Slapping Girls' Butts, and the "Bright Futures" of Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison

I read Jeff's post this morning about the sex offender charges being brought against two middle-schoolers in Oregon with great interest, since I had not heard or read about the case before. And I share Jeff's outrage at the (all too typical) trivialization on the right of what Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison did.

I just want to point out a remark made by the boys' attorney that was quoted in the news article to which Jeff linked:
The boys' families and lawyers said even sentencing them to probation would turn admittedly inappropriate but not uncommon juvenile rowdiness into a crime. If they are convicted of any of the misdemeanor charges against them, they would have to register as sex offenders.

"It's devastating," said Mark Lawrence, Cory Mashburn's lawyer. "To be a registered sex offender is to be designated as the most loathed in our society. These are young boys with bright futures, and the brightness of those futures would be over."

This, it seems to me, is at the heart of what's going on here. The words stopped me in my tracks, because they are almost identical to the kinds of remarks made by defense attorneys and local residents in the 1989 Glen Ridge rape case. Glen Ridge is a small, very wealthy almost all-white town in New Jersey. It's also the next town over from where I live now. At the time that the gang rape took place, I lived on a one-block street in Montclair that was partly in Glen Ridge.

All of which is to say that the rape, and subsequent trial, were extensively covered in the regional and local newspapers and television broadcasts back then, and I'm familiar with many of the details. And I distinctly remember how Glen Ridge closed ranks around those rich white athletes against a young girl with an I.Q. of 64 who read at a second-grade reading level and thought that the names of the two major political parties in the U.S. are "public" and "primary."

None of that mattered to Glen Ridge, because the rapists -- Kyle and Kevin Scherzer (fraternal twins), Christopher Archer, and Bryant Grober -- were "our beautiful boys." What significance did a retarded girl's -- or any girl's -- torture, humiliation, and rape (with a broom and a baseball bat) have compared with the damage done to those boys' "bright futures"?

Take another look at the words that came out of that defense attorney's mouth in the Oregon case: "To be a registered sex offender is to be designated as the most loathed in our society. These are young boys with bright futures, and the brightness of those futures would be over." Those two sentences fairly drip with subtext. "These are boys with bright futures." Why? Because they are white and upper-middle-class, presumably. If they were black, if they were from working-class or poor families, would their defense attorney be saying they had "bright futures" that entitled them to do whatever they wanted to girls and get away with it?

It's astonishing, isn't it? Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison have automatic and unquestionable "bright futures," by virtue of their whiteness and socioeconomic status, the protection of which trumps their female classmates' right not to have their body parts touched, fondled, and slapped.

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