||Earl Ofari Hutchinson
California Governor Gray Davis has a chance to make history. In August the California state legislature passed the Sherice Iverson Bill. Davis has until September 30 to sign the bill. If he does it would be the first known law in the history of the American criminal justice system named after an African-American. His signature would help bring closure to one of the most tragic and sordid cases in recent memory. In May, 1997 Iverson, a 7-year old African-American girl was kidnapped, raped and strangled in a bathroom stall at the Primadonna Casino located 45 miles South of Las Vegas on May 25, 1997 by 18 year-old Jeremy Strohmeyer, a white high school student from Long Beach, California. After an initial burst of public rage at the idiocy of Leroy Iverson, the girl's father, for leaving her unattended at a gambling casino in the early morning hours, the case dropped quickly from the radar scope.
This changed in July, 1998 with the public disclosure that Strohmeyer's friend David Cash who witnessed at least part of the attack on Iverson and did nothing. He made things worse when he told the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't troubled by her death. This touched off a furor of protest that included marches, demonstrations and rallies demanding that Cash be prosecuted as an accessory to the murder. The media finally did begin to pay some attention to the Iverson case only after Iverson's mother publicly demanded that Cash be prosecuted by Nevada authorities. But even this did not mean that the media had finally seen the light and was interested in doing human interest stories on Iverson and her family. The media sniffed sensationalism and played it up as a story of an angry black mother going after a young, devil-may-care white kid.Time, and People magazine focused almost exclusively on the protest against Cash, and again probing into his life and the lives of his parents and friends. Cash was humanized, Iverson and her family were little more than an afterthought. Newspapers featured lengthy interviews with and profiles on Strohmeyer, Cash, their parents, friends, and students at the school they attended. Yet there was not one word on the pain and suffering of the family and relatives of Sherrice. This was hardly surprising given the stark racial and class contrasts between the backgrounds of Iverson, and her family and Strohmeyer, and Cash and their families.
Strohmeyer was considered an extremely bright kid from a stable, comfortable middle-class home in Long Beach and had traveled widely. Iverson lived in South Central Los Angeles. Her father and mother, Yolanda Manuel, are low income workers. They were estranged at the time of the crime. This seemed yet another sad instance in which the media instinctively does an human interest probe of the background, lives, feelings of middle-class whites, while minimizing if not outright ignoring blacks, even when they are the victims. The killing of Sherrice, though heinous and shocking, did not ignite the hyper-charged media frenzy of the cases of Louise Woodward, the British au pair convicted of manslaughter in a baby's death in Massachusetts; Melissa Drexler, an 18 year-old high school student in New Jersey who abandoned her baby at the prom, Megan Kagan, a 7 year-old raped and strangled in New Jersey, and Polly Klass, an 11 year-old who was murdered in California. The victims were all young, non-blacks.
The contrast in the media coverage of the JonBenet Ramsey, the three year old white girl murdered in Colorado and the Iverson case has been even more dramatic. There have been hundred of articles in national magazines, and newspapers that delved into the family background of Ramsey, and her family, with much speculation on whether they had any role in the killing. Three years after the murder of Iverson there still has been only one article on her and her family.
When the public rage died down over Cash, the Iverson tragedy again receded into public oblivion. The murder of Sherrice Iverson stacked up as a near textbook example of media indifference, insensitivity and disdain for poor victims, no matter how young and innocent. But now there's a chance to make sure that her murder makes a lasting imprint on law and public policy. During the past two years, Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic Hope, pushed, prodded, and cajoled state legislators in Nevada and California to enact a Sherrice Iverson law. The law would make it a crime to witness a malicious act against a child and not report it to authorities. This is much needed child protective legislation that will provide another safeguard for children at grave risk from sexual predators and abusive adults.
Nevada legislators responded and enacted the law.
Now all it takes is a signature from Davis to become law. This would give Sherrice Iverson the fitting tribute that she and children everywhere deserve.
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Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Disappearance of Black Leadership. email:firstname.lastname@example.org
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