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Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo: Alleged Brownsville Rape, My Thoughts on Dismissal of Charges

AP Photo: Bebeto Matthews By Laurie A.
AP Photo: Bebeto Matthews
AP Photo: Bebeto Matthews

By Laurie A. Cumbo, Council Member of the 35th District, Chair of the Women's Issues Committee

As I was informed of the decision to dismiss all charges in the alleged gang rape that occurred on January 7, 2016, in Brownsville at the Osborn Playground, somehow I did not feel relieved that all was now right with the world.

Black women are protecting our men. Who is protecting our Black women? The #blacklivesmatter movement is being driven by many fierce Black women-- protecting their fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers. No one wants to see five Black boys and a father lost in a broken criminal justice system. But at the same time, we must also ask the question, what do we want to see for this eighteen-year-old Black girl.

This case has reached national and international attention. Decisions from cases such as this often set precedent. What is so dangerous about this precedent is that it involved both an intimate partner and stranger rape investigation simultaneously, and it now sets a new standard for what is permissible in both circumstances; and has unearthed the meaning of consent.

In the case of robbery, when someone is approached by five young men that want to take your property, you can either choose to give up your property willingly or you can choose to fight back. Similarly, in the case of rape, five strangers approaching you for sex forces you to make a choice to either fight back or to cooperate. Cooperating in the case of rape is often interpreted as consent while cooperating in the case of robbery is still seen as robbery.

Osborne Playground, rape, Brownsville
Three of the five suspects arrive at Brooklyn Criminal Court on Jan. 12.Photo: Paul Martinka

The dismissal of all charges also desensitizes a Black community and lowers the standards of acceptable behavior.  The alleged incestuous relationship of an eighteen-year-old girl with her father has now been given the green light. Two boys allegedly having sex in a public park with an eighteen-year-old girl while three other boys watched, laughed and videotaped has now been given a green light. Women who are inebriated will have a more difficult time making the case that they were raped.

According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation's largest anti-sexual assault organization, "98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in prison."

Before we rush to celebrate the innocence of these five teenagers and her father then slap each other five on social media, let's lament that these young men and a father are told that they did nothing wrong that night. They will not be held accountable for their actions nor will they be given any form of assistance, support, education or understanding of the ramifications of their behavior.

There are no winners in this situation and the sacredness of community, respect and order has been violated at the highest level.

On Feb. 18, the young woman informed prosecutors that she decided she did not want to move forward with the case and that she "doesn't do" court. One can only imagine how a woman who has spent her entire life bouncing around the foster care system has come to the conclusion that she "doesn't do" court.

I wonder what chance at justice an eighteen-year-old girl would have had after being in an incestuous relationship with her father, engaging in some form of sexual act with five young men, predominantly male lawyers representing the young men in this case, and a criminal justice system all led by men.

In a statement released by DA Thompson, he stated, "That night, this young woman's father and the five young men engaged in conduct that was reprehensible and wrong, but because of the lack of reliable evidence, criminal charges simply cannot be sustained." This case clearly outlines the need for stronger legislation to protect the interests of women as it pertains to sexual assault.

However, DA Ken Thompson's statement causes great internal conflict for me because consensual sex is neither reprehensible nor wrong.

So the question still remains, was it wrong or was it consensual?


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