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Walston, Brown and Hines (a response to Julian Bond)
by Nancy Baker, Eugene (Oregon) Rape Prevention Center
Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter Apr/May 1975


Radical groups, other than feminists, are becoming involved in cases concerning rape. Often this involvement centers around the race and class implications J: a particular case, As feminists, we are encouraged by this interest. However, it is our responsibility to confront other people committed to change when they exhibit sexist attitudes.

The following is a letter signed by Julian Bond, President of the Southern Poverty Law Center, <address>. Immediately following that letter is a response prepared by Nancy Baker, Eugene Rape Prevention Center, <address>.

Bond's letter:

Dear Friend,
The enclosed clipping describes a case which may shock or surprise you, especially if you are among those who believe that the Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Capital punishment is still very much alive in the United States, and the life-and-death debate over its continued existence goes on. But even among those who favor death for certain crimes, there is no debate when it comes to the execution of the innocent. And it is my firm belief that-three innocent men have been sentenced to die in North Carolina's gas chamber.

Jesse Walston, Vernon Brown and Bobby Hines, three young black men, were convicted of a crime which stirs up the ugliest depths of anti-black hatred and prejudice - the rape of a white woman. Briefly, as the clipping states, the woman voluntarily entered their car one evening when they offered her a ride just outside Tarboro, North Carolina. They did have sexual intercourse with her, but the crucial question is whether she was raped or not.

I and everyone else here at the Southern Poverty Law Center are convinced that their conviction for rape was a major miscarriage of justice, and I believe some of the points listed below will convince you too:

1. At the woman's request, the men drove her to within a block of her home, where she got out of their car. Why would men who had supposedly just raped a woman extend such a courtesy to their alleged victim? At the time, she was observed leaving the car by several whites. Did she suddenly find her reputation at stake?

2. In contrast to the usual victim of rape, the woman was unscratched, unbruised and physically uninjured in any way.

3. The day after the incident, all three men went about their normal activities. Is this how the perpetrators of such a terrible crime would behave? Jesse Walston, who had been visiting his mother in Tarboro, soon returned to his home in Washington, D.C. But the day his mother telephoned that he was wanted for rape, he got into his car and drove back to Tarboro alone to square things.

4. The defendants were given a chance to plead guilty to the lesser charge of assault with intent to commit rape, a crime carrying a fifteen-year sentence and the possibility of parole in three years. But, to quote Jesse Walston, "We weren't going to say we'd done anything we didn't do, even if it would get us out in three minutes. "

5. Although the population of Tarboro, North Carolina, the city where they were tried, is over half black, only one black person was on the jury which heard their case.

6. The jury was allowed to spend a night at home before rendering their verdict. Although the law does not require that a jury be sequestered, allowing them to go home seems, at best, an unwise procedure in a case like this. Emotions ran high in Tarboro, and the possibility of outside pressure having been put on members of the jury is a strong one.

These are a few of the "hard" facts in the case, but there are other, less tangible things which are difficult and perhaps impossible to convey in a letter like this. The look in a man's eye, the tone of his voice, how he answers a particular question - these are things which Morris Dees, an attorney for the Center, has seen first hand.

Mr. Dees has been to North Carolina and talked with Jesse, Vernon and Bobby. He came away from his initial interview with them convinced that a terrible injustice has been done to these men, and he is determined to see that they shall not suffer the horrible fate of asphyxiation in the gas chamber.

To give you some idea of the remarkable courage and spirit of these men in the face of death and the dehumanizing conditions of their confinement, I have enclosed a copy of a letter written on death row, which they sent to the Center before Mr. Dees' first visit.

After this personal interview and a careful study of the summary of their trial, the Center has begun the long and arduous task of appealing their conviction. Center lawyers have made numerous appearances before the Supreme Court of the United States, and this case could well lead them back there to challenge the constitutionality of the death penalty and abolish capital punishment in this country once and for all.

CRUEL, BUT NOT UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT IF YOU ARE POOR AND BLACK


In 1972 the Supreme Court struck down existing capital punishment laws, based on the fact that they were applied arbitrarily and discriminatorily. "Mercy clauses" written into these laws were regularly used to give lesser sentences to more affluent or socially "acceptable" defendants, while poor people and blacks convicted of almost identical crimes received the death penalty.

At present, over twenty states have written new capital punishment laws which they feel overcome the Court's objections. But, even under these new laws, the death penalty still discriminates racially and economically. Of the more than eighty people now awaiting execution in the United States, well over half are black and all are poor. Jesse, Vernon and Bobby were convicted under North Carolina capital punishment laws which have seen twenty-two blacks, one American Indian and only ten whites sentenced to death.

MUST THREE INNOCENT MEN DIE?


We at the Southern Poverty Law Center feel it is time to put an end to unjust laws which discriminate, defy all standards of human decency and threaten the lives of innocent men. The fight to save Jesse, Vernon and Bobby - and hopefully, through their case, others now under sentence of death - will require legal talent and experience of the highest order.

Center attorneys have demonstrated their abilities by winning cases and setting legal precedents of national importance ... in Frontiero v. Richardson, which won equal treatment for women in the armed forces and was the only women's rights case ruled on by the Supreme Court last year ... in our suit which brought about reapportionment of the Alabama State Legislature under a plan which can serve as a model for states throughout the nation ... in winning new constitutional standards in health care for the poor through our defense of the Relf girls, two black minors who were illegally sterilized ... in our integration of the all-white Alabama State Troopers which has resulted in a greater percentage of black troopers here than in many Northern states.

These are a few of our past victories involving equal rights and legal defense for the poor, and our attorneys have now been hard at work for months to hasten the day when Jesse, Vernon and Bobby will be set free. It is proving to be one of our most difficult and costly cases to date, and we desperately need your support if we are to save the lives of these three innocent men.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?


The Southern Poverty Law Center never takes any fees from those it defends, and this death penalty case will be enourmously expensive. Other cases are already tax¬ing our resources, and we have been able to continue only through the generosity of those who believe in our efforts.

That is why I have written you. Human lives are at stake, and you can help us in our fight to save them by sending a tax-deductible contribution and joining the Center in this vital struggle. We will see to it that you are kept fully informed of our progress in this life-and-death case ..

Please believe me when I say that your individual support can make a difference.

Sincerely, Julian Bond

P.S. A cruel twist has recently been added to this case. The North Carolina State Legislature has revoked the death penalty for rape where life is not threatened, but they have refused to make the new law retroactive. Jesse, Vernon and Bobby now face execution for what is no longer a capital crime. I ask you not to put this letter aside with the idea of answering it later. Please send the Center a check today for $15, $25, as much or as little as you can spare. The need is urgent.

Baker's letter in response:

"Society in general, and individuals in particular, believe that dehumanizing tactics such as castration, prison, and the like would prevent rape. This is a total myth. It attacks only the effect. The cause is still at large with the potentiality to strike any woman as would a cold. For centuries men in untold numbers were castrated for the crime of rape. The crime rape still prevails. If any individuals think that prisons, more time, more convictions are the answer. They are not." 1

Dear Friend:
This letter is in reply to your recent letter concerning Jesse Walston, Vernon Brown, and Bobby Hines.

We are in solidarity with your views against racism and fighting racism in court cases such as these.

We are not in solidarity with your views on rape and feel it necessary to confront you on the sexist ideology and myths about rape that you present in your defense and appeal for support regarding this case.

First, let us say that having studied, experienced, lived with and been concerned with rape for many years as women, we are well aware of how racism and rape (sexism carried to its extreme) have been used to exploit women, blacks, third world peoples' and the poor. (The rape of black, poor, and third world women is more condoned by all in this society. Witness the extent of suspicion and hostility these victims are confronted with - it exceeds even the "normal" amount that any white woman is confronted with ... which is already inexcusably extensive and uncalled for.) Few men are convicted of rape and those who are convicted are black and/or poor. In the case you have informed us about, the men are poor, black, and being lynched - an obvious non-solution.

"Rape is a social disease and requires a social antidote. Prison tends to enhance perversions rather than control or arrest it. We do not subscribe to the theory of tranquilizers or drugs. We do however, propose sex education. Well disciplined political education." 2

We are primarily interested in preventing rapes from occurring; in the meantime however, we must still deal with the laws and work towards changing them.

"We are not concerned with the theatrics of conventional protest when some misguided human beings get caught up in the mainstream of this offense, but rather ways and means of safe-guarding both men and women before the fact, to prevent its occurance.3

Rape is a crime of violence against women that starts with the sexual roles we are taught to play. "Rape is sexism carried to its logical conclusion."4 In the case of Jesse Walston, Vernon Brown, and Bobby Hines, rape is not even being dealt with. It seems to be a pawn in the death game of 3 black men. For this reason, we feel it necessary to point out the flaws in your defense of the 3 convicted men.

Having no details on how the case was handled'makes it harder to reply fully to the case. In most cases the woman is on trial and not the rapist(s). Court systems being what they are (racist and sexist), and laws pertaining to rape being what they are (racist and sexist), three black, poor men quickly being convicted and executed for the rape of a white woman should make anyone suspicious of the' validity of this case.

Again, we are not in favor of the prosecution and execution of the three black men convicted. We are interested in how the rape is being dealt with.

Your letter states: "They did have sexual intercourse with her, but the crucial question is whether she was raped or not."* If that (rape) is the crucial question, then the following myths in your letter need to be fully examined:

1) At the woman's request, the men drove her to within a block of her home, where she got out of their car. Why would men who had supposedly just raped a woman extend such a courtesy to their alleged victim?

Rapists can be most courteous. Most men believe it is their right to rape a woman; that she really desires it. Women don't desire to be raped and many times out of valid fears (whether it be physical or with a weapon or psychological on the part of the rapist instilling those fears) will acquiesce because of those fears. The underlined sentence is not substantial.

2) In contrast to the usual victim of rape, the woman was unscratched, unbruised and physically uninjured in any way.

The District of Columbia Task Force on Rape concludes, "The underlying assumption seems to be that any woman worthy of the protection of the law would defend her virtue by at least undergoing a significant degree of physical harm before "giving in," .... No person should be required by law to make a choice between being injured and being able to prove a rape."

A woman, like any human being, will do all she can to avoid physical harm. In rape cases (especially when more than one rapist is concerned) a woman will many times "give in" to avoid any physical harm which may come to her should she resist.

3) The day after the incident, all three men went about their normal activities.
Is this how the perpetrators of such a terrible crime would behave?

The answer is YES. Since when is rape traumatic for the rapist? Rape is the most frequently committed violent crime. Rapists are not being dealt with simply because they feel it is their right to rape, it is "normal" in this society for men to be rapists.**  If men believe it is normal and their right, why should they act "out of ordinary" once they have committed a rape?

To keep rape from occurring, we are working to attack the source of the problem, sexism. Your supporting these myths perpetuates rape and helps to confuse the public about what is really going on in such cases as the above.

Looking at both of the issues realistically, seeing not only the overt racism in the case but the whole problem of rape and sexism as well, would make it easier to attack the crux of the problem which is racism, .by dealing with the deviously intertwined rape.

Racism and sexism are a product of the same system of thought - one that permits and encourages the oppression of all people who are not white middle class men.

Myths are falsehoods, lies that get built up and passed on, bearing little or no resemblance to what is going on in reality, and are then used as a tool of oppression. We cannot use those tools against each other. You cannot fight racism by perpetuating the myths that allow rape to exist ... this is divisive, and will prevent you from getting as much support as you could possibly get, and that you deserve.

We urge you to focus on the real issue of this case, racism, and for this you have our full support.

Sincerely, Nancy Baker, Rape Prevention Center

Footnotes:
1. From Feminist Alliance Against Rape Newsletter (Sept/Oct 1974; page 5). Article written by Prisoners Against Rape-male prisoners who were convicted of rape. "Prisoners Against Rape was conceived as a necessary community based program to effectively deal with the Rape epidemic concerning the general public and women in particular. This project is concerned solely with the political environment aspects of Rape which has been greatly ignored by community leaders from all facets of society."
2. Ibid p. 7
3. Ibid p. 7
4. RAPE: The First Sourcebook For Women by New York Radical Feminists
*The crucial question is racism in the case.
**If you question our saying that men are taught rape is normal and their right, further readings on rape will help clarify this to you.