|Ishton Morton. (Mugshot courtesy of Hamilton County Sheriff)|
Cross-posted to my national blog on Daily Kos.
Is male violence against women ever acceptable? What if a woman begs for it? What if she is acting crazy? Or yelling at a meeting? Or walking around a room holding up a cell phone to record a non-secret meeting? Or trying to enter an office after a meeting has concluded and prior to the start of a dinner? What if she is doing all of these things? Are these valid excuses to push her down a flight of ice-covered stairs?! Even though it's 2014, these questions are seriously being debated in Cincinnati, Ohio. Seriously.
Cincinnati City Councilmember Christopher Smitherman apparently thinks women are "...acting in such a way that begs someone to [assault] them...." (source) Smitherman has a long history of taking violent actions against people he disagrees with, including women. In this blog, David Cole photographed "Smitherman being restrained by security after attempting to assault a streetcar supporter during a recent hearing at City Hall." It was widely reported that Smitherman once had a physical confrontation with former Councilmember Laure Quinlivan.
Unfortunately, no powerful women, or women's organizations, have offered balance to this powerful man's assertion that women in Cincinnati are acting in such a crazy way that it begs men to assault them. No other men in positions of power have publicly disagreed with Smitherman's sentiment, suggesting, through their silence, that they agree. (Continue reading for more on this point.)
Back in January, the Cincinnati Police Department received a complaint against Cincinnati NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) branch president Ishton Morton (pictured above in the mugshot). A young, female, dues-paying member of the NAACP told the police Morton assaulted her. The woman is an elected member of the NAACP's Executive Committee. (Before complaining to the police, the woman asked the NAACP's national, regional, and/or state offices to intervene. The NAACP has thus far ignored her concerns.) The woman told the police Morton assaulted her for attempting to attend a meeting. The cops took two months to investigate the complaint. As part of their investigation, the police interviewed witnesses. On March 12, 2014, the police arrested Morton and charged him with assaulting the woman. (I decline to name the victim.)
Following Morton's arrest, Smitherman -- a self-described Black conservative with Tea Party backing, who is chairman of Council's Law & Public Safety Committee (the committee with oversight authority over the Cincinnati Police Department) -- inserted himself into the case.
Even though Smitherman wasn't present at the time of the reported assault, and the Cincinnati Police Department conducted an independent investigation of the incident and concluded there was enough evidence to warrant arresting Morton and filing a criminal complaint against him, The Cincinnati Enquirer asked Smitherman for his views on the incident. (Smitherman is a past president of the Cincinnati NAACP branch.) Smitherman let loose.
Smitherman said he does not think Morton attempted to harm (the woman).
"I do not believe he put his hands on her at all," he said.
Oh, those scatter-brained women!!! They're always always acting crazy and misinterpreting things. How could a woman know whether or not a man assaulted her??? After all, she's a woman! Smitherman wasn't there and he does not believe Morton did it, and he is a man, so that's all that matters, right? What credible news organization would include Smitherman's comments? Unless they were trying to set him up, why did The Enquirer include the comments?
"This is a pattern from them."
Smitherman said when he was president, several women, including Taylor, would come into meetings, often at the end, and purposely disrupt them.
"Their style is to come in and yell and shout and disrupt the meeting, and I'm sure that President Morton understood that," he said. "They are people that have been consistently disruptive to executive committee meetings."
The women were also disruptive at the unit's general meetings, Smitherman said.
"These ladies were acting out in such a crazy way, I would have to have security there to try to keep up my general meetings," he said.
....From War On Women 101: always say women are crazy!!!
The women cause a scene, acting in such a way that begs someone to touch them in order to escort them out, Smitherman said. (Emphasis added.)
So, did Morton "put his hands" on the woman or not? And if he did, was it because the woman was acting crazy, or yelling or shouting or purposely disrupting the meeting? Or, by attempting to enter the meeting was the woman begging Morton to touch her?
This point can't be emphasized enough: the man with oversight authority over the police department WAS NOT THERE. Smitherman's personal attorney, Tea Party founder Christopher P. Finney was present at the meeting. He is a witness. He is an attorney. Ohio Supreme Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit a lawyer from acting as an advocate at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness. (See, Rule 3.7.) Rules have never stopped Finney from doing anything. He has signed on to represent Morton. Here's a passage from the city's weekly Black newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer:
Chris Finney, Morton’s lawyer, said his client has entered a plea of not guilty in response to the charge. “We will vigorously contest these charges,’’ Finney said. Finney said he has witnessed these disruptions, and was present at the Jan. 16 meeting. He said he saw Taylor attempting to enter the door of the premises of NAACP after board meeting, while the board members were having a dinner provided by Morton. “She was rebuffed and left, and we called the police, and they came 20 minutes later after they had left.’’ (The woman) later filed the charge.
Smitherman wasn't present but he suggested the woman begged Morton to assault her by disrupting the meeting, acting crazy, yelling, or something. Finney, who was there, said she never made it into the meeting. So even if it is alright to hit a woman for disrupting a meeting or acting crazy, how was the woman in question yelling, shouting, or disrupting a meeting she never entered the meeting? And if she was acting so disorderly, and there were witnesses, including the president of the local NAACP, and a prominent attorney, and former Councilmember Sam Malone, why didn't the police bring charges against her? Why does Finney tell the Black newspaper she was rebuffed and left? And if the woman was rebuffed and left, why did Finney or Morton or anyone call the police? Where is the 911 call? What's the reason for the call?
Morton's excuses, as offered by Smitherman and Finney, make no sense. And they can't make any sense because a woman doesn't deserve to be hit, or pushed down ice-covered stairs for disrupting a meeting, or attempting to enter a meeting, or just because you are a man who thinks you can.
As mentioned earlier, the victim contacted the national, state and regional NAACP. So far, they've taken no disciplinary action against Morton for actions he took at their offices, while acting as a representative of their organization, against a dues-paying member. Of course, Morton is presumed innocent until proven guilty in court. He should not; however, remain president of the local branch. Upon notification of the assault, and admission (read Finney's words) by Morton's attorney that he was involved in an incident of violence, the NAACP should have immediately suspended Morton and launched an internal investigation.
How is it possible that in 2014 one of the city's most powerful elected officials (THIS MAN HAS POWER & AUTHORITY OF THE POLICE DEPARTMENT, THE PEOPLE CHARGED WITH INVESTIGATING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN) makes a statement to the city's daily newspaper saying it's ok to take violent action against women if they are too loud, or disruptive, or bothersome, without being taken to task by other powerful men or women or any women's organization? Not a peep from the National Organization for Women, the League of Women Voters, the YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association), Cincinnati's Women's Political Caucus. Nobody.
There are two women on Council: Yvette Simpson (Dem) and Amy Murray (Rep). There's an openly gay member of Council: Chris Seelbach. In addition to Simpson and Seelback, there are three other Democrats on Council: Vice Mayor David Mann, P.G. Sittenfeld, and Wendell Young. Women and Democrats should speak out against Violence against Women, but they haven't.
Cincinnati's mayor, John Cranley, appointed Smitherman to his chairmanship over the police. He has the power to replace him. He should. Smitherman has clearly inserted himself into a criminal case, one that the police have investigated and concluded deserved prosecution. Look what Smitherman told The Herald:
Smitherman said although he was not at the meeting where the report was made against Morton, he supports Morton’s innocence. “There were clear witnesses there, but none were interviewed, he said. It’s shocking the police would act on one person’s word.”
Smitherman is lying! Witnesses were interviewed. Upon what information did Smitherman make this claim? Has he been using his position as Chair of the Law & Public Safety Committee to influence the investigation. One wonders why it took 2 months for the police to conclude an assault investigation. Did Smitherman work behind the scenes to delay the police from filing the criminal complaint against Morton?
The case is currently assigned to Judge Tyrone Yates -- Smitherman's close personal friend and political mentor. Yates has an obligation to recuse himself from the case. If Yates doesn't voluntarily step away from the case, a higher court should remove him, and the Ohio Supreme Court should discipline him.
In the not-so-distant past, Smitherman and others have advocated dissolving the city's legal department and turning legal responsibilities over to Smitherman's buddy, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters. One reason people oppose this is Deters' reputation of using his office for political purposes -- to protect his friends and punish his enemies.
Even if he is acquitted of criminal charges, Ishton Morton was wrong to have any physical contact with the victim. The debate over the appropriateness of violence against women was resolved decades ago. Shame on Cincinnati for this episode.