Prosecutors have dropped all of the sexual assault charges lodged against IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on behalf of an west African immigrant hotel worker, but questions hang in the air. The alleged victim was accused of giving false information to the government in the past. She listed both of her children as living with her, even though one still remains in west Africa. She is said to have exaggerated claims of personal trauma in her quest to emigrate to America.
So for the rest of her days, can she never seek justice if she is raped or assaulted? Is this the misogynist's version of three strikes and you're out? Why don't we just hang a "fair game" sign around her neck?
What about the alleged assailant? Do you suppose he ever told a lie? Perhaps to his wife about the countless sexual dalliances that he is widely acknowledged to have had? What about the Manhattan prosecutor; has he ever told a lie? Has his moral compass been guided by the shining light of the former Attorney General of New York who was forced from office after a stream of lies and sex paid by credit card?
What if the alleged assailant had been a black man, and his victim white? What if he didn't have the clout of the assumed future President of France? Would the victim's past lies to the IRS about her income or her dependents, or on her resume for her job applications, or even during a DUI conviction disqualify her from seeking justice against this perpetrator? Ask any of the thousands of black men who are in jail today on flimsy evidence what they think. How many of them have seen prosecutors ignore or bury evidence that would have proved them innocent?
Indeed, this country is in the habit of concertedly not prosecuting anyone in power regardless of lies they may be telling or laws they may be breaking. George Bush and Dick Cheney lied us into war and unconstitutionally had their victims tortured. They even boast about it in their books. But President HopeandChange made his first order of business a solemn vow never to prosecute his predecessors for any crimes for the sake of "moving on and looking forward".
This is another case of class power raising its ugly head. If you have enough money and, therefore, power, you get a big box of "get out of jail" cards. The bankers who most recently destroyed our economy knew that they could get away with it only if they did it on a grand scale. Lone bank embezzlers get caught and go to jail. Institutional ones go scot-free and keep raking in their bonuses to boot. Prior to the 2008 economic collapse, bankers, brokers and ratings agencies colluded to bundle low rated securities together and then rate them AAA. Not only is that a lie, but it is fraud and it doesn't stop being fraud even if a financial lobbyist was able to write a law that made it technically legal to do. Not a single one of these agents of economic collapse has been prosecuted for their lies.
What is the average TV viewer's response to the reality show contestant who will "do anything" to win? Judging from the popular press, it seems as though we admire their spunk. If the other guy is too gullible or uncool to understand what's being done by the schemer, then it's his tough luck.
So while there is room in our society for many levels of lies and liars, there is a definite economic floor below which the liars are to be mistrusted and condemned. If a poor person, or a person of color is accused of untruthfulness, we don't admire their spunk. We fear their treachery and hide behind all sorts of institutions to make sure that they stay in their designated areas (blighted urban zones, reservations, prison) so that we can stand proud and boast of our rule of law and moral consciousness without having to actually engage them as fellow citizens.
Nafissatou Diallo deserves her day in court. If a jury is convinced that her past behavior makes her unbelievable in this case, so be it, But the decision to try or not to try should not be based on the prosecutor's calculation of his chances of losing and thus hurting his reputation. Any damage that a case would cause to the reputation of a rich and powerful defendant should be of no more importance than the damage to the reputation of a poor and powerless accuser. Yet in America today, the opposite is true.
How ironic that on the same day that we finally unveil a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, perhaps our nation's most powerful voice against militarism, racism and economic injustice, we also witness the actions of the justice establishment showing us just how far we still have to go.