May 31, 2014

Film to highlight violence against trans women of color

The pace of social change is sometimes mind-boggling. The cover of next week's issue of Time magazine features actress Laverne Cox on the "transgender tipping point," with transgender rights heralded as the new civil rights movement.

Much of the increasing public awareness can be credited to Laverne herself, a charismatic and inspirational spokeswoman best known for her role as a trans prisoner in the blockbuster Netflix series, Orange is the New Black.

I was honored to meet Laverne earlier this month, when she interviewed me for the film “Free CeCe,” a documentary on violence against trans women of color being co-produced by award-winning filmmaker Jacqueline Gares. (Her first documentary, Unraveled, about Alzheimer's and genetic testing, won a Freddie Award.) 

The levels of anti-trans violence are staggering. Trans women of color make up an estimated 8 percent of the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) community, but nearly half of its murder victims. They are also disproportionately victimized by job discrimination, homelessness, extreme poverty, police harassment, and incarceration; in prison, their victimization is ubiquitous.

Just walking down the street

CeCe McDonald, the focus of the documentary, knows about all of this first-hand. A 23-year-old fashion student, she was walking to the grocery store with some friends when she was accosted by a group of rowdy drunks outside a Minneapolis tavern one night in 2011. The group hurled insults: “Faggots!” “Niggers!” “Chicks with dicks!” One of the drunks slashed CeCe in the face with a cocktail glass. With blood gushing down her cheek, she pulled a pair of scissors and stabbed a man who was advancing on her, killing him.

If she had been George Zimmerman, the legal outcome would most likely have been different. But she was charged with murder, and the judge excluded evidence relating to self defense. She was barred from raising Dean Schmitz’s propensity for violence or racism, as evidenced by his multiple assault convictions and the swastika tattoo on his chest, from his days as a white supremacist in prison. Nor could she mention the methamphetamine found in his system, which might have made him more aggressive that night.

Faced with a stacked deck, CeCe pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter (criminal negligence) in exchange for a 41-month sentence. She was released from men's prison this January.

Rather than going down quietly as just another everyday injustice, the case garnered national attention and CeCe drew widespread support -- culminating in the current film project. I got a chance to meet CeCe at this month's filming at my office. Despite enduring a lifetime of physical and verbal assaults from strangers as well as family members, she told me that she remains haunted by the tavern incident. Growing up in a segregated community in Chicago, she had never before encountered such raw racial hatred, and she never imagined that she would ever have to kill someone or go to prison.

Why such hatred?

Your blogger with Laverne Cox and CeCe McDonald
My role in the film is to explain the basis for the widespread moral outrage and violence directed at transgender people. My dissertation research focused on the motivations of antigay hate crime perpetrators, and I later expanded this work into a broader theory of masculine violence as theater.

Trans women of color are a uniquely perfect storm, producing insecurity by transgressing against dominant notions of gender, race and identity. When dehumanized (as “its”) and hypersexualized, they become an abstract symbol of deviance, a dramatic prop through which young men in particular can prove their masculinity and reinforce their adherence to traditional gender norms.

Ramping up hostility toward transgender people is the notion that they are trying to trick or deceive others, lying to those around them about their "real sex." Indeed, this perception of deception underlies the trans "panic defense" that has been invoked in murder cases such as those of Gwen Araujo and Lawrence King.

Public antagonism toward transgender people emboldens violence-prone individuals such as those who attacked CeCe and her friends at the Schooner Tavern in Minneapolis, who believe that they are not only justified, but righteous in defending societal norms of gender and race. Such ideas run deep in our culture, reinforced through everyday microaggressions like snickering, jokes, hostile stares, and discriminatory treatment.

In a brilliant essay, Koritha Mitchell, an English professor at Ohio State University, draws a comparison between anti-transgender violence today and the early-20th century sexualized lynchings of African American men in the U.S. South. Both forms of brutality, she points out, are aimed at denying citizenship, marking “who belongs and who does not…. Because violence most often plagues those whom society encourages us to abandon, denouncing violence empowers us to embrace them.” 

The good news is, as we have seen with gay men and lesbians, public visibility can dramatically reduce hostility. Humanization as coworkers, neighbors, fellow parents, or family members short-circuits attempts to stereotype sexual minorities as abstract symbols of deviance. The rate of attitudinal change in the United States and around the world, especially among young people, is nothing short of amazing.

The Time magazine cover story illustrates the remarkable speed of change in regard to attitudes toward transgender people. It also illustrates the power of social media. Time's exclusion of Laverne from last year's list of 100 most influential people produced a Twitter backlash, #whereisLaverneCox. And the mood shifted further when Laverne famously stood up to TV personality Katie Couric in January; the video of her shifting the narrative from prurient talk of genitalia to the more pressing topics of violence and social justice went viral. 

Donate to the film

Free CeCe is still in production. The producers have raised more than one-fifth of the $465,000 budget, and are soliciting grant funding and individual donations to complete the project.If you would like to contribute to this important project, the filmmakers will gratefully accept your tax-deductible donation (HERE).

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Of related interest: 

Prison pipeline for transgender youth: Poor and minority especially at risk (March 26, 2008)

(c) Copyright Karen Franklin 2014 - All rights reserved

May 11, 2014

Free articles of potential interest

From time to time, publishers alert me to articles and collections that they have made freely available online (sometimes for limited periods of time). Here are a few such offerings that I thought might be of interest to this blog's audience:

TREATMENT OF ADULT AND JUVENILE SEX OFFENDING - CURRENT APPROACHES: The International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy has made an entire special issue, edited by Phil Rich, available freely online. There are some great articles here. 

POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER - article collection: Routledge has made available a collection of 17 articles on PTSD from its various academic journals. Click on the link and then scroll over an article to download it. 

Circles of Support and Accountability: How and Why They Work for Sex Offenders, Mechtild Höing, Stefan Bogaerts, and Bas Vogelvang

Assessing Risk of Violence Using Structured Professional Judgment Guidelines, Laura S. Guy,
Ira K. Packer, and William Warnken

The Criminal Profiling Reality: What is Actually Behind the Smoke and Mirrors?,
Richard N. Kocsis

Service Needs for Incarcerated Adults: Exploring Gender Differences, Gina Fedock, Lauren Fries, and Sheryl Pimlott Kubiak

Reflections on Homelessness, Mental Illness, and Crime, Laura S. Guy, Stacey L. Shipley,
and Teresa C. Tempelmeyer 

Residents’ Perceptions of Procedural Injustice During Encounters With the Police, Amie Schuck
and Christine Martin

Abuse as a Form of Strain Among Native American and White Female Prisoners: Predictors of Substance-Related Offenses and Recidivism, Lindsey E. Vigesaa

Conviction Odds in Chicago Homicide Cases: Does Race/Ethnicity Matter?, Christine Martin

The Impact of Indigenous Status on Adult Sentencing: A Review of the Statistical Research Literature From the United States, Canada, and Australia, Samantha Jeffries and Christine E.W. Bond

The Impact of Population Selection on Examinations of Discretionary Searches in Traffic Stops
Steven J. Briggs and B. Keith Crew

Juvenile Justice Interventions: System Escalation and Effective Alternatives to Residential Placement, Stephanie Bontrager Ryon, Kristin Winokur Early, Gregory Hand, and Steven Chapman

Findings of a Formative Evaluation of a Transitional Housing Program for Forensic Patients Discharged into the Community, Rebecca Cherner, Joan Nandlal, John Ecker, Tim Aubry, and & Donna Pettey

May 7, 2014

'Babbling idiot' standard: Squeaky Fromme competency tapes unveiled

Who of my generation can forget Lynnette "Squeaky" Fromme, the first woman to attempt to assassinate a U.S. president?

Today, almost 40 years after Fromme donned a flowing red robe, strapped on a Colt .45, and went in search of President Gerald Ford, the Sacramento Bee has unveiled the full audiotapes of her 90-minute competency examination, which the court released in response to a legal request from the Bee.

Fromme's Sept. 5, 1975 mission remains a little fuzzy: Her goal was either to save the coastal redwoods or to call attention to the plight of her messiah, cult leader Charles Manson. Ford wasn't in much danger, as it turned out: There was no bullet in the chamber. She later said she had deliberatedly ejected the round in the chamber before leaving home.* And as soon as she pointed her pistol at Ford's stomach, Secret Service agents easily subdued her.

"I stood up and waved a gun (at Ford) for a reason," Fromme told a reporter a few years later. "I was so relieved not to have to shoot it, but, in truth, I came to get life. Not just my life but clean air, healthy water and respect for creatures and creation."

People who knew Fromme (pronounced Frahm-mee) considered her strange. But she rejected an insanity defense, and sought to represent herself, prompting Judge Tom MacBride to order a competency evaluation. A court-appointed psychiatrist, James Richmond, certified her as competent to stand trial after a 90-minute examination that was tape recorded at her request. 

Under the legal standard at the time, one had to be nearly "a babbling idiot" to be found incompetent, in the words of the prosecuting attorney.  

Fromme subsequently threw an apple at that very same U.S. Attorney, Dwayne Keys, when at her sentencing hearing he called for the severest punishment, saying she was "full of hate and violence."

"Nolan Ryan couldn't have thrown a more perfect strike," John Virga, the attorney ultimately appointed to represent her at trial, told a journalist some 30 years later. "Hit Dwayne right between the eyes. His glasses flew off. After that, guys in (Keyes') office started giving him a box of apples for Christmas." 

Richmond, the court-appointed psychiatrist, had no problem with the "babbling idiot" standard. He said such a low standard was only fair, because "if a person is found unfit to stand trial, he can be committed to an institution for the criminally insane without being found guilty of anything."

The outcome of Fromme's trial, just two months after her arrest, was a foregone conclusion. Fromme boycotted much of the proceedings after the court declined her request to call Manson as a witness.

Looking back, Virga described his former client as "anything but crazy." "She's very bright, an intelligent, pleasant woman.When you talk with her, everything is fine until you mention Manson. Then it's like the guy who is perfectly normal until he hears 'Kokomo, Indiana.' Then he is off and running."

After being convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, Fromme steadfastly declined to apply for parole. She was finally released in 2009, after serving 34 years in prison.

The outcome might have been different, had Fromme gone to trial today. Case law has raised the standards for competency to stand trial, and the standard is higher for defendants seeking to represent themselves. In 2012, following the U.S. Supreme Court's Edwards decision, California's high court ruled that even a defendant who is found competent to stand trial may be barred from self representation if mental illness prevents him or her from putting on a minimally adequate defense.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller released the audiotapes of Fromme's competency evaluation in response to a motion filed last November by the Sacramento Bee. Following the reasoning of the Ninth Circuit in a 1998 decision in the case of Ted Kaczysnki, the judge ruled that the public's right to know outweighed the defendant's privacy rights. 

Kudos to the Bee for making this request before it was too late. The audiotape was fast degrading, and the court had to call in a professional media salvaging company to restore it before it could even listen to it and rule on the request.

On the tapes, Dr. Richmond can be heard questioning Fromme about everything from her involvement with the Manson family to her eating habits and her religion, using the slang vernacular of the day:
Richmond: "The press has made a number of comments to the effect that you’re a rather daft broad wandering about in this world, following ill-begotten causes and so forth. How do you feel about that?"

Fromme: "I’m working through it the best way I can. I feel this trial, conducted with a little bit of dignity, would help tremendously."

Fromme sounds matter-of-fact and confident, expressing optimism about her chances of being acquitted:
"Oh, I feel, I feel definitely I have probably a 70 percent chance on the percentage scale. I don’t feel that I’ll be convicted of attempted assassination."

In hindsight, her confidence was obviously misplaced.

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The full audiotapes are HERE. Thanks to reporter Sam Stanton for alerting me. For those who don't have time to listen to all 132 minutes, a 19-minute excerpt is HERE. A subsequent media videotape of Fromme discussing her crime is HERE. I have added Fromme's case to my RESOURCE PAGE OF COMPETENCY CASES, which now includes source documents on 10 noteworthy cases ranging from Ted Kaczynski to Mike Tyson.

*Don't confuse this with a second assassination attempt on the president just 17 days later in San Francisco. Sarah Jane Moore managed to squeeze off a wild shot before she was subdued. Another odd duck, she too was found competent to stand trial.

May 1, 2014

Surprise reversal in "killing and culpability" self-defense case

Judge slams defense lawyer as inept, dishonest 

Four years ago, I presented a reader participation exercise, "On Killing and Culpability," featuring the case of a young working-class man who stabbed a drunken Berkeley fraternity man to death during a street brawl. Even though 20-year-old Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield only pulled out a knife after he was surrounded by a large and hostile crowd that was closing in on him, jurors rejected his self-defense claim and found him guilty of second-degree murder. In a case that later garnered national attention as part of the debate over what constitutes self defense, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison. 

Yesterday, a judge pulled no punches in overturning the conviction, which he described as a product of the defense attorney's incompetence and deceit. The ruling came in response to a state Supreme Court mandate that the case be reviewed for possible attorney misconduct.

It turns out that there was a lot more going on behind the scenes of the legal case than the public was privy to at the time.

Attorney Elizabeth Huang demonstrated a "breathtaking level of disingenuousness, evasiveness and apparent dishonesty," wrote Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman in his scathing opinion; her lack of qualifications coupled with her "unexplainable arrogance" created "a complex web of deception, misrepresentation, disloyalty, and self-interest."

Huang's son and the defendant were close friends, and Huang accepted the case pro bono. Her ultimate goal, Judge Goodman noted, was to sue the UC Berkeley fraternity system, which she believed was arrogantly undermining the safety and security of Berkeley residents.

She'll get no argument from me on that score. As revealed in a powerful Atlantic expose, tragedies such as this are endemic to the Greek system, which typically escapes culpability for the results of the drunken debauchery that many fraternities promote.

The problem was that her "apparent obsession" with the fraternity system created a profound conflict of interest: If Hoeft-Edenfield admitted culpability by accepting a plea bargain, her chances of a successful lawsuit would be greatly diminished.

Thus, as the judge meticulously delineated in his 56-page opinion, she rejected all efforts to strike a deal, despite her client's wishes to do so and despite a reasonable offer from the prosecution of a 12-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea to manslaughter.

Her missteps were not for lack of good advice.

In remarkable testimony at a four-day evidentiary hearing last month, two defense attorneys and a prominent jury consultant testified that at a strategy session convened by Huang, they correctly forecasted that her client would be convicted if he did not take the witness stand to explain his actions on that fateful night. When Huang responded that Hoeft-Edenfield, a special education student, was too unintelligent and easily led to testify, prominent defense attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach advised her to settle the case. Also present at that meeting were experienced homicide attorney Rebecca Young of the San Francisco Public Defender's Office and a senior litigation consultant, Lois Haney.

Judge Larry Goodman
Instead of following the sage advice of these experienced professionals, Huang -- who had never handled a murder case -- barreled ahead to trial, so confident of Hoeft-Edenfield's vindication that she failed to warn her client of the risks. Instead, "she continued to mislead [him] into thinking that the worst possible consequence of going to trial is that he would get a voluntary manslaughter conviction," even going so far as to send his parents to the jail to talk him into proceeding to trial. 

I've made the opinion available online (HERE). By way of full disclosure, I've known Judge Goodman from way back in my days as a newspaper reporter and have always found him to be a straight shooter.

The Alameda County District Attorney's Office now has 30 days to decide whether to offer Hoeft-Edenfield its original 12-year plea deal; otherwise, the case could proceed to a retrial for second-degree murder. (The jury acquitted the defendant of first-degree murder.) Meanwhile, the State Bar of California will review Judge Goodman's findings to determine whether Huang should face discipline.

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Thanks to Henry Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle for breaking the news. My prior reports on the case include:

(c) Copyright Karen Franklin 2014 - All rights reserved