Friday, July 29, 2011

Violence, Scapegoats, Symbols and Reality

Many of the details in l'affaire Bonta remain unclear.  This has not stopped many, on both sides of the fight, from expressing strong opinions on the subject.  On Facebook's "Justice for Johnny Bonta and Family" page Dee Cassell, mother of Jacob Cassell, claims:
They made our family to be hated "the point of this page" We receive death threats & horribl private messages every day. Today, I came home from the lake after a day with my multi-cultural grandchildren & found a hate message - hand delivered to my mailbox. I had a Mexican & Native grandaughter with me. Some psycho came o my property because of this page. This page needs to make it VERY clear what it is about then                                     
The group's moderator was likely on sound legal ground when he replied "It is not my fault that your family is receiving threats, nor is it my responsibility. [R]eport it to the appropriate authorities."  And in my experience posters wishing Jacob and Josh dead, asking for their addresses, commenting about baseball bats and boot parties, etc. have quickly and loudly been condemned by the vast majority of participants on "Justice."

That being said, there have been more than a few such posts to be condemned: on other forums the vitriol has become even harsher. There have been phone calls to Joshua Janiszewski's employer demanding that he and supporter/family member Leo Mayfield be fired:  people (OK, furries) have contacted their commanding officers in the Reserves.  And so I am inclined to believe Mrs. Cassell is receiving threats from people who have been riled up by coverage of this story.

It should go without saying that this kind of happy horseshit is unacceptable.  It should also go without saying that one should urinate or defecate only in receptacles specifically reserved for that purpose.  Yet reminder signs to that effect are posted throughout New York's Port Authority bus terminal - and are regularly ignored.  So despite history's example here is my attempt at a warning sign:

It is not OK to threaten the people involved in this case with mayhem or death. I don't care whose account of the fight you believe.  I don't care if Dee Cassell dances around in a swastika-studded leather bikini like Cosima Wagner in Ken Russell's Mahler while Jacob and Joshua sing "Deutschland über alles" in time with her gyrations.  They don't deserve bullets in the head, beatings with baseball bats or any of the other nasty scenarios wished upon them.  We all need to watch our rhetoric here: the point is to protest violence, not perpetuate it.

Many of us (yrs. truly included) have been a bit harsh on the friends and family members who came in to support Jake and Josh.  Many certainly could have been a bit more... diplomatic.  On the other hand, if my mother were receiving hateful, profane and threatening e-mails, letters and phone calls, I might not be feeling all that level-headed either.  Whether or not we agree, let's try to understand where everyone else is coming from.

At this point the primary issue appears to be the Lyon County Sheriff's Department. Numerous questions  remain about the way this incident was handled.  Why was Johnny Bonta denied medical treatment for six days after he was arrested for a bounced $357 check? Why does his car presently show damage in the towing yard that it did not show at the time of the accident? Did the LCSD forge an incriminating statement from an illiterate person to cover up for the son of a former deputy?  And is there a history of violence against Indians, Mexicans and random strangers in Fernley - violence which is tolerated and even encouraged by local police?

Answering those questions will be a lengthy process, one which might step on well-connected toes and bring up ugly, uncomfortable issues. Throwing Cassell and Janiszewsi to the wolves might well distract attention and help foster that all-important illusion that Something Is Being Done. No need for inconvenient investigations into local law enforcement: we locked up those racist punks and that shows our commitment to diversity and tolerance.  No need to question our own entitlement or ask what we've done to improve conditions on America's reservations: we sent an obscene .jpeg to some 20-year old kid's mother in a crushing strike against racism.  It's a Debordian Spectacle that helps satisfy the masses, but one which accomplishes precisely nothing toward healing a community's wounds or finding the truth.

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