Feminism: I am Texan, and I am Angry

[Content Note: Rape culture; gun violence; death; devaluing of sex workers.]
[Note: This piece was previously published at Shakesville.]

Via San Antonio news -- Jury acquits escort shooter:
A Bexar County jury on Wednesday acquitted Ezekiel Gilbert of murder in the death of a 23-year-old Craigslist escort. [...]

Had he been convicted, he could have faced up to life in prison for the slaying of Lenora Ivie Frago who died about seven months after she was shot in the neck and paralyzed on Christmas Eve 2009. Gilbert admitted shooting Frago.

“I sincerely regret the loss of the life of Ms. Frago,” Gilbert said Wednesday. “I've been in a mental prison the past four years of my life. I have nightmares. If I see guns on TV where people are getting killed, I change the channel.”

The verdict came after almost 11 hours of deliberations that stretched over two days. The trial began May 17 but had a long hiatus after a juror unexpectedly had to leave town for a funeral.

During closing arguments Tuesday, Gilbert's defense team conceded the shooting did occur but said the intent wasn't to kill. Gilbert's actions were justified, they argued, because he was trying to retrieve stolen property: the $150 he paid Frago. It became theft when she refused to have sex with him or give the money back, they said.

Gilbert testified earlier Tuesday that he had found Frago's escort ad on Craigslist and believed sex was included in her $150 fee. But instead, Frago walked around his apartment and after about 20 minutes left, saying she had to give the money to her driver, he said.

That driver, the defense contended, was Frago's pimp and her partner in the theft scheme.

The Texas law that allows people to use deadly force to recover property during a nighttime theft was put in place for “law-abiding” citizens, prosecutors Matt Lovell and Jessica Schulze countered. It's not intended for someone trying to force another person into an illegal act such as prostitution, they argued.
I don't know how to begin to express how horrified I am by this acquittal and the laws surrounding this case.

I am horrified that I live in a state where there is a law that allows people to use deadly force to recover stolen property, as if a television or a car or $150 is worth the cost of a human life. I am horrified that this law is being used (and of course it is being used) to justify homicides over what essentially amounts to business transaction disputes, as though someone taking money and then failing to provide an agreed-upon service is the same type of "theft" that was invoked in order to sell this law, which I can almost guarantee was instead marketed as a home invasion deterrent.

I am horrified that I live in a state where (apparently) the prostitution laws are written such that being a sex worker is illegal and profiting from sex work is illegal, but actually paying for sex work is either legal or of such dubious illegality that the prosecution in this case either couldn't or wouldn't or chose not to charge this murderer with soliciting prostitution even though his entire defense rested on the fact that he was paying his victim for sex and she was refusing to provide it. I am horrified to live in a state where sex workers -- who are routinely victimized by members of our society and by our laws -- are criminalized, but their clients are not, even when those clients commit crimes against them.

I am horrified that I live in a world where "he said, she said" is frequently invoked as a flippant defense for why rape cases should never be prosecuted because how can we ever really know, yano? but a man can be acquitted for murdering a woman simply by claiming that she wasn't providing the service he paid for in a timely fashion. I am horrified that apparently no one on the jury felt that a man who admitted to shooting a defenseless woman in the neck might not be motivated to tell the whole truth of the matter, or that it might be entirely plausible that this man judged the situation incorrectly and that the woman really was going to pay her driver and come back up, or that there was a whole other side to the altercation that we can never know because the victim is dead.

I am horrified that the jury took only eleven hours to acquit. I am horrified because I recognize it is not incidental that the victim in this case was (or is claimed to be) a sex worker, that she appears to be a woman of color, that her murderer appears to be a white man. I am horrified because no one on this jury or in this case apparently cared that Ezekiel Gilbert shot Lenora Ivie Frago with a gun because she didn't have sex with him in the time and manner that he demanded. For all that this is being spun as a case about theft or property or stolen goods or burglary, this case boils down to a man shooting a woman because he wasn't getting the sex he felt he was owed at the moment and in the manner that he wanted it. And now that woman is dead.

And because she was a sex worker, and because she was marginalized and he is privileged, a jury has ruled that it's okay. No harm. No foul. It's not like anyone important was killed today, it's not like anyone important was hurt by her death, it's not like anyone important will be terrorized in the wake of this blatant ruling that men can murder women and after the fact with no living witnesses to contradict them claim that they were sex workers who weren't performing according to expectations and thus get off free and clear. No, the important thing is that Ezekiel Gilbert will be able to move on from this terrible tragedy and begin to heal and maybe be able to watch television again someday.

Today, I'm ashamed of my state and afraid for the women in it.


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