[gpga-news] GaVoice: SONG Intervenes in Brandon White case; "prison system . . . never been on (our) side"

Hugh Esco hesco at greens.org
Sat Jul 21 22:14:45 PDT 2012

LGBT group issues statement saying it was not seeking 'leniency' for Brandon White attackers
JULY 20, 2012 14:23

The LGBTQ organization Southerners on New Ground, signers of a letter
to the judge asking no more jail time be served by the young men who
attacked Brandon White, issued a statement July 18 on its website
explaining the motivation for doing so.

The letter was given to Fulton Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford
before the sentencing hearing held July 12-13. The letter was also read
aloud in court. The attack took place in southwest Atlanta on Feb. 4.
The assailants can be heard shouting, "No faggots in Jack City" as the
three young men pummeled White as he tried to escape.

The three defendants — Christopher Cain, 18; Dorian Moragne, 19; and
Darael Williams, 17 — were sentenced to five years in prison and five
years probation by Fulton Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford on
July 13.

When asked why it was important to speak out on this case in
particular, Xochitl Bervera, a lawyer and activist who worked with the
defendants and signed onto the letter, said the community is not helped
and homophobia not erased through long prison sentences.

“I think what’s really important now is that the community move forward
and find ways to talk about how we keep our community safe and end
violence in a way that doesn’t engage state systems that cage people
and target our community,” she said.

It was important to advocate for this strategy using the Brandon White
case because homophobia is not eliminated by sentencing people to
prison, she said.

“In this case there was a lot at stake. As a community we need to start
asking the question of how to stop the cycle of violence, how do we end
hate-based violence and homophobia. And it’s not the prison system,”
she said.

The statement in full by SONG

This statement seeks to bring clarity to SONG’s position on the case of
the violent attack against Brandon White in Atlanta, GA.

First of all, we would like to say that SONG whole-heartedly supports
accountability for the attackers of Brandon White. What happened to
Brandon White was atrocious, and, as LGBTQ people and leaders, we stand
alongside our LGBTQ community in the horror, grief, and anger many of
us feel about this attack. We have never intended to, nor would we,
speak for Brandon White or his family. We urge LGBTQ community members
to acknowledge that individual activists and organizations have
differences of opinion about what accountability looks like, and how it
should be acquired. Yet, we are still united as a community in a common
demand to see justice done and accountability accomplished in this case.

We also know that this case does not stand alone. As an LGBTQ
organization that organizes LGBTQ People of Color, immigrants, rural,
and working class people in the South–we have the painful experience of
seeing these kinds of atrocities happen far too often. Because of this
witnessing, we have as high a stake as any group of LGBTQ people in
seeing this kind of homophobic and transphobic violence end. However,
we do not believe that longer and harsher prison sentences will stop it.

We know that prisons are not institutions that push people to change
and transform patterns of violence. They are cages for poor people and
people of Color that serve those who profit from their labor.  The role
of leadership calls for communities to answer hard questions. We have
to ask ourselves as community leaders: “Do longer and harsher prison
sentences keep our LGBTQ youth safer?” Our answer is No. Because they
do not get to the root of the problem. In the case of White’s
attackers, we do want them to never harm him or anyone else again. In
nineteen years of working with LGBTQ communities in the South, we have
not seen extended prison time halt harms in the long run. However, we
have, in some cases, seen intensive rehabilitation and community
accountability transform harmful people to the point where they not
only no longer do harm, but they stop others from doing harm. Some have
suggested that alternatives to extended prison sentencing are the same
as “leniency”. We do not agree.

We want people who do violence to change, and violence to stop. As
people of principle, we do not get the luxury of just standing by that
principle when it applies to people that we can feel compassion for, or
whom we see as like us. We can be angry, saddened, and pained by this
case and the many others we see every day. That does not mean we get to
forget what we know about the realities of the prison system. For
hundreds of years, we have been told that the police will keep us safe.
They have not kept most of us safe–particularly people of Color,
immigrants, LGBTQ people and poor people.

We have been told that prisons will cure society’s ills and reduce
crime and violence. They have not done so. In the 1970′s, Trans and LGB
people of Color led the Stonewall Riots–and we were clear as a
community that the prison and police systems (not individual officers
alone) are a mechanism by which our communities are policed, hurt and
controlled. The same is true today. We have to hold not only our very
valid and raw feelings about incidents like this attack, but also to
what we know to be true as students of history.

While we stand true to our principles, we deeply regret if any of our
actions have been misconstrued as “siding with the defense of White’s
attackers.” We are, always and forever, on the side of our people. We
simply define ‘our people’ as ALL people who are marginalized, and
history has taught us that the prison systems have never been on the
side of our people.

If you have thoughts / additional questions, please contact
kindred at southernersonnewground.org or 404-549-8628

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