Friday, November 6, 2015

The Good Samaritan I: Battered, Broken, Bruised

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a biblical narrative that we love to deploy as evidence of our self-righteousness. The story is simple: a traveler is stripped, beaten, and left half dead on the side of the road. Two men come upon the man but refuse to help him. A third man, the “good Samaritan,” helps the injured traveler, despite the animosity that existed between the ethnic group of the Samaritan and that of the injured traveler. The moral of the story is that we must be like the Samaritan, willing to help others in their time of need, willing to see the “stranger” or the despised person as our neighbor.

But the Good Samaritan story deeply troubles me as I interpret it for our own time and context. Because too many of us imagine that we are the Good Samaritan and not enough of us imagine that we are the battered, bruised, and broken traveler on the side of the road.

There are 13 African American women in Oklahoma City who were sexually assaulted, raped, and abused by someone in authority, someone in whom the public places its trust. These women were specifically targeted because they were among the most vulnerable of our society: they were poor black women. Some had a history of drug addiction; some were former sex workers; one was only a teenage girl. They were specifically targeted because they were among the untouchable: who would care if these women were left battered on the side of the road? Who would care if these “outcasts” and sex workers and drug addicts were broken and bruised? After all, our society has proven again and again that black women and girls are among the despised and disposable people of our nation – their lives and the crimes committed against them often don’t warrant a mere mention on the evening news.

The trial of the Oklahoma City police officer charged with these horrendous crimes began on Monday, November 2nd. The accused has benefited from tremendous privilege since August 2014, when he was officially charged with these crimes. Once arrested, he was released on bail and was able to enjoy the comfort of his home while awaiting trial  despite being charged with 36 crimes including first-degree rape, sexual assault, indecent exposure, stalking, and burglary. He violated the terms of his house arrest once, but was still able to return home instead of occupying a jail cell. He subsequently violated the terms of his house arrest a second time. Now, over a year later, he is finally facing a jury for his crimes against 13 Black women. The jury consists of 8 white men and 4 white women.

I wonder if these 12 men and women can imagine what it feels like to be among the despised of the nation? I wonder if these 12 men and women have ever experienced life on the side of the road, among the marginalized and the dispossessed? Because if we are to take the Good Samaritan story seriously for our times, instead of a stranger coming to the rescue of an injured traveler, he’d more likely interrogate and demonize the traveler about the brutal injuries she sustained…

What were doing walking down the street by yourself? Because good women don’t travel by themselves.
Why were you wearing that outfit while traveling on this road? Because good women know that the clothes they wear make a difference in whether they are raped.
Did you smoke any weed or drink any alcohol before getting on the road? Because good women know that anyone who drinks or smokes deserves to be assaulted.
I heard you were a sex worker, is that why you were by yourself on this road? Because good women know that sex workers can’t actually ever say no.
Why didn’t you immediately call for help or report your injuries if someone actually did assault you on the side of the road? Because good women wouldn’t fear being arrested or going to jail even if her batterer is a police officer.

We live in a world that fails to help the battered and the bruised, because we are too busy blaming them for being battered and bruised. We live in a world that fails to help the most vulnerable, because we are too busy blaming them for being on the margins. We live in the world in that fails to prosecute the crimes of the privileged and rich and powerful, because we assume that they are telling the truth and that their victims are liars.

Imagine that you are the broken one on the side of the road and instead of being helped, you are being interrogated about what you must have done for someone else to harm you, assault you, rape you, and break you. Imagine that instead of lending a hand to help you up from your pain, a legal system puts you on trial for your injuries and allows the assailant to enjoy the comforts of home. Because for far too many Black women, this is the reality of the story of the Good Samaritan: encountering “neighbors” who blame and demonize instead of neighbors who help you to your feet.

For the next month, as we hear the painful stories these Black women have to tell about their assaults, I pray that they will be treated as real neighbors: that we will listen to them; love them; believe them; and help to heal their wounds.

© Yolanda Pierce