Aug 26, 2011
Tiawanda Moore’s acquittal Wednesday raises a range of issues: about the constitutionality of Illinois’ eavesdropping law; about the role of the State’s Attorney and the Chicago Police Department’s internal affairs division in protecting abusive officers; and about media treatment of female victims of sexual crimes, and especially of young African American women.
The Sun Times report touches on the constitutional issues, while the Tribune examines them more extensively — and hints at the problems with IAD and the State’s Attorney: “The case offers a rare glimpse” into the internal affairs division. “And it turns out to be an unflattering look.”
A juror tells the Trib, “Everybody thought [the case] was just a waste of time and that [Moore] should never have been charged.” The jurors thought the effort of the IAD investigators to discourage Moore’s complaint, which she captured on her cellphone, at least “bordered on the criminal.”
It’s there, in the Trib’s report, between the lines: when a cop breaks the law – at least when a young woman of color is the victim — IAD can’t be counted on to investigate, and the State’s Attorney can’t be counted on to protect the victim.
At the blog of the Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women (CTOV), Melissa Spatz brings out these implications. She provides crucial context, missing from other accounts: the record of young women coming forward in Chicago to report being sexually assaulted by police; CPD’s woeful record disciplining abusive cops.
She goes through the closing arguments (more detail on that here), unpacks the prosecution’s amazing attempt to paint an isolated female victim, just 20 years old, as a powerful aggressor, and concludes that “the State’s Attorney cannot be counted on to protect young women from police violence.”
This may not be news, but it is shocking nonetheless: a young woman in Chicago has no official recourse after a sexual attack by a police officer.
Moore tells the Tribune: “If I would have known I was going to get in trouble, I might never have come in and filed the complaint in the first place.” As Newstips noted earlier, it’s not hard to conclude that this was the very point of prosecuting her – to punish her for stepping forward, and to prevent others from doing so.
It’s this revictimization of the victim that many commentators see in newspaper reports that describe Moore as a “former stripper.” Beachwood Reporter and Chicagoist stressed this, with Beachwood citing an e-mail from Chris Drew, an street art activist who’s also facing eavesdropping charges (see Newstips 1-27-10). Drew challenges the characterization as missing the point: Moore “has every right to expect justice from our system and she is a brave fighter for women’s rights,” he writes.
An inglorious history
Radley Balko at The Agitator argues that Moore’s occupation had no relevance to the story, and Spatz’s colleague Mariame Kaba on the CTOV blog puts it in the context of “an inglorious history in the press of women who bring charges of sexual assault often being painted as sexually ‘loose’.” The description is “a kind of shorthand,” she writes. “It suggests something about her character and perhaps should lead us to question her credibility.”
I talked with a couple reporters who’ve covered the case. Here’s some of what I got: it’s not uncommon to report the occupations of people in court cases. Moore’s former occupation did come up in the trial and was, I’m told, relevant as a factor in the cop’s assault, though the coverage did not provide that context. The fact that she had been a stripper is the kind of detail that adds interest to a story. There was no intention to smear her. It’s just the facts, with an eye toward reader appeal and obtaining a few inches in a shrinking newshole.
They’re right, I think, that it was part of the story (though UPI didn’t think it merited inclusion, and the Trib left it out of its report on the verdict). And I’m convinced that their motive was to get the story out, not to minimize its impact.
Their critics are right, too, that it’s something to be sensitive about. (Indeed, CTOV is considering developing guidelines for media coverage of sexual violence.)
The jury’s verdict clarifies things immensely. The jury had no trouble finding Moore credible. (Of course, she had her tape, a crucial fact.) In the accounts of the verdict, Moore clearly comes across as a person of courage and integrity; the prosecutors as bullies and worse.
For Moore it’s a partial victory; she still hasn’t received justice. According to the Tribune, the police officer she says assaulted her is still under investigation, but the internal affairs officers who tried to put her off are not being investigated at all – indeed, one has been promoted since the incident.
But Moore’s acquittal is a tremendous comeuppance to State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. The eavesdropping statute stands exposed as a tool for repressing citizen complaints about police, and Alvarez stands exposed as someone who will use that statute to punish honest citizens and protect bad cops.
As Drew says, the media “should examine in depth the way the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office shields police misconduct.” And we all need to look at how dominant cultural attitudes limit respect and access to justice for young women, especially young women of color.
We should also salute Ms. Moore for her tenacity and commitment to justice, and thank her for the example she sets for all of us.