The Tawana Brawley Case
For many years, it has been argued that judicial procedures are more susceptible to be subjective based on race. Usually, the outcome of such bias has resulted in the inequality of racial minorities under the justice system. For instance, the Racial Integrity Act, which advocated for non-marital relations between two people of different races, was an inhumane act that subjected the African American minority to discrimination. The main reason attributed to racial bias is the low level of social control the minorities have, since they are subjected to higher social order and are therefore rendered powerless. One of the most popular cases in the United States that was subjected to racial prejudice was the Tawana Brawley case.
Tawana Brawley was the victim of an alleged rape in 1987. After missing for four days consecutively, the 15-year-old girl was found in a garbage bag unconscious, smeared with dog feces, wearing charred clothes with racist words written on her upper body with charcoal. Days later, Brawley was interviewed by detectives about the events that had transpired on the four days that she had gone missing. Her testimony to the detective surmised that she had been raped repeatedly. She further claimed that her assailants were three men, of which one was a police officer. Furthermore, she said that her assailants were white. However, an investigation, using a rape kit was carried out, which indicated that Brawley had not undergone any sexual assault. Despite the contradicting testimony, the public was sympathetic towards Brawley. Reverend Al Sharpton and two attorneys, Vernon Mason and Alton Maddox, were responsible for managing Brawley’s publicity sparked by the media on her rape claims. The three persons firmly asserted that the accused were being protected by powerful individuals in the state government because the defendants were white. The allegations created euphoria for the media further accumulating racial tensions. The case took place on 6 October 1988, where the jury declared that Brawley’s contention was false indicated by false allegations against state officials, no evidence of sexual abuse, Brawley’s motive to circumvent punishment from her parents and the fact that Brawley did not appear to give her testimony (McFadden, 68-71).
Despite the case being ruled against Brawley by the court, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the justice process was subjected to racial prejudice. First, the State law on child molestation was not adequately followed. According to the decree, the child molested should be taken under custody by the Child Protective Services Agency. Since Tawana Brawley was 15 years old during the period of the incident, the agency did not respond in any way to the girl (Jong-Ebot, et al, 447). At least, the agency could have provided her with psychiatric treatment and protection, but none of this was taken into consideration. Secondly, the grand jury did not surmise the possibility of the occurrence of the rape. There was no evidence to indicate that the jury critically thought about the possibility of Brawley being raped by white men. Instead, the jury mostly relied on societal statements made by the neighbors of the Brawleys and conclusively based their ruling decisions on unsupported evidence. Furthermore, no action was taken to assert Brawley’s reasons for rape allegations. It would have been reasonable for the courts to investigate the emotional state that drove Brawley to create false assertion to the extent of covering herself with dog feces, shaving her hair and lying in a garbage bag as affirmed by the jury.
The media further fueled racial tensions with their attention on Brawley’s case. This is because the black community began expressing their doubts of the American justice system, which seemed to favor the whites (McFadden, 189). This was evidenced by the production of African American films that spread the message that Brawley’s allegations were true. Critics asserted that the Brawley case was a hoax aimed at portraying the white race in America as unconstitutional and unlawful (McFadden, 201). The Brawley case was viewed as a preliminary measure aimed to get back at the whites after the preceding death of Jimmy Lee, who was murdered by a white police officer who was off duty and Michael Griffith who was killed by a gang of white people (Williams, 57). Additionally, the effects of race on the case caused the speculation, which insinuated that the jury’s verdict was part of a conspiracy to cover the real events that transpired that fateful night Brawley claimed to be raped.
In spite of the ruling that saw Brawley, Sharpton and his legal counsel being sued for defamation by the state attorney, Steven Pagones, no efforts have been made to open up the case once again. Brawley’s parents, Glenda Brawley and Ralph King, still believe that the rape allegations were real. This remark was further supported by their actions to appeal to the case by pleading to the governor, Eliot Spitzer and the Attorney General for the state of New York, Andrew Cuomo. Additionally, it was evident that Brawley was ready to testify should the case be reopened. However, the state has not considered any appeal nor has there been anything done to make the case valid. This further proves that, despite the freedom of appeal being expressed by the judicial laws of the United States, the state’s legal bodies have not provided any mechanisms to support the notion for appeal regarding Tawana Brawley’s case.
There have been amendments that have been created over the years to allow for the equal justice administration of all races but still, justice in America is still plagued by the prejudice of race in the courtrooms. The Tawana Brawley case was a case that was comprehensively one sided. It was hard to pinpoint the discrimination that accompanied the case in instances where the investigations were not carried out on the alleged perpetrators but were dominantly subjected to the victim. This shows that the justice system subjected Brawley to bias. Evidently, the case was thrown out and regarded as a hoax and thus was deemed invalid for reopening. It should be clarified that race has no place in the society, particularly the justice system, because if such discrimination continues, then what would arise from it is hate and a disunited country that will eventually collapse.
Jong-Ebot, William, Mike Taibbi, and Anna Sims-Phillips. “Review of Unholy Alliances: Working the Tawana Brawley Story.” Journal of Black Studies. 22.3 (1992): 446-448. Print.
McFadden, Robert D. Outrage: The Story Behind the Tawana Brawley Hoax. New York: Bantam, 1990. Print.
Williams, Patricia J. The Alchemy of Race and Rights. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001. Print.
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