Until last week I had never heard of Cleveland, Texas, the small town where an 11-year-old Latina was gang raped, allegedly by 18 black males ages 14 to 27.
But since The Houston Chronicle told the victim’s story with compassion and a New York Times piece subtly blamed her; since various news outlets have essentially tried and convicted the suspects with a widely circulated mugshot collage; since Houston New Black Panther leader Quannell X sacrificed the victim in his zeal to raise questions about the police investigation; since Mujeres Unidas checked Quanell X; and since white supremacist Web sites are partying about this tragedy like it’s 1799, tiny Cleveland, has become a major example of how not to deal with rape in our communities.
A Thanksgiving Atrocity
For clarity’s sake, I’m recapping the basics of this monstrous, quickly changing case based on local news reports. The stories don’t identify the victim or suspects who are under 18 and rely heavily on police sources and documents. Prosecutors are under gag order; I have not seen the documents firsthand.
The assault took place last November, three days after Thanksgiving. According to a Houston Chronicle story, it allegedly began when a 19-year-old with prior drug convictions called the sixth grader and invited her to ‘ride around’ with him and two friends. The guys allegedly picked her up from her home on the outskirts of town and took her to a house in the Quarters, the economically depressed, predominantly black section of Cleveland.
At this house, the guys allegedly demanded the victim remove her clothes. She resisted at first but told police she relented when they threatened to get a crew of girls to beat her up and said they’d leave her in the Quarters without a ride home. After she disrobed, the males allegedly took turns raping her. At some point four more arrived. When a relative came home, the group—including the girl—snuck out of a back window. They decamped to a fetid, filthy abandoned trailer nearby and continued the assault. It’s unclear how many boys and men came to the trailer. What we do know: Some participants used their cell phones to videotape and photograph the rapes.
Over 50 percent of rape victims don’t report their attack; this child was no different. Her mother told the Chronicle that she’d suspected something was wrong when a picture of a man’s penis popped up on a cell phone the girl had borrowed from her father. Her assault came to light only after video snaked its way through the corridors of the girl’s middle school. A classmate told the principal. The principal called the police.
So far, 18 boys and men have been charged with the aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14. According to Texas law, any bastard who penetrated this girl—and any sorry-ass who stood around watching—is guilty of rape.
Seven of the suspects are in high school, including two basketball stars. One alleged assailant is the 21-year old son of a school board member. Then we have a 21-year-old who is already facing charges for another sexual assault and a 19-year-old with a pending manslaughter charge. The 27-year-old has already served time for selling cocaine and assaulting a family member.
The girl has reportedly switched schools and is in foster care after receiving threatening phone calls.
A Community Reacts—Poorly:
Cleveland has a population of 7,675 people. It’s 46 percent white, 28 percent Hispanic and 24 percent black. Now, if the media coverage truly reflects conventional wisdom among its 1,819 black folks, many in it don’t see what happened to this girl as an alleged gang rape but a case of consensual group sex gone wrong.
Relatives of the accused and a
double agent ridiculously incompetent defense attorney James D. Evans III have focused on her ‘much older’ appearance, her ‘attention-seeking,’ rumors of a previous sexual history in the Quarters, her alleged aspirations of porn stardom, a Facebook page where the child reportedly bragged about sex, alcohol and drugs, and her mother’s neglect (not the father’s; never the father’s). In an interview on the local news, Anita Ellis Hancock, the mother of a 19-year-old suspect, exemplified this attitude. If you can’t watch the video, an alarming excerpt:
FOX 26: What did you do? Did you talk to your son?
Hancock: Yes I did. Yes I did. I said, ‘Baby, I’m your momma. You can talk to me.’ (The victim) said she was 17 years old and that’s what he told me.
FOX 26: But Anita, a lot of people would say, ‘This is an 11 year old child. Even if she lied, she’s eleven.’
Hancock: I understand that. I understand that. I’m not defending him. I’m not defending her. I’m not defending no child because if it were my child, I would feel the same way. My point is, where was her mother?
FOX 26: If this was reversed. If your son wasn’t your son, but you were the mother of this 11 year old, what would you do? What would you say? What is justice?
Hancock: First of all, I would know where she was. That’s the justice. Not knowing where your baby is is not justice. I feel like she should be accounted for not knowing where your baby at.
FOX 26: What lesson does you son need to learn?
Hancock: ID. Identification. This (holding up nametag and picture) is what you ask for baby.
FOX 26: So you’re going to tell your son, next time he meets a girl to ask for her ID?
Why This is Piss Poor:
Hancock’s words strike at the heart of a lethal double standard I’ve seen, hell, I’ve experienced too often in my community. I’m not picking on her; she’s trying to keep her son out of prison for 25 to life. But I believe she’s operating in a framework dangerous to her “baby.”
In this framework, girls of color are the predators, the fast-asses, the hot-asses, the hooker-hos, the groupie bitches, the trick-ass bitches, the bust-it-babies and the lil’ freaks who are willing to let dudes “run a train” on them. Too often let translates into, “she was rolling with a bunch of dudes” or “she showed poor judgement” or “she appropriated male-identified sexual bravado to fit in,” or “she’s a child who has been sexually exploited or abused.”
This double standard also renders black men and boys as victims of their own sexuality. They’re big-dick goon and goblin niggas just doing what niggas do when a smiling, or at least not-protesting young girl comes around. She’s 11? OK, but I didn’t know she was 11, so I didn’t do anything wrong, or violent, or exploitative or dangerous. My responsibility begins and ends with a request for ID.
My Takeaway, For What It’s Worth:
My next post will offer expert measured insights on how black men can help one another recognize and interrupt rape culture. For now, my suggested ground rules for people who believe they’re protecting black men and boys but actually enabling toxic sexual behavior:
- Adults should never participate in group sex with children. They shouldn’t be watching, taping or photographing it, either. Whether they’re arrested for it or not, they’ve committed sexual abuse.
- It should be inconceivable that a 14-year-old and a 27-year-old are sexually involved with the same girl. That is physically and emotionally dangerous for the girl; risky for the boy and criminal for the man.
- Men and boys should not have sex of any kind in a squalid, vermin-filled trailer abandoned since Hurricane Ike. If they do so, their families should be deeply concerned.
- Even if a girl says she’s 17—the legal age of consent in Texas—and seems sexually experienced; even if she seems open to making a video or down for a ‘train;’ even if her parents are oblivious and she seems vulnerable, raping her or watching it happen is a crime. No one deserves to be gang raped. No. One. Ever. If you find yourself trying to parse that one out, something is very wrong with you.