims and the travesty of justice and focusing instead on humanitarian behavior towards the murderer in his senior years. When it comes to men in power possibly acting crudely, the default position is that the complainant must be telling the truth and besides, recognition of one’s bad deeds is insufficient as a penalty. Ironically, when it came to Dr. Nassar who sexually assaulted many teenage Olympic athletes over the course of many years, some of whom complained immediately to the various coaches and people in charge, nothing was done and Dr. Nassar was allowed to indulge his perversions for over a decade. So far, none of the administrators of the various entities for whom he worked has been charged with dereliction of duty or criminally endangering the welfare of minors.
In 1993, Daniel Moynihan coined the term “defining deviancy down” to describe society’s shift in exempting conduct previously stigmatized and normalizing what was once reprehensible and/or criminal. The parole of a vicious murderer of two cops is an example of this. What is happening now with the MeToo and TimesUp movements is the discarding of due process and the acceptance of anonymous statements as testimony - two violations of our legal system. Allowing testimony of those who never reported a crime when it happened but waited years and decades before coming forward is riddled with the threat of its own abuse on many levels: memory distortion, the desire for personal gain or revenge, the desire to gain attention, the imposition of ex post facto standards. Our acceptance of this is normalizing what we fully understood to be corrosive and should be anathema to a nation of laws.
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