Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Police Shootings, Me Too, Jussie Smollett, and the Power of Narratives

by Michael C. Dorf

On Verdict today, Prof Colb has a column that looks at the reactions to the non-indictment decisions in the police shooting of Stephon Clark. She explains how narratives associated with "Black Lives Matter" and "Blue Lives Matter" shape perceptions. As the title here suggests, she applies the same analysis to Me Too and Jussie Smollett's hoax. Check it out.


David Ricardo said...

Since Mr. Dorf has posted the reference to Ms. Colb’s post on this site, I will comment here. Overall it is a very good post, but there is one exception I would note.

One of the main points of the Verdict post is Ms. Colb condemning those who said they hoped that the assault on the actor and other assaults were true. He is the text.

“During the recent Jussie Smollett apparent hoax, I recall at least one commentator saying that she hoped Smollett was telling the truth. . . . As it turned out, Smollett appeared to have paid people to pretend to commit the hate crime.

Why in the world would anyone hope that he was telling the truth? How awful would it be if in downtown Chicago, of all places, during extremely cold temperatures (which tend to deter violent crime), an African American man could not leave his house to buy a sandwich without falling prey to white supremacists prepared to do violence?

Put aside some of the implausible features of the story and assume that it is as internally coherent as any other account of a crime. It is telling, I think, that anyone would say that she hoped it was true.”

Agreed, but one thinks a problem here is that while Ms. Colb is correct in what she says, she is misunderstanding the “I hope it is true” position. The motivation behind that statement is not that a person taking that position hopes that an assault has taken place. No one wants that.

No, one could reasonably conclude that the motivation behind the “I hope it is true” position is that if the allegation of assault is not true, the lie does tremendous damage to those who try to report true assaults and bring the assailant to justice. There is a large portion of the population that doesn’t believe victims of sexual assault, that believe sexual assault does not happen, that believe the alleged victim is making things up for attention and believe that if assault did happen the victim of sexual assault ‘deserved it’.

So no, the position of at least some of the “I hope it is true” is not a hope that assault took place, it is a hope that the individual is not lying and that the individual is not doing tremendous damage to the credibility of true victims and that the individual is not advancing the culture that says sexual assault is acceptable behavior.

Joe said...

I recently listened to an interesting panel discussion with Shaun King and two law professors on the new book "Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration" by Prof. Rachel Barkow.

The "objective" decision-making at the time of police shootings and such were covered and this was flagged as one reason so few convictions were obtained. Juries that wanted to do so were repeatedly held back by what they (generally correctly) felt the law as applied by the Supreme Court mandated.

I put that term in quotes since the essay suggests the complexities of the matter. The panel also flagged the issue of prosecutors getting money from certain groups when running for office as well as their close working with the police. As King said, if you had to investigate an alleged crime of a friend or loved one, you would much more likely find a way to not be too tough on them.


I think the first comment is correct on the referenced matter.