Talking to Genarlow Wilson... : Tell Me More I confess it was a little strange, after talking ABOUT him for all these months, to actually talk TO ... Genarlow Wilson ...
NPR logo Talking to Genarlow Wilson...

Talking to Genarlow Wilson...

Genarlow Wilson pictured in early 2007 at Georgia's Burruss Correctional Training Center. Tracy J. Smith, Georgia Department of Corrections hide caption

toggle caption
Tracy J. Smith, Georgia Department of Corrections

I confess it was a little strange, after talking ABOUT him for all these months, to actually talk TO him.

I'm speaking about Genarlow Wilson, of course. He's 21-years-old now, no longer a teenager.

This is one of those stories that I, personally, would not have known about, but for the fact that it engaged the blogosphere. It started as a regional story -- an incident in a small town outside of Atlanta. Genarlow was 17 at the time, an athlete, considered college material. He attended a New Year's Eve party in 2003 where he, among others, had sex with a 17-year-old girl and oral sex with a 15-year-old girl. It was all caught on videotape. And it all came to light when the 17-year-old went to the authorities, alleging she had been raped. The 15-year-old was adamant that her experience was consensual. Setting aside for the moment that I don't think anybody would like the idea of his or her child participating in this situation, the question arose of a 10-year minimum sentence and whether it was the appropriate punishment ... and all because of a quirk in the law.

Wilson and the others were very quickly acquitted of raping the 17-year-old. But the 15 year old was NOT old enough to give her consent; hence, the statutory rape charge. AND, Georgia law, at the time, required that oral sex with an underage participant be very severely treated, designed to protect kids against pedophiles. Instead, it became a symbol of all that many consider wrong with the criminal justice system.

Where does race enter it into it? I have no idea. Wilson is black, the 15-year-old (at the time) is also. But I do know that this case raises a lot of questions about morality, about the law and about what society owes its young people -- to both protect and inform them.

We previously talked to Genarlow's mother, Juanessa Bennett. We talked to his lawyer, B.J. Bernstein. We talked to a number of people advocating for his release ... and we talked to young people at his former high school in Douglasville, Ga., to ask them what lesson they drew from Wilson's experience. Today, just days after the Georgia Supreme Court ordered Wilson's release, we managed to talk to HIM.

Some believe that Wilson would never have been prosecuted to this extent had he been white, but it's hard to know given the unique circumstances ... and a complaining witness (even though that witness was not considered credible by the jury). I'd still like to talk to both the prosecutor and the Attorney General for their take on this emotional and complicated case.

And speaking of emotional and complicated...

NOT to make too much of a random Detroit disc jockey's decision to hold a promotion that would have allowed light-skinned black women into a nightclub for free ... BUT, this is one of those things where one might ask, what was he thinking? But more to the point, why does anybody care? But we do care. How do we know we care? Because complaints poured in from across the country. In this day and age, what does that mean?...

That was the subject of a couple of conversations today.

Some of this will be familiar to many of you. Some of it will not. I said in my introduction to the conversation that this was really a subject that people of color grapple with, but our associate editor, Douglas Hopper, who is white, begs to differ. I'll let him explain:

I often fret about the color of my skin ... especially during the summer, when my ghostly white skin is exposed to ridicule. I envy my white friends with more olive-toned complexions, which I think is healthier-looking. For better or for worse -- in my world -- pasty white skin is not attractive. And don't even get me going about how this plays out in the gay male community. We're dripping with fake tans. Of course, the associations are different than they are for people of color. My skin color has never cost me a job. And yes, my insecurity may be the product of airbrushing and a booming tanning industry, not centuries of oppression. But, I am not alone. White people definitely have skin color issues. If you have any doubt, just take a minute to remember all the orange people walking around this summer! There'll be more soon.

Thanks, Douglas.