Blog

06 Jul
0

Please, Do Something

By Daniel Holland, ODP Summer Intern, University of Oklahoma

There was a time when crimes were met with retribution, an offender punished not to prevent future wrongdoing but to exact the requisite amount of pain deserved for his misdeed. After this, there came about the idea of preventative justice – Hammurabi took an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth because this brutality would serve as a deterrent from future crime. As our society has evolved, so has our criminal justice system; now things like the death penalty are some of the last vestiges of the preventative justice system. In its place, civilization has developed the notion of rehabilitative justice, of punishments fitting crimes in ways that make it possible for an offender to not only adequately compensate society for his crime, but also learn and grow from his punishment, to become a productive and law abiding member of society. In many ways the US prison system is still absurdly outdated, but nevertheless the American court system has been founded and operated under the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Once proven guilty, a person is then obligated to undergo both punitive and rehabilitative measures to right the wrongs that he has perpetrated.

In the case of Brock Turner, the rapist from Stanford, none of this has happened. Turner is a sex offender, a man so privileged, so entitled, that he thinks that neither law nor basic morality applies to him. [1] Unfortunately, it appears he must have learned this mindset in part from his family, seeing the way his father describes the horror of his son repeatedly and unapologetically violating another human being as “twenty minutes of action” for which his son shouldn’t pay a “steep price”. [2] Leniency, his family calls for, when the woman he violated will never truly shed the massive and inhumane burden that he callously forced upon her. I say again, Turner is the rapist, and the woman he assaulted is the victim. I feel I must repeat that because, looking from the outside in, it may be a little hard to tell who the person being punished is. Turner is not a monster, no, but no longer is he first a college student, son, swimmer, or any other basic identifier. He is a rapist, a man that we must keep society safe from, and yet because he is rich, or white, or athletic, or simply born with a Y chromosome, he will lose a maximum of six short months of his life. As punishment, this is laughably ineffective. As rehabilitation, this is a charade. As recompense, this is worse than useless.

Innocent until proven guilty: these are strong words, powerful words, words our laws and courts are built on. Except there’s a twist when a woman has the courage to face the odds and let it be known that she has been victimized (I would like to take a second here to acknowledge that men can be the victim of rape as well. The statistics given here are not applicable for these cases, but in many ways male rape victims face more social pressure than women do). Suddenly, no longer is the suspect innocent until proven guilty, but the victim instead considered unreliable until proven raped. Studies have been done, statistics compiled, databases perused, and the evidence is overwhelming that the majority of sexual assault cases are not even reported- around 60%.[3] Of those 40% of rapes and assaults that do end up reported, somewhere between an estimated 19.5% and 40% result in prosecution, arrest, or trial. At the high end, this means that only 16% of rape cases have any chance whatsoever at being addressed by our criminal justice system. Keep in mind that, at maximum, being generous with the numbers, around 7% of rape cases are false alarms. [4] That leaves 93% of cases that had very, very real sexual violence, and nothing is done for the vast majority of them.

Those are numbers. Numbers, at the end of the day, don’t mean very much. People do. For every 100 women raped, 16 might have a shot at getting the pathetically small amount of consolation that a successful prosecution can bring. 84 women will not. But that’s their fault, right? I mean, 60% of rapes don’t even get reported and suddenly it’s our fault that these women aren’t getting the protection and justice that they both need and deserve? Well, yes, it is.

Take another look at the Brock Turner case. This has been twisted into a discussion of both racial and class privilege, but that’s honestly more a particularly perverted symptom of a long-running epidemic in America. We don’t trust the women courageous enough to report their trauma, we laugh and we pry and we paste their names and clothes and texts all over our media. We make excuses for their rapists and ask if they’re sure they didn’t like it. Are you sure you were raped? I mean, are you sure you’re sure? Come on, look at this guy, he’s a swimmer, he’s rich, he’s smart, you’re probably exaggerating. A woman has to relieve her trauma, again and again and again, at the precinct and in the courtroom and behind closed doors and in the media and with her family and with her friends and with her partners and it never stops. All that has to happen, and then she gets to be one of the 16%, one of the few who actually has a chance to look the man who raped her in the eye and tell him how he hurt her, what he did and how she will never be the same again.

Then, after ALL of that, after all of the questions and news articles and concerned text messages and inquisitive eyes and hateful mail, after all of the bullshit that we make women go through, her assailant might still go free. Or he might get six months in jail, like Big Bad Brock Turner did. RAINN estimates that 3% of rapes result in jail time for the rapist.[5] Three percent. Oh, maybe that number is too low, it’s certainly true that rape isn’t reported nearly enough to have truly comprehensive, reliable rape statistics. But how high can that number get before you feel like we don’t need to take any action? For me, it’s 100%. And a little basic math tells you that it’s pretty impossible to have 100% of rapists put where they belong when 60% of rapes don’t even get reported.

So, we know that rape happens, and we realistically know roughly how often it happens- the statistic that people like to give is that 1 out of 5 women will be sexually assaulted in college.[6] No, sexual assault doesn’t always mean rape- but I’m pretty sure you don’t want your sister or daughter or mother assaulted regardless of how the incident is legally classified. We know rape happens, and we know it doesn’t get reported, and we know why that is. An unceasing spotlight on victims that cross-analyzes every hazy memory of a traumatic incident, prosecutors combing through testimony looking for every “gotcha!” discrepancy. Reporting a rape means that there will be concerned friends and family helpless to help, and strangers who will know every intimate detail of a horrific, life-shattering event. Low conviction rates, public ridicule, court fees, appeals, dredging up past trauma every time a new attorney or judge or jury needs to hear exactly where you were touched or penetrated or groped or abused. Can you blame a woman who either cannot or will not subject herself to the gauntlet that we call a criminal justice system?

We know all of this, and now that we know, we have a duty that goes far beyond a mere obligation to do the right thing. We have a responsibility to not only protect the victims of rape from their assailants, but to insulate them from the demands and gossip and additional trauma that our society and our current criminal justice system rain down on them the second they try to seek help. How can we do this? We can start by enforcing laws already on the books. We can start by giving rapists convicted of their heinous crime by a judge or jury of their peers an actual sentence, not a slap on the wrist. None of this six month bullshit, but a sentence that will give a convicted rapist cause for remorse, a sentence that will force a potential rapist to pause and consider if he really should risk everything for “twenty minutes of action”. [7] A six month sentence is how you punish someone for shoplifting, not how you protect a woman from trauma that could reverberate throughout her entire life.

It doesn’t stop there, though. The focus is not only on the rapist, but on the cultures that support them. We need to root these enablers out. Art Briles and his staff at Baylor, Joe Paterno and his staff at PSU, fraternity members on nearly any campus you care to name; anyone else who would rather turn off the lights and shut the door than scream bloody murder at the top of their lungs.[8] We need follow the laws on the books, destroy the support systems that rapists too often enjoy, and then the job will have been started. We have to educate our sons and daughters on how utterly important, how unequivocally paramount it is that rape not be allowed in our society. Excuses may not be made, rapes may not be mitigated, and rapists may not be absolved. Rape culture must be stamped out, completely, entirely, razed to the ground and then burned again.

All that is the first step, it is the literal bare minimum for a society that could possibly be considered fair, just, or humane. But this is not a job that can be accomplished without Congressional action. We need to tackle the backlog of rape kits that have yet to be tested, each and every one of which could hold the key to taking another rapist off the streets- the Debbie Smith Act of 2004 was meant to address this, but as of FY2015 Congress has underfunded it by almost $55 million.[9] We need to ensure that rapes and assaults committed on campus receive the high degree of scrutiny that they demand- the Clery Act of 1990 is one of many that is intended to provide this scrutiny, but all too often colleges, athletic departments, and fraternities shirk from their duty of reporting and aiding the prosecution of rapes that happen on campus.[10] We need to offer the financial help and compensation needed for victims of rape and sexual assault need to move on- something that the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 is meant to address, but with maximum benefits averaging about $25,000, it should be clear that additional legislation in this area is needed as well.[11]

Most of all, we need to do something. Contact your legislator and voice your support for the legislation mentioned above or propose ideas for new laws, volunteer at a home dedicated to serving victims of rape and sexual abuse, stand up and say something the next time you see something that you know in your heart is wrong. Do something, because this isn’t a problem that will just go away. This is a problem that needs YOU to say something; do something; take action. Next time, it could be one of your loved ones in the media, shamed and shaken and helpless, taken behind a dumpster or left on a bathroom floor. Before it is, please, do something.


[1] “Brock Turner’s sentence is another sad case of leniency,” last modified June 2016, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/readersreact/la-ol-le-brock-turner-stanford-assault-affluenza-20160615-snap-story.html

[2] “Stanford swimmer convicted of sex assault,” last modified June 10th, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-stanford-rape-case-documents-release-20160610-snap-htmlstory.html

[3] “The truth about a viral graphic on rape statistics,” last modified December 9th, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2014/12/09/the-truth-about-a-viral-graphic-on-rape-statistics/

[4] “False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue,” last modified 2009, http://www.ndaa.org/pdf/the_voice_vol_3_no_1_2009.pdf

[5] “97 of Every 100 Rapists Receive No Punishment,” last modified May 27th, 2012, https://www.rainn.org/news/97-every-100-rapists-receive-no-punishment-rainn-analysis-shows

[6] “Statistics About Sexual Violence,” last modified 2015, http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf

[7] “Light Sentence for Brock Turner,” last modified June 6th, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/07/us/outrage-in-stanford-rape-case-over-dueling-statements-of-victim-and-attackers-father.html?_r=0

[8] “Frat brothers rape 300% more,” September 24th, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/24/rape-sexual-assault-ban-frats

[9] “Debbie Smith Act,” https://www.rainn.org/articles/debbie-smith-act

[10] “Clery Act,” https://www.rainn.org/articles/clery-act

[11] “Crime Victim Compensation,” https://www.rainn.org/articles/crime-victim-compensation

13 Jun
0

Statement on Orlando Terrorist Attack

[Oklahoma City, OK, June 13, 2016] In response to the terrorist attack this weekend at an Orlando gay nightclub, Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair, Mark Hammons, released the following statement:

“We offer our deepest sympathy to the victims of the Orlando massacre and their families and friends. We grieve with members of the LGBT community, not only in Orlando, but across the country.

“This is not a time of partisanship, rather it is a time of somber reflection. The horror committed must awaken a sense of responsibility in our citizens and leaders that hateful speech begets hateful actions. We cannot ostracize members of our society because of their sexual preference, gender identification, nationality, race, or religion but instead value all individuals as our fellow citizens worthy of love and respect. We have to work together to counter the extremist, radical ideology that perverts religion and encourages acts of terror and hatred.

“To merely condemn this crime is not enough. Today we offer comfort and support for those affected by this horrific act, and look to the coming days in which we must dedicate ourselves to addressing the root of the problem. We must reaffirm our shared commitment to the values of equality and dignity that define us as Americans. We must stand united and not allow terrorists and murderers to tear us down or divide us.

“The Oklahoma Democratic Party stands with the LGBT community with continued dedication to fight for the protection and rights of all individuals.”

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09 Jun
0

Oklahoma Republicans Have Failed Our Municipalities

By Daniel Holland, ODP Summer Intern, University of Oklahoma

“Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” As he delivered his first inaugural address, it’s easy to imagine that Ronald Reagan was channeling vintage Thoreau – “that government is best which governs least.” After all, the Republican Party is the champion of small government, the All-American bulwark against governmental tyranny and universal healthcare. The Democrats, so the narrative goes, want to steal your hard earned money because they’re either sinister or dumb, but the Grand Ol’ Party is here to protect you from the feds.

It’s a great narrative, delivered so consistently over the years that the GOP has managed to brand itself as the party of small government through sheer persistence, even though the facts don’t always justify the nomenclature. Do you buy their facade? You certainly shouldn’t, not if you’re an Oklahoman who has seen firsthand exactly what Republican “governance” means for the municipalities under their control. You know; the municipalities that should be benefitting from all that devolved power Republicans never stop going on about.

The reality is that “small government” has become just another way of saying “the feds can’t tell us to do things that we don’t want to do”. You don’t like gay marriage? No problem, just steep your argument in the small-government-teakettle for a few minutes, throw in a pinch of states-rights spice, and you’ll be good to go! Sniff around a little more, however, and you’ll find that this small-government methodology gets thrown out with the bathwater as soon as any smaller governments fail to pass the muster of conservative orthodoxy. Nationally, we’ve had more than a few of these little glitches recently- the North Carolina legislature’s decision to disallow Charlotte, NC’s progressive bathroom legislation stands out as one example.[1] This kind of stuff is already old hat in Oklahoma though, where it has become fairly commonplace for our Republican legislators to run roughshod over the needs and wants of Oklahoma municipalities.

Take SB 809, signed into law by Governor Fallin a little more than a year ago. Prior to 2009, Oklahoma had an annual average of two earthquakes magnitude 3 or greater. In 2015, there were 907, part of a rash of earthquakes in the Central US that was enough for Oklahoma to top California as the most earthquake-prone state in the US. The US Geological Survey refers to these earthquakes as “injection induced seismicity”, which refers to the way the hydraulic fracking produces wastewater that causes earthquakes when it is injected back into the earth after the fracking process is done.[2][3] Last year several Oklahoma municipalities felt strongly enough over these earthquakes that they attempted to issue drilling ordinances to regulate the fracking that was going on in their jurisdictions.[4] The will of those municipalities was quickly disregarded, however, when Republican legislators started hearing from their oil and gas patrons, leading to SB 809, which states that municipalities “may not effectively prohibit or ban any oil and gas operations.”[5] Our Oklahoma Republicans love small government, until angry donors start calling.

Realistically, it’s not going to surprise anyone that oil and gas lobbyists wield outsized influence in Oklahoma- at this point, that’s pretty much par for the course. One thing that a Republican legislature definitely would not do, though, is raise taxes on municipalities. After all, that’s basically what the small government mentality is- don’t take our money, and we’ll take care of ourselves. Oklahoma Republicans are really good at cutting taxes. Really, really good, so good that a state with a current budget deficit of $1.3 billion is estimated to lose over $1 billion annually because of income tax cuts.[6] That deficit is why State Question 779 has been proposed as a way of funding education, since Republicans aren’t offering any other ways to get public education the funds that it needs.

Proposed by OU President and former Oklahoma Senator David Boren, SQ 779 is projected to generate $615 million a year via a one percent increase in the state sales tax.[7] That’s a regressive policy that hurts those in lower income brackets more, because a higher portion of their income is dedicated to consumption, and in normal years it probably wouldn’t stand a chance of passing. In 2016 though, it needs to pass, because otherwise we’ll have hundreds of teacher vacancies and dozens of school districts on four-day weeks. It needs to pass, even though the sales tax is one of the primary and only sources of revenue for municipalities, and even though raising the state sales tax means that municipalities will now be working with less revenue and less ways to bring in revenue. The only other option our Republican legislators have left us with is to watch Oklahoma education drive off the same cliff that Kansas Republicans just steered their own education system over.[8][9] Remember, we’re in this position because our Republican-controlled legislature failed to find a legislative solution to the budget crisis, with the Senate refusing to even consider a bill that would avert a scheduled income tax cut projected to lose the state around $150 million in FY2017.[10]

There are plenty of other examples to point to, sadly. While Oklahoma Republicans steadfastly refuse a Medicaid expansion that would save the Oklahoma healthcare system an estimated $464 million over the next ten years, 56% of rural Oklahoma hospitals operated at a financial loss between 2009 and 2013.[11][12] Instead of finding new revenue sources this past session, Oklahoma Republicans wasted all of our time with doomed-from-the-start HB 1552, which would have criminalized doctors who performed legal abortions and cost Oklahoma taxpayers millions in court fees, if Governor Fallin had not had the good sense to veto a clearly unconstitutional bill.[13] There’s a well-established precedent in Oklahoma that puts the conservative orthodoxy of Republican legislators over the well-being of their Oklahoman constituents. How can you fight that? Vote Democrat.

 


Citations:

[1] “North Carolina Bans Local Anti-Discrimination Policies,” last modified March 23rd, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/24/us/north-carolina-to-limit-bathroom-use-by-birth-gender.html

[2] “Injection-Induced Seismicity,” last modified December 2nd, 2013, http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/nca/seminars/2013-12-02/

[3] “Oklahoma’s Rise in Quakes Linked to Man-Made Causes,” last modified May 8th, 2016, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-oklahoma-rise-in-quakes-linked-to-man-made-causes/

[4] “Oklahoma Lawmakers Vote To Outlaw Fracking Bans,” last modified April 23rd, 2015, http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/04/23/3650316/oklahoma-local-drilling-bans/

[5] “Bill Information for SB 809,” last modified May 25th, 2016, http://www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=sb809&Session=1600

[6] “The Cost of Tac Cuts in Oklahoma,” last modified January 12th, 2016, http://okpolicy.org/the-cost-of-tax-cuts-in-oklahoma/

[7] “Oklahoma One Percent Sales Tax,” last modified Spring 2016, https://ballotpedia.org/Oklahoma_One_Percent_Sales_Tax,_State_Question_779_(2016)

[8] “Revenue from Taxes,” last modified 2013, http://www.nlc.org/build-skills-and-networks/resources/cities-101/city-finances/local-revenue-structures/revenue-from-taxes

[9] “Kansas Supreme Court Rejects Lawmakers’ Bid To Fix Education Funding,” last modified May 27th, 2016, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/05/27/479792843/kansas-supreme-court-rejects-lawmakers-bid-to-fix-education-funding

[10] “Roll Back the Income Tax Cut,” last modified April 22nd, 2016, http://okpolicy.org/56315-2/

[11] “Medicaid expansion gets no tractions in state Legislature,” last modified February 9th, 2015, http://newsok.com/article/5391585

[12] “Oklahoma rural hospitals in critical condition,” last modified August 3rd, 2015, http://newsok.com/article/5437748

[13] “Oklahoma Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Charge Abortion Doctors,” last modified May 20th, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/21/us/oklahoma-governor-mary-fallin-vetoes-abortion-bill.html?_r=0

02 Jun
0

ODP Statement on National Gun Violence Awareness Day

The Oklahoma Democratic Party mourns the senseless violence that yesterday morning very publicly claimed the life of Professor William S. Klug, a 39 year old father of two, and one UCLA student, a man who was both villain and victim. Their deaths weigh heavily on the hearts and minds of ODP staff, as do the deaths of the 89 other Americans lost to gun violence every day. We are heartbroken for the families of the seven children murdered through gun violence every day, most of all for the two families waking up to the bitterly cold reality of a child lost to suicide, every day.

If there was ever a time for politics, this is not it. If there was ever a time to stick to the safety of a high horse, this is not it. We here in Oklahoma are as guilty as the rest of America; guilty of the negligence and inattention that continues to let one organization inhibit our country from taking the necessary steps to staunch the blood spilled due to gun violence. Over 32,000 lives are lost a year. If you think of them, pray for them, rage for them or cry for them, remember the 32,000 mothers and 32,000 fathers who are thinking, praying, raging, and crying for them as well.

This is not a time for politics because this is a time for action. You know the price of apathy. America, we have a choice: continue to give the funeral homes our business, or wake up, stand up, and make it known that enough is enough. Comprehensive background checks, closing loopholes, actually enforcing pre-existing laws: “common-sense gun safety laws” may not excite the imagination, but the only thing truly unimaginable is doing nothing.

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Citations:
1. “Professor Killed in UCLA Murder-Suicide,” last modified June 1, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-ucla-shooting-20160601-snap-story.html

2. “Key Gun Violence Statistics,” last modified 2016, http://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics

19 May
0

Republican Lawmakers Refuse to Address Real Issues

We don’t have to look very far to find behavior of bratty children, as it continues to run rampant at the Oklahoma State Capitol. While school children are walking out of their classrooms to hold rallies and march to the Capitol in an effort to urge legislators to end the systematic destruction of public education, their outcries fall on deaf ears as lawmakers consider legislation to ban students from using facilities which correspond to their gender identity.

“We tell our children to be themselves, to be proud of who they are, then turn around and tell them to do all of that only if it’s on someone else’s terms. Is it not enough that our children must deal with crumbling school buildings, loss of their favorite teachers, and the elimination of arts and music programs? Must we also facilitate and legitimize bullying as well?” said Sarah Baker, Oklahoma Democratic Party Communications Director.

There is just one week left of session, yet there is no budget, Oklahoma health care options are being wiped out left and right, and school districts are taking drastic measures just to keep the doors open next year. Meanwhile, Speaker Hickman and Pro Tem Brian Bingman hold floor sessions too short to get any real business done and go into recess to throw a party for the Republican House caucus.

“What does it say to the thousands of Oklahoma families who fear losing their local health care provider or the only hospital within an hour’s drive when the legislature can’t conduct any meaningful business for four months?” Baker continued. “What does it say to the parents who may lose their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – money out of their already stretched pockets – to fill a budget hole created from irresponsible Republican tax cuts to the corporate elite? What about the aspiring musicians who depend on their middle or high school band program to prepare them to seek scholarships for college?

“This year it has become more apparent than ever that the legislative “leadership” within the Republican Party, is not there to do a job but to hold a title. Instead of addressing economic issues, the public education crisis, and a crumbling infrastructure, they get mired down in social issues and wasting taxpayer dollars on unconstitutional legislation.”

The 2016 legislative session is set to adjourn by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, May 27th.

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