As Courtney and Jos wrote about previously, last week New Yorkers took to the streets to protest the infuriating acquittal of two New York City police officers for rape. You can read more information about the case here. The defense claimed, among other things, that the accuser in the case, a young woman living in the East Village who had been celebrating a job promotion at a Park Slope bar, had been simultaneously too drunk to have a credible account of the incident, and sober enough to consent to sex. The jury convicted both officers of official misconduct, reducing the maximum possible jail sentence from 25 years to two.
Needless to say, New Yorkers were pissed. So a grassroots coalition of individuals and organizations, including folks from feminist organization Permanent Wave, the inimitable Jill Filipovic of Feministe, Maya and I reppin for Feministing, and many, many more, helped organize the rally, which was held about 24 hours after the verdict was announced. Hundreds of New Yorkers took to the streets, using chants, speeches, and signs to express their outrage and dismay. The protest was large, peaceful, and galvanizing. It was a truly collaborative and grassroots effort, bringing people together and helping to provide a space for people to voice their disappointment and frustration.
And last night, it became clear that we were heard by the one person whose opinion might just mean the most.
In a statement published on the City Room blog yesterday, the woman in the rape case issued her first public statement since the verdict had been handed down, expressing her disappointment in the verdict, and her appreciation to the Mayor, Police Commissioner, DA’s office, and the protestors.
“I am also so amazed and touched by the thousands of people who have expressed their outrage at what happened to me”, she said. “How amazing are the people of New York City, and all over the country, to speak up in my honor. Thank you so much. I am overwhelmed by your support. I want you to know that if I could I would shake your hand, I would hug you, and I hear you. For me, public opinion will be the ultimate verdict.”
I can’t really express how much it means to me to have been able to stand in solidarity with this unnamed woman. Her statement brings a very real and emotional level of satisfaction.
But it is not enough. Last week’s protests– and the outrage that motivated them– must mark the beginning, not the end, of our work to fight back against rape and sexual assault. Commissioner Kelly has yet to respond to our demands. If you have a moment, head over to change.org right now to sign our petition.
I know that in a criminal trial a verdict of not guilty does not necessarily mean the defendants were found innocent, but I am devastated and disappointed by the jury’s decision. I have waited two and half years for closure that will now never come. Hearing that verdict brought me to my knees; it brought me back to my bedroom on that awful night when my world was turned upside down by the actions of two police officers who were sent there to protect, but instead took advantage of their authority and broke the law.
Everything they say about the difficulties of a rape trial is sadly true. One’s word is not enough in these days of C.S.I. and DNA. Even if people believe you, you are tested beyond what any crime victim should have to endure. While on the witness stand, the defense attorneys seek to shame and humiliate you for hours, even days, with deeply personal questions about your body, your intimate life and your social life simply because you dare to come forward. How saddening, how utterly disheartening.
I want people to know I take great comfort and express my thanks in the swift action from Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly to fire Misters Moreno and Mata from service immediately following the verdict. Thank you both for making such a strong statement that this city will not tolerate criminal actions by its police officers. Not a single officer in uniform sat behind the defendants when I testified. That speaks volumes. I know there are thousands of real and good New York City police officers who would have acted very differently that night.
I want to especially thank Coleen Balbert, Edward Tacchi, Randolph Clarke, Dianne Spence and the entire District Attorney’s Office. I cry as I write this because I know they are hurting just like me, and because I know that beyond just doing their jobs, they are real people who care. I have spent countless hours over two and half years with these people and I am blown away by their dedication to fight for truth and justice. Before the jury went into deliberation, I told Coleen this has been personal for me, and their endless efforts to help me has meant the world. And even after this shocking ending, I mean that still, I will love them forever. When Ed told me after the verdict, “I am saddened for this injustice, and so sorry to you for this failure,” I lost it. My heart broke. What I can only say about Ed, Randolph and Coleen is that they did the best for me, they are the best to me, and to so many others they have touched. What sets them apart, makes them best-in-class, is their heart. They gave me a voice after a night when I had none.
To my friends and family, you are the silver lining of this, you keep me going. I am also so amazed and touched by the thousands of people who have expressed their outrage at what happened to me. How amazing are the people of New York City, and all over the country, to speak up in my honor. Thank you so much. I am overwhelmed by your support. I want you to know that if I could I would shake your hand, I would hug you, and I hear you. For me, public opinion will be the ultimate verdict.
All photos courtesy Sean Ruch.