FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
Bloggers get a chance to weigh in on everything from hard news to pop culture. And today, we've got three folks ready to weigh in on Genarlow Wilson. He's been released after two years behind bars for teen sex conviction.
Plus, a Tupac statue gets thrashed, and Barack Obama's efforts to diffuse a controversy involving gay rights and gospel may have just made matters worse.
With me on our Bloggers' Roundtable, Earl Dunovant. He blogs at Prometheus6.org, and cultural commentator Liza Sabater. She publishes the community blog Culture Kitchen. Plus Theo Johnson. He blogs and hosts a podcast on TheoJohnson.net.
Mr. EARL DUNOVANT (Blogger, Prometheus6.org): Hello.
Ms. LIZA SABATER (Blog Publisher, Culture Kitchen): Hello.
Mr. THEO JOHNSON (Host; Blogger, TheoJohnson.net): Thank you for having me.
CHIDEYA: Well, let's move on to Genarlow Wilson. On Friday, the Georgia Supreme Court decided to release him. He received a mandatory sentence of at least 10 years without parole for having oral sex with a girl two years younger than he was. He was convicted of felony aggravated child molestation in 2005 but the law changed in 2006. Now, that charge would be a misdemeanor with a maximum one-year sentence and after a year of appeals, Genarlow Wilson is free.
(Soundbite of archived interview)
Mr. GENARLOW WILSON (Resident, Georgia): My being very confused for the most part, you know, not knowing what to expect from the early disappointments that we dealt early on. But, you know, I'm finally, you know, happy to see that we've got justice now.
CHIDEYA: Liza, the district attorney who prosecuted Wilson said that he disagreed with the court's decision. Although the law did change before his conviction, I mean, after his conviction, do you think that he should have served the 10 years?
Ms. SABATER: Oh God, no. Absolutely not. I find it very disturbing that, you know, we're in 2007 and we're living in society that still doesn't want to acknowledge that teenagers do have sex and, you know, we need to basically create an environment in which they do what they're going to do safely. So no, I was appalled like many other people by, you know, even the fact that he had been thrown in jail for basically having consensual sex.
CHIDEYA: Earl, there are other young men who have, who are still in jail for the same reasons. Should there be a widespread examination of this and taking a look at whether or not this is actually fair given the change in the law?
Mr. DUNOVANT: Oh, I understand from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and, you know, I had to go back and read up on this. It seems there's like less than 60 people who were in jail for this very same crime who are under 18 at the time.
Now, if their partner was 12 or 11, I'm happy leaving them in jail, okay? But I think that this case, I mean, you, the law had already been changed. They knew that they didn't want to take - make this such a severe crime, and it was clearly an oversight that kept oral sex out of that bill. So, I think it's quite reasonable to let this young man go, to review the other cases that are similar, okay? And just have some common sense, for Christ's sake. It's like Liza saying, teenagers are having sex and it's - their bodies are changing. You can't expect a 15, 16-year-old fully, physically mature person to untrain mentally, to resist their hormones.
CHIDEYA: Let me get Theo in here. It's one thing to have urges. It's another thing to act on them. There's been a lot of discussion of whether or not this was appropriate given that the girl may not have been, let's put it this way, as fully conscious as she should have been, that they were partying. Does that - is that something that should factor into this whole equation?
Mr. JOHNSON: You know, I really think that it shouldn't since because one of the things that really - in reading, I had to go back and, you know, read some extra information on this. But one other thing that I found was that, you know, they were recording all of this and whether or not they were drinking. We all understand the effects of alcohol and what it does, and you know, it's unfortunate that something like this would happen and, like this young man would be put in prison for that. But I just really, you know, I agree with everyone else. I just hate that it happened to him. This young man was a great student. He was a star athlete and he definitely had a really, you know, a future.
And for now, I mean, four years of his life…
Ms. SABATER: That destroyed him.
Mr. JOHNSON: …which was gone and seeing him come out of prison and I was really impressed with his attitude. I mean, he could have had, he could have easily been upset, disappointed. He could have easily, you know, said a lot of negative things about the justice system but he says he still believes in it. And I think he's an example for, especially our young men we really need to be start talking to the young men about sex and about some of the consequences of it and, yeah, just about anything…
Ms. SABATER: Right. Yeah, and the implications of this…
Mr. JOHNSON: Exactly.
Ms. SABATER: …I mean, especially for young women, for, you know, teenage girls, teenage women basically. It really has a wider repercussion in terms of their being able to exact their right to choose and their individuality as even though they're teenagers but as human beings. And so it raises a lot of issues especially with parents saying that they have the right to put somebody in jail even though, you know, the teenagers were having consensual sex. So it is - it has a far reaching, has far reaching repercussion in terms of how the kind of legal environment that we're creating for teenagers. I honestly believe that we really need to stop calling them children if they're 15, 16, 17 and really create a specific category for that age group.
CHIDEYA: All right, I want to reintroduce everyone…
Mr. DUNOVANT: (Unintelligible)
CHIDEYA: …and move on to another topic.
This is NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.
We were just hearing from Liza Sabater, a publisher of the community blog Culture Kitchen. We've also got Earl Dunovant. He blogs at prometheus6.org and intrapolitics.org; and Theo Johnson who blogs and hosts a podcast on theojohnson.net.
Got to move to Obama and the gay controversy.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: This thing just has legs and keeps going on and on. So Barack Obama and Donnie McClurkin are all over the blogosphere.
Mr. DUNOVANT: Oh, (unintelligible).
CHIDEYA: And the Obama campaign invited gospel singing Donnie McClurkin to their gospel concert tour. And McClurkin talks about fighting his own desires for men and what he calls, quote, "the curse of homosexuality." Now, the Illinois senator and presidential hopeful has added an openly gay minister, Reverend Andy Sidden, to the program. But that move may have made the critics even hotter.
Theo, was this a last minute, smart move or not so smart?
Mr. JOHNSON: I don't - I really think it wasn't that smart of him.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. JOHNSON: You can't please everyone all the time. And the thing is this is a gospel concert, a gospel tour. So of course, most of the people within the tour - I heard (unintelligible) was going to be there - they usually feel the same way about, you know, gay rights and that. So I think, you know, it kind of concerns me because I hope he's not like this if he does get elected or does get the nomination. I mean, I hope he doesn't try to please everyone at the same time because it's just not going to work. It's not going to be. in my opinion, effective policy if he tries that king of method.
Ms. SABATER: Mm. So Liza…
Mr. JOHNSON: (Unintelligible)
CHIDEYA: …there's this one minister - Reverend Sidden - who was added…
Ms. SABATER: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: …and there've been other gay rights advocates who've, you know, been asked to come on board for this. But there are other groups, including a group led in part by Keith Boykin, who's a former Clinton administration official, African-American blogger, gay, who are, like, no, that's not enough. How do you break down on that?
Ms. SABATER: You know, what I heard was that - this is the gravpevine - that they actually were given a list of people and they, you know, they overlooked -I don't remember the names on the list that I saw - but, you know, this is one in a series of really bad tactical decisions by the Obama campaign. And this is not just this one case. I mean, they - I honestly don't understand the people who are behind these decisions. I mean, they've done - they haven't really done much in terms of outreaching women's groups, for example. And, you know, Obama is supposed to be pulling really absolutely fantastic with, you know, women from all the political spectrum.
And, you know, there's - it just - I agree with Keith. I mean, he really needs to get the guy out and do some soul searching on this. But they always try to kind of, like, you know, put some dressing on and then walk it off.
Mr. DUNOVANT: Yeah.
CHIDEYA: Well, Earl…
Ms. SABATER: This is not one of those things you can walk off.
CHIDEYA: We're talking about a fundraising concert in South Carolina. South Carolina is being called the black primary.
Mr. DUNOVANT: Right.
CHIDEYA: It's this contest where there's, you know, bifactors of, you know, 10-fold - more African-American in the state than in states like New Hampshire and Iowa that also make up the early primary race.
Mr. DUNOVANT: Mm-hmm.
CHIDEYA: Is this a case where the senators campaign office just really was trying too hard to fit in to a southern, black Christian culture? Was there any - were there other decisions that could have been made to try to boost, you know, political responsiveness in a state like South Carolina without putting his campaign in that position?
Mr. DUNOVANT: Well, he - actually, there are any number of gospel singers would simply would not have raised the issue. Okay, he just needs a little (unintelligible). And, in fact, I do think he made the matters a bit worse because he's falling victim to what I think of as additive morality. It's like you've got bad things so you just add a good thing on top of it; removing the bad thing. And they sort of balance out and neutralize it. It doesn't work that way. And he just found that out.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Well, let's move on to Tupac statue and the noose; another incident reported this week. It was around the neck of statue of Tupac. The Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Spokesperson says vandals, among other acts, threw a noose around the neck of the Shakur statue. Police say the rope wasn't a noose but it was an orange nylon stringed with a wooden cross attached so the incident is not being investigated by them as a hate crime.
There was a whole rash with these noose incidents. And is this something -Liza, do you think that this is continuing in the same vein or this is just some random act of vandalism. What about the controversy over whether it was or wasn't a noose? How do you make sense of this?
Ms. SABATER: You know, I think that, yeah, in a lot of ways, people are saying, you know, if it was just used as a perfect prank to get attention. But I think it's an act of hatred. The statue itself - did you see?
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Why don't you tell us…
Ms. SABATER: It doesn't look like him. It doesn't…
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: Tell us a little bit about the statue. I've heard a lot criticism of what the statue actually looks like which is why you're laughing.
Ms. SABATER: It looks nothing like him. I mean, I am trying to figure out who does it look like but nothing at all. It has this weird facial hair going on there that just - I don't know. Kind of looks like Uncle Ben's, but you know, rocking a really good…
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. SABATER: …goatee.
CHIDEYA: That's pretty harsh.
Mr. JOHNSON: (Unintelligible).
CHIDEYA: Earl, what do you think of the statue?
Mr. DUNOVANT: Of the statue?
CHIDEYA: Yes, did you take a look?
Ms. SABATER: Did you look at the statue?
CHIDEYA: There's been a lot of criticism, and we can go back to the news thing in a second, but there's been a lot of criticism of whether the statue itself looks like Tupac Shakur?
Mr. DUNOVANT: I don't know what Tupac looks like anymore. It's been - oh, my.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DUNOVANT: Okay. I mean, honestly, I stopped buying anything involving Tupac when he died.
Mr. JOHNSON: Yes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. JOHNSON: But you know the way I look at it? Obviously, someone had to approve it and, you know, if his mom likes it then that's all that matters. So…
Mr. DUNOVANT: Oh, yeah.
Mr. JOHNSON: …but, you know?
Ms. SABATER: Well, obviously the…
Mr. JOHNSON: You know, it doesn't look like - I agree, that's not the Tupac that I remember.
Ms. SABATER: I think she was strong-armed. She was putting something in the Kool-Aid. I don't know.
Mr. JOHNSON: Maybe she put in something. I don't know.
CHIDEYA: We'll have a picture of the Tupac statue for anyone who wants to make their own judgments on our blog nprnewsandviews.org.
Let's go back to the news thing, though, Theo. Are we newsed out in the sense that these incidents are not having the same resonance news wise? Are people still concerned about theis successions of incidents regardless of whether you think they're extremely serious or pranks?
Mr. JOHNSON: I think - I really do believe because it was maybe the Tupac or the statue of Tupac that maybe they didn't look at it as being as serious especially because, you know, you have the different signs(ph): It was a string with the cross or it's just an orange string. So, I guess it depends on what's your definition of the news is.
And, you know, as we - you know, if you look at some of the other previous incidents like in Jena, Louisiana, that was actually a noose, you know, a rope. And so maybe they just didn't take it as seriously. I don't know. I actually received an e-mail on this on the 25th from - I don't know if you guys get e-mails from Doctor Mike, but he has a YouTube video on it. And he says there were some other things that happened also, like racial hand bills were on the base, and the base of the statue was broken. So, you know, I don't know how much of that is true, but it sounds like not all of the information is getting out there, so.
Ms. SABATER: Mm-hmm.
CHIDEYA: Well, there's another aspect to this which is that Stone Mountain, Georgia is also home to confederate memorial and there's another set of statues there and there's also some indications that the Klan operate in and out of Stone Mountain. Earl, does that put a spin on this for you?
Mr. DUNOVANT: Well, I don't know. I think it's going to be hard to get this done like a hate crime regardless of the Klan being in the area, but I think there was hate involved. What I'd rather do, actually, than pursue hate crime legislation is to pursue domestic terrorism legislation.
Mr. DUNOVANT: Because they cannot deny hanging a noose one someone's door is a terroristic act. Okay? There's a lot of discussion about whether it's emotion about blah, blah, blah, blah. No, it is not a hate crime, it is domestic terrorism. We can recognize it, we have laws in the books to deal with as such if we choose to see it as such rather than as some minor dispute over, you know, some black people getting upset over a piece of rope which I have heard. Okay? I mean, I've got - I've been reading stuff on the Net about this noose thing. It's incredible. One guy…
Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah.
Mr. DUNOVANT: …like, oh, 20 nooses in a nation of 300 million people?
Mr. DUNOVANT: Okay?
CHIDEYA: Let me go to you, Liza. The NAACP has declared a state of emergency in response to the increase in reports of violence and prosecution against African-Americans. Also, they say, there's not enough investigation of hate crimes. Would you say that this is something that should be added as a possible hate crime to investigate? How do you choose what to push or not to push in regards to hate crimes?
Ms. SABATER: Well, you know, in this particular case, I mean, we can investigate it and - but I'm torn because at the same time that, you know, like Earl says, you know, this visual is really, you know, in itself, a terrorist act. At the same time we have the situation, like for example, the fires out in L.A., in San Diego and. you know. being used as an excuse to basically terrorize immigrants whether legally documented or not. And so we have a whole rush of different kinds of hate crimes or terrorist acts.
CHIDEYA: All right.
Ms. SABATER: or whatever you want to call it - around the country that we really need to look at more closely.
CHIDEYA: All right. Lady and gentlemen, we got to let you go. Thanks a lot.
Mr. DUNOVANTL: Okay.
Ms. SABATER: Thank you.
Mr. DUNOVANT: Thank you.
Mr. DUNOVANT: Okay.
CHIDEYA: We've been talking to Liza Sabater who publishes the community blog Culture Kitchen. She joined us from our NPR studios in New York. Also, Earl Dunovant blogs at prometheus6.org. And Theo Johnson who blogs on TheoJohnson.net, and he joined us from member station KERA in Dallas.
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