Teona Brown gets a nickel: it’s not enough and it’s too much

A few weeks ago, Teona Brown, the lead perpetrator in the attack on transwoman Chrissy Lee Polis at a Baltimore area McDonalds, got 5 years in prison. The other, a 14-year-old girl, plead guilty and was sentenced to a juvenile facility.

Prosecutors say hate was clearly the motivation for the attack.

“I don’t really care who the victim is,” said Scott Shellenberger, Baltimore County State’s Attorney. “This wasn’t about a political statement. This was about prosecuting people for a heinous crime that they committed.”

Ms. Polis did not show up to the proceeding, and, in a letter to the judge, was understandably traumatized by the incident:

“I felt like I was going to die that day,” the letter reads. “I continue to suffer seizures, bouts of crying, mental anguish and anxiety. I fear being alone. I have flashbacks about the attacks. I do not forgive them for what they did to me. “

I am currently thinking about Ms. Polis’s needs. She is a true example of a survivor. She was saved from almost certain death by one good samaritan, Vicki Thoms (who made an appearance at the hearing), who, despite the fact that she is “a little old lady” fended off the attackers. Her post-trauma is something that will be incredibly hard to work through and may haunt her the rest of her life, even forcing her to become a shut-in. She is also suing McDonalds because of the negligence of certain employees, and given that they were stupid enough to upload the video on Youtube, I say this is a clear-cut case.

But let’s also take a look at what 5 years means to Brown. She could have graduated from grad school in a little more than 5 years, but she will now be graduating from the school of hard knocks in that time. She will be away from her family and friends, and will miss birthdays, weddings, and even funerals for her transgressions, and she brought it on herself. But, I think of a Law & Order episode which features Lt. Van Buren reading off a letter to the family of a murder victim after their killer was executed.

A crowd of people stood and cheered when he raped her. They were supposedly good people and they did absolutely nothing. Then he beat her to death with a tire iron, and today the State of New York got its revenge. It’s not enough, and it’s too much.

Sometimes, I think its not enough. Given that transgender people are disproportionately targetted for violence and the small number of us, there is a great magnitude to this crime. Also, consider the impact on the survivor, which, according to the letter, has been major. Furthermore, Ms. Brown has cis-privilege; she will likely be placed in a woman’s prison, which, although not completely devoid of violence, still at least matches her gender identity. Had the tables been turned and Polis was the one sentenced to five years for committing a hate crime against Brown, she probably would not be granted the courtesy. In fact, a devilish sadistic part of me wished that there would be a convenient “screw-up” in the Maryland Department Of Corrections that put Ms. Brown in a men’s correctional facility, just to see what its like to be misgendered. But, I am bigger than that, and would never wish for any sexual or other abuse to befall Brown while she is incarcerated.

But then again, it is too much. Prison can be a very violent place, even in women’s facilities, and often, there are no LGBT sensitive services. Ms. Brown could turn to religion, the spiritual fulfillment of which has turned some inmates lives around, but many of these sects have a conservative theology towards sexuality and gender, and given that many of the inmates who turn to religion are desperate to seek an escape to the chaos that surrounds them, they will not openly question some of the more reactionary tenets.

Where do we go from here? How do we properly sanction Ms. Brown for her behaviour while making this a teachable moment as well? How do we implement an accountability process that balances the wishes of the survivor while still maintaining a reasonable system? Perhaps some sensitivity training, but I cannot claim that I have all the answers, rather, I am going to pitch it to you, the reader, to think about how to right this wrong, because prison in and of itself is not going to solve this problem.

-Jordan Gwendolyn Davis

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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