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Are critics of Paterson racist? Are supporters blaming the victim?

Posted in Editorials on January 4th, 2011

One of former New York Governor Paterson’s last actions in office was to commute the sentence of John White. Mr. White, who is Black, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon. White, 57, shot Daniel Cicciaro Jr. on Aug. 9 2006 when Cicciaro was part of an angry mob of white teenagers who came to his house threatening violence against is son, and some say his wife. There was a rumor that White’s son Aaron had threatened to rape a classmate, but this was untrue.

I believe that in all respects, the story is tragic. Cicciaro was only 17 years old and I cannot imagine what his death must have been like for his family. I have never met him but it makes me sad to think of anyone dying at such a young age. However, I believe that Governor Paterson’s decision was justified. Although I believe in the Unitarian Universalist Principle of the inherent worth and dignity of every person, I do not see what choice White had- at the moment that he pulled the trigger he was acting in self defense. If his story is true, and the gun accidentally discharged when Cicciaro tried to grab it, then there is no action on his part to criticize. No one is above the law, but the law cannot forsee each circumstance that may arise, and that is one of the many reasons pardons and commutations exist.

This sentiment is reflected in Paterson’s statement:

“On August 9, 2006, a young life was lost, beliefs were challenged, lives were ruined and a community became distraught,” Paterson said of the White case. “No one intended this, yet everyone suffered. … The action I am taking today is one of understanding, forgiveness and hope, which I believe are the essential components of justice.”

My nuanced point of view is not shared by everyone, especially in New York. I spoke with a relative who is also a member of the NRA and he insisted that Paterson should not have commuted the sentence because White violated the laws in New York State about when you may shoot someone in self defense on your own property. When asked if he would have done the same if he had been in White’s situation, he told me that was irrelevant. But after hearing another very conservative acquaintance tell me the same thing I started to wonder. These two people are both ardent supporters of the 2nd amendment and have also made casually racist remarks in my presence – some of which I have challenged and others I am not proud to admit I have remained silent about. I believe that although our culture feeds us many negative messages, some racist, that we cannot help but absorb, we must fight these thoughts and try not to let them have an impact on our actions greater than our reason or our compassion. I do think that these racist attitudes are changing how people view Paterson’s commutation of White’s sentence. People view the case differently than if he and Cicciaro were the same race.

I perused several conservative blogs looking for evidence of my theory. It seemed that bigger blogs focused on national politics seemed to meet the decision with ambivalence. Commenters wrote that Paterson made the right decision for the wrong reason – which they assumed was racially motivated and not because he was a 2nd amendment supporter. New York and Long Island blogs however, were much more virulent, echoing what I had heard before, about how White broke the law and adding that the rules should apply to him even though he is Black. Both of these sentiments seemed contradictory to me when coming from people who frequently use arguments about protecting your home and family to support the right of Americans to own guns. What if a burglar breaks into your house in the middle of the night? Ladies, a gun will even the odds if a rapist is coming to get you! I don’t know how much more stereotypical White’s circumstance could have been – there was a group of loud people threatening his family with bats and knives on his property. It is the exact situation these people fantasize about on a daily basis…

With the difference being that the races of the homeowner and the person making the threat were switched.

I do not think it is that big of a leap to assign resentment and even a perverse jealousy to some of these people. White, a Black man got to act out something they have been dwelling on for years. And worse, he genuinely believed that his actions were in self defense and not some larger point about miscegenation or the tree of liberty. They have however declared him “an anti-white murderer.”

Then I started to think about Daniel Cicciaro Jr. If I believe that Paterson made the right decision in commuting White’s sentence, do I believe that his victim was not innocent? Am I guilty of the victim blaming that as a feminist I despise? I do not think so. I do not think that Cicciaro was responsible for his demise. There were many factors that lead up to his untimely death. His behavior was only one of them. I cringe as I write this. I fear I sound like a rape apologist. But I am not an apologist for rape or for murder. Rape apologists speak with the assumption that men can be provoked into rape. This is untrue. Rapists rape because they like raping. They always have the choice to walk away. John White had no third option where he could walk away and be assured that the mob would not attack his family. He did break the law, but I question the judgment of those who cannot take the mitigating circumstances into account.

Finally, if John White is telling the truth, and the gun discharged in the scuffle when Cicciaro tried to slap the gun away and not because he pulled the trigger, my point is amplified, and all White is guilty of is possessing a gun without a license. I do not know what 2nd Amendment supporter thinks that a six month sentence is not sufficient for such a crime. In fact, the NRA endorsed two editorials published on December 30 criticizing New York’s gun laws for being too harsh.

5 Responses to “Are critics of Paterson racist? Are supporters blaming the victim?”

  1. Tweets that mention Are critics of Paterson racist? Are supporters blaming the victim? -- Topsy.com Says:

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  2. Long Islander 1985 Says:

    I strongly disagree with this decision. The young man who was killed did not come to Mr. White’s door and was UNARMED. Mr. White could have simply remained inside his home and called the police. If Mr. White were white would you have a different opinion?

  3. MissCherryPi Says:

    Hello LongIslander1985. The news reports I have read said that the crowd had baseball bats and chains. Do you have another source that says otherwise?

    I would not have a different opinion if anyone in the situation was of a different race. This was a horrible tradgedy and while I oppose violence in general I believe that cases like these are what self defense laws were written for.

    I do believe that some people have spoken out against this commutation because Mr. White is black. This was a textbook example that 2nd amendment activists frequently use as an example of why a person would need a hand gun.

    If there were evidence that the gun was not fired but simply went off when Mr. Cicciaro tried to slap it away, would you have a different opinion?

  4. Mina Wiley Says:

    Forget the Black / White — Us vs. them nonsense.

    The Wanna-be- tough Guys went to Whites home partially because of racial hate.
    The real story here is about the parents who taught him hate and failed so miserably in their roles as teacher to their children.

    The Dad of the kid that seemed to be the ring leader is still using racial epithets to describe John White and others, he is still exposing his remaining son to people who describe their occupation as Hitman and also other “bad guys”.

    If he ever wakes up and realizes that his son is gone largely because of his upbringing, he will not be able to bare it. This is why he must continue to place full blame on someone else. Not himself, and not his dead son.

    The real story the press should cover here is that of dangerous parenting.

    Daniel Cicciaro Sr. is a great example of a failed parent. People can learn from this, if anyone had the Chutzpah to write a story.


  5. Mina Wiley Says:

    …also, there is no reason to keep John White in prison costing NY tax-payers.

    He is not at risk of doing this again.
    He certainly has suffered enough (considering he is a victim of the teenagers)
    This case is indeed a deterrent for others.

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