Key trial issue: Why did driver plow into counterprotesters?
By DENISE LAVOIE
AP Legal Affairs Writer
Thursday, November 29
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — No one disputes James Alex Fields Jr. plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a white nationalist rally in Virginia last year, killing a woman and injuring dozens more.
The only question, jurors were told Thursday, is why did he do it?
During opening statements at his murder trial, prosecutors and defense lawyers painted two starkly different pictures of what prompted Fields — a 21-year-old reputed Hitler admirer — to drive his gray Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017.
Prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony told the jury that Fields was angry after fighting broke out earlier that day between white nationalists who came to Charlottesville to protest the planned removal of a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and others who came to protest against them.
Antony said Fields had driven all night from his home in Maumee, Ohio, to attend the rally in support of white nationalists. A former teacher of Fields has said he was fascinated by Nazism and admired Adolf Hitler. Three months before the rally, Fields twice posted on Instagram an image of a crowd being struck by a car, Antony said, adding that the people in the crowd were described as “protesters.”
“This case is about his decision to act on that anger,” Antony said.
Defense attorney John Hill agreed there’s no doubt Fields drove the car that careened into the crowd, but Hill said it happened after hours of violent clashes between white nationalists and counterdemonstrators, including street brawling, people throwing bottles and the use of tear gas and chemical sprays.
Hill said Fields eventually met up with two other people who will testify that he was not angry and appeared calm when he gave them a ride to their cars. A short time later, Fields drove into the crowd.
Hill told jurors they will hear testimony from a police officer who pulled Fields over after the crash. “You’ll hear James tell the officer that he feared for his safety, that he was scared to death,” he said. Fields also expressed remorse about the people who were hurt, Hill said.
One of the first witnesses called by prosecutors was a man whose image was captured in a dramatic photo as he was struck by Fields’ car.
Marcus Martin became tearful several times while testifying, particularly when asked to describe Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and civil rights activist who was killed when she was struck by Fields’ car. “She was just a great person,” Martin said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Martin said he, his fiance, Heyer and another friend had just joined the group of counterprotesters when he heard a tire screech. He said he pushed his fiance out of the way, then he was hit by Fields’ car, suffering a broken leg and other injuries. “I really didn’t know what happened,” he said.
A photo of Martin and others being tossed into the air by the car won a Pulitzer prize. Martin can be seen in the photo suspended in the air, wearing a white T-shirt, khaki shorts, and red and white sneakers.
Several other people who were struck by Fields’ car described their memories of being thrown in the air and spoke of their injuries. One woman said that after she was hit, she landed on the roof of another car parked nearby.
Antony asked each of the witnesses to compare the mood of the counterprotesters just before the car crash. Each said the group was feeling joyful after police declared the rally an “unlawful assembly” and forced the crowds to disperse. Several said the counterprotesters were celebrating the fact that the rally had been broken up and were peacefully marching, singing protest songs and happy that the rally was over.
During cross-examination, Fields’ defense lawyers tried to focus attention on the violence that occurred during clashes between white nationalists and the counterprotesters in the morning, before the car crash at about 1:40 p.m.
Prosecutors also played video taken by a man who attended to observe the rally. In the video, prosecutors said, Field can be seen with a group of white nationalists, marching and carrying a shield. The video was shown to the jury, but was not visible to spectators in the courtroom.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Joseph Platania played a second video in which the white nationalists — with Fields among them — can be heard chanting, “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.” Platania said Fields and the others are seen making a hand gesture, but it was unclear what the gesture was because spectators were not shown the video.
LGBTQ caravan migrants may have to ‘prove’ their gender or sexual identity at US border
November 30, 2018
Author: Stefan Vogler, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Irvine
Disclosure statement: Stefan Vogler received funding from the American Council of Learned Societies to support his research on LGBTQ asylum law.
Partners: University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Among the more than 7,000 people who are part of the migrant caravan – a group of Central American refugees fleeing extreme violence in their home countries – a smaller group of about 80 LGBTQ individuals has broken off from the larger group. These individuals decided to travel separately, in part, due to discrimination they faced from fellow travelers.
They will face a unique set of challenges when they arrive at the U.S. border.
LGBTQ asylum-seekers coming to the U.S. face a dramatically higher risk of violence due to homophobia and transphobia, particularly in immigration detention facilities, where they will likely be sent upon their arrival. A 2013 study by the Government Accountability Office found that transgender detainees account for 1 of every 5 confirmed sexual assaults in ICE custody, even though only 1 out of 500 detainees is trans.
My own research has focused on another hurdle LGBTQ people face when seeking asylum: proving their gender or sexual identity.
Gay? Prove it
Asylum law in the United States allows individuals to seek asylum due to persecution or well-founded fear of future persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
Historically, LGBTQ people were deemed “psychopathic personalities” and statutorily barred from entering the country. It was only 1990 when that law was finally repealed and the Board of Immigration Appeals first declared LGBTQ people eligible for asylum as members of a “particular social group.”
However, in order to qualify under a “particular social group,” you must prove your membership in that group. For LGBTQ people, this means they must prove to a judge or asylum officer that they really are LGBTQ.
So how exactly does someone prove this?
This is precisely the question I have sought to answer in my research.
Gay enough for the courts?
Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, courts often used gendered stereotypes – the effeminate gay man or the butch lesbian – to determine a person’s sexuality in LGBTQ asylum claims. As one immigration judge declared, “Neither [his] dress, nor his mannerisms, nor his style of speech give any indication that he is a homosexual.”
My research suggests that the use of such stereotypes to discredit claimants has decreased substantially in recent years, especially since the Obama administration added new training for new asylum officers on LGBTQ claims. The training directs decision-makers to account for how the asylum-seeker identifies themselves and does not require bodily proof of transgender status, as many other areas of law do.
Questions about claimants’ sexual practices have been used in the past to discern sexuality in asylum claims. Sometimes such questions still find their way into asylum hearings, but appellate courts now routinely strike down decisions that explicitly use sex acts to categorize claimants. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services guidelines even state that, “The applicant’s specific sexual practices are not relevant to the claim for asylum or refugee status. Therefore, asking questions about ‘what he or she does in bed’ is never appropriate.”
Instead of relying on stereotypes and sex acts, judges today generally respond positively to stories about how claimants came to realize they were LGBTQ or “different” as proof of their sexual or gender identity. The lawyers I observed typically guided their clients through a series of questions meant to elicit a “coming out” story, of sorts.
Expanding the story
While I would argue that these changes indicate improvement in the asylum process for LGBTQ people, challenges remain.
In the same way that sexual and gender expressions vary across cultures – and even within cultures – identity development also varies across cultural contexts.
This means that not everyone will have a neat, linear story to tell about how they came to a particular gender or sexual identity. Those who do not may find that courts are less likely to find their claims credible.
During my fieldwork I witnessed a gay claimant from rural Ghana struggle to make his claim comprehensible to an immigration judge because his sense of time was different than our own culturally specific understanding of linear progress. For instance, he did not know precisely when his birthday was or how old he was because his tribe did not celebrate yearly birthdays. This caused a string of misunderstandings between the claimant and the judge.
The legal archive is also peppered with claims by trans folks who are told by judges that they should have “come out” publicly and to the court earlier in the process because information about their gender identity was “always” available. However, transitioning – the process of changing one’s gender presentation and sometimes one’s body to be in line with one’s internal gender identity – isn’t always so simple.
Without access to appropriate care, it may not be possible for some individuals to transition the way, and with the speed, they wish. For others, social stigma may mean they live part of their lives as the gender they were assigned at birth for safety, even when that doesn’t match their sense of self. Still others may identify as gender non-conforming in ways that don’t fit the stories about trans people we are used to hearing. Sometimes, cultures do not even clearly distinguish between gay and trans people.
For example, several Latinx asylum-seekers I encountered during my research initially understood themselves as gay, even though by U.S. standards we would likely consider them transgender. Only after becoming immersed in U.S. culture did they eventually come to a trans identity, sometimes well after their asylum claim was complete. But if that transition were to happen while their claim was being decided, they run the risk of courts finding them not credible.
These issues point not only to the ways that the asylum process creates barriers for LGBTQ refugees and defines gender and sexuality in specific ways. They also speak to the way these decisions reflect and shape broader cultural notions of citizenship. Examining these current border skirmishes through the experiences of LGBTQ asylum-seekers helps clarify how gender and sexuality continue to structure our understanding of national belonging and individual worth.
Dorothy Day – ‘a saint for our times’
November 30, 2018
Author: Sandra Yocum, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Dayton
Disclosure statement: Sandra Yocum does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University Of Dayton provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Dorothy Day died 38 years ago. Her life followed an unorthodox path – moving from rejecting religion in favor of activism to embracing Catholicism and integrating it with social action through the Catholic Worker Movement.
A hero of the Catholic left, Day found an unlikely champion for her canonization in New York’s conservative archbishop, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, who hailed her as “the saint for our times.” At their November 2012 meeting, the U.S. bishops unanimously supported her cause, and the Vatican accepted the recommendation, naming her “Servant of God.” If an investigation proves her life to be exceptionally virtuous, she will be declared “venerable.”
However, to declare her a saint, two miracles through her intercession will need to be proven. The process is long and complex, and only three other American-born Catholics, all women, have been canonized. The Catholic Church remembers the life of saints at daily Mass on their feast day, usually the day of death.
What most appeals to me, as a scholar of Dorothy Day, is her ability to discern beauty in the midst of her harsh and demanding life. In that, she has a lesson for the times we live in.
An early radical life
The arc of her early life followed an unconventional path. In her 1952 autobiography, “The Long Loneliness,” Day reveals her lifelong attraction to the radical life among anarchists, socialists and communists.
Dropping out of the University of Illinois in 1916, she followed her family to New York City and found work as a journalist and freelance writer. Living on her own, she spent much of her time among radicals like Max Eastman, editor of socialist newspaper “The Masses” and communist. As a journalist, she took up the cause of striking workers. She loved to read in her spare time and found especially inspiring the work of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.
She was also an activist. In 1917, Day joined a friend in a suffragette protest which led to their arrest and incarceration at the notorious Occoquan work farm in Virginia. Day describes in vivid detail the guards’ brutality, grabbing her and dragging her to her cell. She subsequently participated in a hunger strike with her companions to protest against such treatment.
After her release, she returned to New York, working odd jobs and drinking until dawn with an assortment of friends in a bar nicknamed “Hell Hole.” She recalls with fondness the playwright Eugene O’Neill reciting Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven.” As she wrote in her biography, the hound’s relentless pursuit fascinated her and caused her to wonder about her own life’s ultimate end.
She went through times of deep personal sorrow. Her granddaughter, Kate Hennessy, reveals in “Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty” Dorothy’s heartache of failed love affairs, including procuring an illegal abortion. The trauma contributed to her strong opposition to abortion after becoming Catholic.
The highs and lows of this life left Day unsettled, and she recalls slipping into the back of St. Joseph’s Church, on Sixth Avenue, taking solace in watching Mass as dawn broke over the cityscape.
Becoming a Catholic
Then, in 1925, Dorothy Day fell in love with Forster Batterham, the brother of a friend’s wife, a transplanted southerner, a lover of nature and, like Day, of opera. They shared her Staten Island cottage and conceived a child, Tamar Therese, born in 1926.
She describes in loving detail her life with Forster, “walking on the beach, resting on the pier beside him while he fished, rowing with him in the calm of bay, walking through fields and woods.”
It was the birth of her daughter that connected her to the beauty of the divine in a deeply personal way. She wrote,
“The final object of this love and gratitude is God.”
She was moved to worship God with others. Even though the man she loved rejected all institutions, especially religious, Day had her daughter baptized a Catholic and herself less than six months later.
This ended her common law marriage, though in her memoir, her granddaughter, Hennessy, makes abundantly clear that her grandfather, Forster, remained a constant presence throughout her grandmother’s life.
About five years later, Day met Peter Maurin, a French immigrant who taught her about Catholic radicalism. They founded the Catholic Worker Movement and began publishing a newspaper by the same name in May 1933 to disseminate their radical Catholic vision as a counter to Communism.
That same summer a Catholic Worker Movement community formed and lived in what Maurin called a “house of hospitality,” a place of welcome to every person, especially the poor. Day explains the gospel inspiration for these houses of hospitality.
“The mystery of the poor is this: That they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for Him. It is the only way of knowing and believing in our love.”
The Catholic Worker Movement continues to thrive through its newspapers and houses of hospitality.
For Day, beauty appeared wherever God was present. This meant Day came to see beauty everywhere and in everything.
She believed Christ’s saving beauty appeared not only on the altar at Mass but also around every Catholic Worker Movement table. Jesus identified with the least, and so, for Day, Christ appeared in every poor person who came to share a meal at a house of hospitality.
Her writings make clear that she never wavered in this conviction.
This attentiveness to beauty translated to everything commonplace in her daily life. Another Day scholar told me of his vivid memory of an elderly Dorothy gazing intently at a jar of unkempt wild flowers that were quite unremarkable in their abundance and fleeting in their beauty.
Day’s keen sense of wonder at commonplace beauty remained a hallmark of being a witness to God’s love. Three years before her death, she wrote:
What samples of His love in creation all around us! Even in the city, the changing sky, the trees, frail though they be, which prisoners grow on Riker’s Island to be planted around the city, bear witness. People – all humankind, in some way.“
In sharing with her readers the view from her Staten Island cottage, she wrote:
“the bay, the gulls, the ‘paths in the sea,’ the tiny ripples stirring a patch of water here and there, the reflections of the cloud on the surface – how beautiful it all is.”
Dorothy Day surrounded herself in the beauty of a loving God made manifest in the least – something contemporary culture could learn from.