Chris Henry’s Death Exposes Double Standard

Toxicology reports are back for NFL wide receiver Chris Henry. The results show that Henry died in Charlotte last December from a fractured skull and other head injuries, which occurred when he jumped or fell from a moving truck; his fiancée Loleini Tonga was behind the wheel. The story made national headlines and kicked off a media frenzy about Tonga’s innocence or guilt.

High-profile domestic disputes, especially those involving NFL players, aren’t new in Charlotte. Former Carolina Panther Ray Carruth murdered the mother of his child more than 10 years ago. And in 2003, Deidra Lane killed Carolina Panthers running back Fred Lane, alleging domestic abuse.

Folks took a particular interest in the Henry case because the athlete, who experienced some problems early in his career, had supposedly turned his life around, winning his spot back on the Cincinnati Bengals — a team that had previously dismissed him for bad behavior.

According to witnesses, Tonga was fleeing a domestic dispute with Henry at the couple’s home. Henry jumped into the back of the pick-up truck when Tonga drove off and, somehow, he was ejected from the vehicle. Authorities ruled the incident an accident, declining to press charges against Tonga.

When the accident first happened, comment threads surfaced on the Web calling Tonga a murderer. Some people said: “Had she just pulled over, he would be alive.” I thought to myself, “Had he been able to control his emotions and not chased her out of the house and jumped on the back of the truck when she left, he would be alive.”

I heard and read that Tonga was driving at breakneck speed, purposely making him fall off of the truck. Investigators found that Tonga was not traveling more than 19 mph. I thought perhaps Henry’s anger, adrenaline or superior physical condition contributed to his “jumping” from the truck. I remember trying to reserve judgment until more facts became available, even though in my mind it was clear that it was a dispute gone wrong.

But when trying to chat about it with friends, male and female, the same tone crept into the conversation: Tonga, who was called every name but a child of God (including “bitch,” “whore” and “gold digger”), was supposedly this venomous woman who plotted to trap Henry and purposely kill him. Really? It’s always interesting that people think athletes are so much better than the women they date. But I digress.

When I asked folks who spoke so harshly about Tonga what was driving their anger, many simply stated that they were giving Henry the benefit of the doubt. I thought to myself: “Why weren’t they willing to give Tonga the benefit of the doubt?” One friend said Tonga left him on the side of the road, which shows that she knew what she was doing. But Henry, who ran out of his house and jumped in the back of her truck, didn’t know what he was doing? Another colleague stated that if Tonga had stayed in the house or not driven off, Henry would be alive. I wondered aloud, “But would Tonga be alive?”

It was clear that very few people cared about this woman because she wasn’t an NFL player. In their minds, she was some “groupie” who bagged a professional athlete and killed him for no reason. Folks were blind to the facts that were coming out about the case. With all of that selective hearing and reading, it was determined that Tonga was a horrible person. I suppose if a woman isn’t a pop superstar, then it doesn’t matter if she’s involved in a volatile or abusive romantic relationship. But that’s another article.

The irony of the situation is that this type of thinking about women informs domestic violence. Women as evil temptresses who lead men to do dubious things is part of the world’s historical narrative in all aspects of society including religion, education and popular culture. It is communicated to us every day that women are objects of desire who cannot be trusted. When women try to escape this way of thinking, they are usually punished … much like Tonga. And it is not just men who think like this — it is also women, many of whom raise batterers.

With the recent findings that Henry was not intoxicated or on drugs during the incident, the hating on Tonga has resumed. The failure to address Henry’s role in the domestic dispute that cost him his life has resumed as well. While domestic violence incidents are present, real conversations about the problem are nonexistent.

This incident made me think about the countless number of domestic disputes that happen in Charlotte that don’t get national news coverage. Last year 617 women were admitted to Charlotte’s Shelter for Battered Women. More than 2,000 were turned away. So what are victims to do if there is nowhere for them to run?

A campaign is currently underway to build a larger battered women’s shelter, which is good and bad for obvious reasons. Unless we get a handle on this epidemic, clearly there will be plenty of high- and no-profile cases. As evidenced by the Henry case, no one wins when it comes to domestic violence.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing. She is also an editor-at-large for TheRoot.com, where she writes the Buzz Section and feature stories.

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The Tradition of Hate Continues

“The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they will learn their place again.” — Sen. “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman speaking about President Theodore Roosevelt hosting Booker T. Washington at the White House in 1900.

OK, is it just me or does it seem that society is moving backward? The above hate language was spouted by then S.C. Sen. Ben Tillman, who was angered about a black man being invited to the White House. In 2010, folks — like Republican S.C. Sen. Jake Knotts — clearly feel that way about the S.C. governor’s office and the White House.

During a radio show that was taped in a Columbia bar, Knotts called Rep. Nikki Haley, an Indian-American Republican woman running for governor, a “fucking raghead” several times while explaining how he believed she was hiding her true religion from voters.

Haley has been endorsed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, but is under fire from Knotts because she is an Indian woman running against his candidate of choice: Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. It doesn’t matter that she is a Christian and recognizes Sikh celebrations in deference to her parents. It only matters that she is Indian and was raised in a monotheistic religious household. Is Newt Gingrich, who was raised Baptist and was a practicing Baptist most of his life, less of a Republican because he converted to Catholicism?

During Knotts’ rant, he stated that there was already a “raghead” in the White House. And, not to worry: Like a good Christian, he did apologize for using the “F” word.

Unfortunately, the South Carolina tradition of using political spaces to spout venomous and hateful speech has not evolved even though the state is changing in many ways. People were up in arms over Rep. Joe Wilson shouting “You lie!” to President Obama, but Knotts’ comments haven’t generated as much of a backlash. It is clear that Knotts’ problem with Haley has nothing to do with her politics, which are very close to his, but everything to do with her race, gender and religious identity. The thought of someone who isn’t male and white winning the governor’s office literally drives Knotts, and people like him, mad. The saddest part about Knotts’ words is that they are hateful and incite more hate speech and hateful behavior in our society.

I was shocked and appalled to learn of the recent alleged shooting and dragging death of a black man in Newberry, S.C. Anthony Hill, 30, of Winnsboro, S.C., was found dead on the side of U.S. Highway 176. According to CBSnews.com, police followed the trail of blood from Hill’s body that stretched over 10 miles to a trailer occupied by 19-year-old Gregory Collins. The coroner stated that Hill died from a gunshot wound and police are trying to determine why Collins dragged the body after Hill was killed. The crime is being investigated possibly as a hate crime because of how the crime was executed, pun intended, and the fact that Collins is white and Hill is black.

The dragging death or lynching of a black man is not new, especially in the Carolinas with its long history of lynching and anti-civil rights rhetoric and legislation. According to John Hammond Moore’s Carnival of Blood: Dueling, Lynching, and Murder in South Carolina 1880-1920, there were 144 verified lynchings in South Carolina between 1880 and 1947. In recent memory, the high-profile dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in June 1998 in Jasper, Texas, generated countless headlines, so it isn’t like South Carolina is breaking ground in the area of hate. What is interesting is how hate crimes intersect with hate rhetoric, which is clearly on the rise. I would argue that the case involving Hill and Collins, co-workers and acquaintances, is a recent example of this.

I don’t understand why folks can get arrested for falsely yelling, “Fire!” in a public place, because it threatens public safety, but can say hateful things, which is also a threat to public safety — particularly those who are on the receiving end of hate.

It was recently reported that a group in Prescott, Arizona, was calling for a mural depicting faces of blacks and Latinos on a public school to be lightened or changed to white … but that’s not even the bad part. While working on the mural, people were driving by, shouting racial epithets at the adults and children painting the mural. With Arizona’s recent frenzy of racist legislation (legalized racial profiling and the elimination of ethnic studies from public school curricula) is it a stretch to imagine that some sort of violence will probably follow?

Which leads me squarely back to South Carolina, which has a tradition of politicians — Democrat and Republican — using their office as a bully pulpit, pun intended, to incite hateful behavior. Hate speech creates the climate and conditions that are ripe for hate crimes. I just hope that some people come to this realization before someone else loses his/her life.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing. She is an editor-at-large for TheRoot.com, where she writes the Buzz section and a bi-weekly column.

Emmett Till Still Matters

What are the chances that the birthday of the late King of Pop, the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the most devastating natural disasters in American history and the anniversary of the death of civil rights icon Emmett Till would occur on the same weekend?

Most would say, slim to none.

Well the unlikely has occurred and three of the most monumental events in American history are being remembered this weekend. The birth of Michael Jackson, a legend and an icon has overshadowed the others because of the sudden nature of his death and the tragic circumstances surrounding it. Hurricane Katrina is getting some play in the media, but the recent death of the Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, has been at the top of the news cycle.

The anniversary of the death of Emmett Till has been a blip on the radar screen, save the announcement that his casket will become a part of the Smithsonian collection. Yes, the casket that was discarded along with many others in a Chicago cemetery now has a final resting place. Ironically, the reckless regard with which Till’s casket has been treated is reflective of how his memory and legacy has been treated by the media.

This is a young boy who was killed for whistling at a white woman, allegedly. He was murdered by grown men who dared leave his disfigured body to rot in the Tallahatchie river with a 70 pound cotton gin fan tied to his body with barbed wire. It was Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, who had enough of black boys being murdered because of the color of their skin that insisted that her son’s body be shown to the world, so that people could truly see the face of racism.

It is interesting that on the 54th anniversary of Emmett Till’s senseless death, America is fixated on everything but the memory of this black boy. Funny, we can find how all things and topics relate to President Obama in the media, but not Emmett Till.

The same venom that has been spewed at President Obama is the same venom that put Emmett Till in the ground at 14 years of age and left a city full of poor people, most of whom were black, to die fifty years later.

The disfigured body of Emmett Till speaks to the disfigured face of Michael Jackson, a young, black man destroyed by racism in America in terms of beauty ideals. A young boy from Chicago gave racism a face, insisting that Americans look in the mirror and make some hard discoveries. Michael Jackson’s classic “Man in the Mirror” reflects that very sentiment.

It was Till’s tragic death that put into motion a civil rights movement that the United States had not seen previously. It was the death of this young boy that gave life to the possibility of a Black man becoming President of the United States, also from Chicago.

Till’s ravaged body reflected how black bodies — black lives were discarded during the Hurricane Katrina fiasco —left to rot in a city under water.

Michael Jackson, the survivors of Hurricane Katrina and Emmett Till have a shared legacy. Leave some space in your heart and your mind for Emmett Till this weekend.

Nsenga Burton, Ph.D. is managing editor of TheLoop21.com, where this article originally appeared. She is a cultural critic for Creative Loafing, writes the Pop Culture blog Tune N and is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College.

Jasmine Fiore is Dead

Jasmine Fiore is dead. The young “model” was allegedly murdered by her former husband, reality TV contestant Ryan Jenkins — who was also found dead this past Sunday in British Columbia. You may know him from one of the worst reality television shows ever: Megan Wants a Millionaire, a program where certified skank Megan Hauserman has wealthy men vie for her love.

How did the concept for this reality show emerge? Hauserman was on yet another horrible reality show, Rock of Love — featuring that oh-so-desirable, washed-up musician Bret Michaels — in which she proudly stated that she wanted to be a “trophy wife.”

Unfortunately for Fiore and Hauserman, aspiring to be a “trophy wife” had dire consequences — the murder and mutilation of Fiore and the fact that Hauserman narrowly escaped “marrying” a man who would rather dismember his former wife and stuff her in a suitcase than allow her to see other people. I guess the producers of the reality show weren’t aware of Jenkins’ 2005 arrest for domestic assault, which was followed by a subsequent arrest for domestic battery against Fiore. That’s keeping it real, but I digress.

The idea of being a “trophy” wife is an outdated one because of many reasons, the most important being the type of person whom you invite into your life. Trophy wives are basically objects of desire. While many argue over the origin of the term and what it really means, it generally refers to a beautiful woman who is with a man because of his money and power.

She is supposed to be something lovely to look at — nothing more and nothing less. A man supposedly gains status from having this beautiful woman on his arm, who is present solely at his discretion. In exchange for looking good, she is “taken care of” financially by this powerful man. The only absolute is that she has to maintain her looks and not challenge her successful husband on anything. If everyone is clear on the rules, then what is the problem?

Men like Jenkins are the problem because in their twisted little minds, women are objects. Fiore was nothing but an object to be admired. Jenkins likely freaked out when someone else was “admiring” his possession and hit her. When that didn’t work, he killed her. Jenkins wasn’t alone. Unfortunately, Fiore was complicit in this, too.

Before you start the letter writing campaign, hear me out. No, I absolutely do not think that she deserved to be battered, murdered or mutilated; however, I do believe that perpetuating ideas about women through questionable actions leads to women being mistreated, abused and murdered by crazy men like Jenkins.

While it is tragic that her life ended as it did, this is a woman who made a living out of being objectified.

She was allegedly a Las Vegas stripper and a swimsuit “model.” There have been reports that she posed for Playboy magazine and made nude films. People can argue about what she did and didn’t do, but she clearly made money by exploiting her body. Do a Google search on Jasmine Fiore and you are hard pressed to find a photo in which she is not scantily clad.

Fiore clearly understood that if she had a certain look, then she would be able to get what she wanted out of life and out of men. In her defense, these weak men are out there and can be easily obtained. But living with them isn’t always easy, as was the case with Jenkins.

Jenkins was a successful real estate developer and investor. This was a guy who was clearly used to getting what he wanted. Fiore was undoubtedly an object that Jenkins had to possess. She was willing until he proved to be off-center. By then it was too late. She had already presented herself as a “trophy wife,” and he had already decided in his mind that she had little value other than that of an object to be possessed. When she decided she was more than that, he had to remind her that she was not, so he killed her.

I’m not sure why we’re still pretending to be shocked that this crime happened. It happens every day. We teach little girls that they are nothing more than their genitalia and little boys that they won’t be real men unless they have a ton of money and a pretty woman on their arm.

Why are we surprised that yet another young woman is dead? When women allow men to objectify them or when women willingly objectify themselves, it is not a far stretch to end up in little pieces in a suitcase. Jenkins literally dismembered her as if she were an object and put her in a suitcase to carry around, much like a trophy. She lived as an object and died as an object.

Women must stop being complicit in their objectification by engaging in behaviors that attract the wrong kind of men — weak, shallow and cowardly. Ryan Jenkins was lame — the big, bad man hung himself when authorities were closing in on him. He is symbolic of the type of man who desires a trophy wife: a man who is afraid of the challenge of dealing with a whole woman and the consequences of killing a confused, young woman. Unfortunately, Jasmine Fiore paid the ultimate price for getting “trophy wifed.”

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.  She is also managing editor of TheLoop21.com and an Assistant professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College. Follow her on twitter @ntellectual.

Craigslist Suspect – Just Why is he an “Improbable” Suspect

The “Craigslist Killer” Suspect is in trouble again. He has been charged with pulling a gun on a stripper in R.I. Reporters and pundits alike keep stating that this man is an unlikely predator. Why? Because he’s educated, preppy, blond and engaged? I guess he’s supposed to be Black or Latino, poor and uneducated? I am sick and tired of hearing people try to “explain” this man’s behavior. Men that are engaged or married don’t commit crimes against women.  Yeah, okay.  If the evidence that has unfolded is true, he is a killer — period.

I find it interesting that folks want to find out “why” someone killed or committed a heinous crime when the perpetrator is white, but don’t give a damn about what provoked someone to murder or maim if her or she is black. The way that people are talking about this alleged criminal is bizarre as if his race, education and financial situation bar him from being capable of committing a crime.

This reflects the grossly exaggerated stereotype that criminals are of color and impoverished. Even killers like Susan Smith, who feign insanity, aren’t too crazy to blame a black man for the crime. Why? Because they know that he is already coded as a predator and criminal in the public imagination. It’s funny how that insanity wanes long enough to identify a black man as the perpetrator.

Like Smith, Markoff is not above breaking the law, so please stop acting like it.