Only crime and the criminal…confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core. – Hannah Arendt
A [San Antonio, Texas] jury…acquitted Ezekiel Gilbert of murder in the death of a 23-year-old Craigslist escort…Lenora Ivie Frago…died about seven months after she was shot in the neck and paralyzed on Christmas Eve 2009. Gilbert admitted shooting Frago…but said the intent wasn’t to kill. Gilbert’s actions were justified, [his lawyers] argued, because he was trying to retrieve stolen property: the $150 he paid Frago. It became theft when she refused to have sex with him or give the money back…Frago walked around his apartment and after about 20 minutes left, saying she had to give the money to her driver…[who] was [allegedly] Frago’s pimp and her partner in the theft scheme. The Texas law that allows people to use deadly force to recover property during a nighttime theft was put in place for “law-abiding” citizens, prosecutors…countered. It’s not intended for someone trying to force another person into an illegal act such as prostitution…
That article, which was reasonably objective by the low standards of modern American journalism, was not the one which was bruited about the most, however; that honor went to Gawker‘s “Texas Says It’s OK to Shoot an Escort If She Won’t Have Sex With You”, whose inflammatory headline masked its essentially-similar content. Jezebel’s take on the matter, “How an Insane Texas Law Made It Legal for a Man to Kill a Prostitute”, carried it another step farther away from the real issue at hand, but Huffington Post won the obfuscation hat trick with “Ezekiel Gilbert Acquitted Of Murdering Woman Who Wouldn’t Have Sex”, a headline which almost completely obscures the real point. But before we expose the moral putrefaction which made this deplorable outcome possible, let’s dispense with a few other distractions.
One: This is not about Texas per se, no matter how much regionalists are trying to make it so; nor is it about “American gun culture” or any other such crap. Pretending it’s about that is an unhelpful distraction from the real issues at hand, and therefore NOT A WELCOME TOPIC FOR DISCUSSION IN THE COMMENT THREAD. Nearly every place in the world would excuse behavior not materially different from Gilbert’s as long as “authorized” people are shooting at those designated as criminals, and arguing about which specific circumstances justify it is a red herring.
Two: I don’t really feel comfortable with using a woman who at first glance appears to be either an extortionist or a really inept cash-and-dash artist as a poster child for violence against sex workers. No, petty theft doesn’t deserve death, but at the same time it’s really stupid, dangerous and unethical to go into a strange place alone with a strange man and attempt to cheat him (if Gilbert is telling the truth, which is by no means certain). This is not “victim blaming”; it’s insisting that discussions be grounded in reality rather than some imaginary Utopia where life is fair.
Three: To those who insists that Gilbert was essentially trying to rape Frago, because escorting is a legal business and it says right there in the ad that “money exchanged is for time and companionship only” and “this is not an offer of prostitution”: Please shut the fuck up. You are an idiot, you’re not helping, and you need to reread the last line in the item above and then get a life.
Four: No, it really doesn’t matter that she had a vagina and he had a penis; the advantage of a gun is that it removes physical size and strength from the equation. The core issues here would be exactly the same if a female drug user had shot a male drug dealer for selling her a bag of cornstarch for $150 instead of the heroin she was promised.
That last conveniently introduces the real issue here, the rotten core of this whole rotten situation. In Texas (as in most of the United States), the exchange of money for sex is illegal in and of itself. I’ll clarify that for international readers: in the US, just talking about something or agreeing to do something completely legal suddenly becomes illegal if certain taboo magic words are spoken or even implied. Let that sink in: no evidence of any kind is necessary, just the cop’s accusation. And it swings equally both ways: a policewoman can accuse a man of soliciting her just as easily as a male cop can accuse a woman, and the chosen victim will be arrested and “named and shamed” with no due process whatsoever, just on a cop’s say-so. Furthermore, in Texas and ten other states, prostitution can be a felony (i.e. the same class of crime as assault, rape, grand theft, manslaughter, etc); under rapidly-spreading “end demand” and “sex trafficking” laws, hiring a hooker can be as well (with a potential for decades in prison and other serious consequences). In Craigslist-style hooking, there’s no screening in either direction; both parties know the other could be a cop, and that makes both of them understandably nervous…possibly nervous enough to walk around for twenty minutes and then lose one’s nerve, and possibly nervous enough to get trigger-happy.
And that’s just the beginning of the rot. Consider that the prohibitionists have been spreading anti-whore lies for a very long time; we’ve been “degenerates” or “monsters” for centuries, “criminals” for one century and the victims of brutal “pimps” (who may also be international gangsters) for over a decade now (there was an alleged “pimp” right outside, remember?) Which of these overlapping myths did the jurors believe? The law used by Gilbert’s defense was enacted to allow homeowners to defend themselves against robbery, which Texas law pretends is no worse a crime than compensated sex. The defense portrayed Gilbert as a man facing a “criminal” defined by Texas law as being at least as anti-social as a burglar, whom neofeminist prohibitionists have painted as being desperate, emotionally crippled and dominated by brutes. Prosecutors like to select jurors who display strong “law and order” attitudes; it appears to me that this time, they succeeded better than they had hoped because the jurors simply refused to see the “criminal” Frago as a victim. But before you condemn them as sociopaths, let’s try a thought experiment: go back to number four above. Can you imagine a big outcry in that situation? If both participants in that incident were black, can you even imagine it becoming a national news story, let alone a source of outrage? And if Gilbert had been wearing a certain blue costume, and his victim had been young and male, and the so-called “crime” had involved buying drugs rather than buying sex, it might never have made it into the San Antonio Express-News as anything other than a line item under the heading “police reports”.
This is the putrid heart of the whole stinking business. Though we may disagree on the particulars (such as allowed levels of provocation and lethality), most people will agree that individuals have the right to defend themselves against criminals. But when “authorities” and other dangerous busybodies stretch the definition of “criminal” to include people engaged in voluntary transactions, then spread propaganda in order to convince the populace that individuals so engaged are criminals in a true and meaningful sense rather than a merely arbitrary one, and then pass laws so dangerous and repressive that those individuals fear for their safety and actual criminals are drawn into the resulting black market, is anyone surprised when twelve ignorant people with no personal interest in the matter can be swayed by whichever of two important-looking men makes a more convincing argument? Because that’s exactly what happened here, folks: in matters of great complexity, when neither of the sides seems terribly sympathetic, our legal system is on exactly the same moral level as trial by combat; the contest is decided by the relative skill of the opponents rather than the salient facts of the question to be decided. As long as we allow and even encourage our governments to criminalize private, consensual behaviors with no clear victim and no actual corpus delicti, lots more people are going to be senselessly killed and lots of senseless killers are going to get away with it. And no hypocrite who supports such a system has any business whatsoever complaining about that inevitable and highly-predictable outcome.