Jonas Salk (and Other Insensitive Bastards)

          During the four year fight for justice for Amanda Knox, a question was repeatedly put to me and others (by people who mistakenly thought Amanda guilty): “Why are you defending Amanda Knox? Why not somebody else?” “Why defend (as it was recently put to me specifically) a middle-class white girl?”  The unavoidable, undeniable insinuation being, of course, that there are more “worthy” people to defend than the middle class, whites, and women.  It’s frankly a question which belies a certain bias, a certain hatred and a certain ugliness.

          By the logic of that question, Emergency Operators should always answer the line with, “9-1-1, what is your emergency…..race, and social status?” In actual fact, many of these questioners put even more of a fine-point on the question, noting that Amanda was “American” and “attractive.” Certainly, I’m not arguing that Americans are worthy of justice, that’s simply absurd. But “attractive” has me stumped. Again, should calls for help be accompanied by headshots? (“My GOD that girl is ugly, roll the fire trucks!” Or, “I don’t know, the green eyes work just too well with the auburn hair, there’s really nothing we can do.”)

          The question as to why anybody would come to the defense of a young white woman whom society considers attractive, is itself is so biased, so race-based, so economically prejudiced, so ignorant that one despairs for society.

          The question says more than it asks. It says that the worth of a person is still judged by their race, color, social status and nationality.

          Aren’t we yet as a people so far beyond this (at least philosophically) that such hate speech can be recognized for what it is? Do intelligent people really believe that people not “of color” or poor are less deserving of care, love, rescue, freedom? The concept is simply the 1960’s Selma, Alabama sickness – reversed.

          I understand, maybe as much as anybody who has not experienced it directly, that there has been—and continues to be--terrible injustices based simply on the fact that a person is black, or brown or poor. As a young FBI Agent, I surveilled and attempted to infiltrate the Aryan Nations white supremacist organization in Idaho in the mid 1980’s when they were at their peak strength. As a white man, I saw an opportunity—and a responsibility—to do what I could to stamp out this type of hatred. I witnessed cross-burnings, I investigated race- and religiously-based murders, and I heard the seething, irrational hatred of bigots. After my identity as an FBI Agent was discovered, I was very nearly killed. But I helped put dozens of white men away (most for life without parole) for hideous crimes against people simply because they were Jews or non-whites. I spent two years investigating and prosecuting a man who machine-gunned day-care children because they were Jewish, and who shot a dark-skinned Filipino postal worker twice in the head because he was "non-white." (He got 600 years, but is eligible for parole in 540 years.) I’ve been there; I’ve seen it. I've examined the lifeless, bloody corpses of the victims and watched their relatives weep.

           But even in the midst of my disgust and anger at the acts, I can tell you one thing; reverse bias is not the answer. The question as to whether a white woman is equally worthy of rescue from injustice is almost as obscene as the question as to whether black woman should be allowed to sit in the front of the bus.

          Of course, the response of the questioners might simply be that they were not questioning Amanda’s worthiness, but the motives and bias of those working in her favor. (This question is easily refuted by the fact that they never questioned why we would help Amanda’s Italian male co-defendant.) But even the inference of bias among her supporters is grossly naïve and in itself bigoted. One might just as well ask why Amanda’s parents came to her aid. One might also ask why Dr. Martin Luther King chose to help blacks in America instead of blacks in South Africa. Was it self-serving? Did he care less about African blacks? Was he simply provincial?  I don’t think so. I think he saw a need close to him and was called to something he saw with his own eyes.  John F. Kennedy popularized a phrase that applies: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” One may argue convincingly that Dr. King’s efforts sped the end of apartheid. The nearness and familiarity with the victim(s) is also the reason that most initially came to Amanda’s aid. The movement consisted of friends, relatives, parents of school friends, family friends, and other Seattleites who viewed Amanda as “one of their own.” Others had either experienced similar injustices, or had careers, experience or interests which intersected with the case.

          I would point out that many of those involved in Amanda’s defense were also involved in other cases, many of which involved people of color. As an example, I am currently involved in the case of the wrongful imprisonment of a man of Indian descent, and others were involved in the unsuccessful attempt to prevent the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia.

          Dr. King, a man I deeply admire, wrote in 1963 from a jail in Birmingham, Alabama,“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King would not wonder if Amanda was equally worthy of rescue. Nor would he question the motives of people who were seeking justice in any arena.

          Bias against a victim because they aren’t poor or “of color” is not a correction of a problem, it is not “balancing the scales,” it is simply revenge. If Martin Luther King’s vision of a society of complete equality was a great “dream” for which to strive, then revenge is simply the nightmare of a society far from that goal. It undoes everything the man stood for and stands in stark opposition to his dream. It amounts to no more than reversing the polarity of the bigotry. Sound waves are one of the few entities, philosophies or bits of matter in this world that can be eliminated by simple reversal. Bose has made a successful business selling “noise-cancelling” headphones. These devices sense a sound wave, reverse it, broadcast it, and thereby cancel it out. The only people who have ever made a living by continuous reversals of prejudice are coroners on the West Bank and arms dealers. Those who would deny justice to a person because they weren’t “of color” or "poor" are just as depraved as those who would deny justice to someone because theywere.

          To say the least, it is ironic that almost to a person, the people who ask this question are always the very same people who decry the fact that in the Kercher murder, a “black man” was being “blamed.” It really isn’t the Amanda Knox supporters who are “blaming” a black man, it is science. The DNA of African Rudy Guede was inside the sexually assaulted victim. The appeals court confirmed scientific findings that his bloody footprint was found on a bathmat, and his bloody handprints were on the victim's purse, which obviously have deluded some people into thinking that a person of color is capable of murder. Remember, nobody knew that the fingerprints and the DNA belonged to a black man when they were collected or tested.

          The question; “Why a middle-class white girl?” might simply imply that persons should be helped in order of need; that no person should be helped until all who are “less fortunate” than they are first helped.  If a car flipped in front of you and caught fire, would you first check to make sure no more serious accidents were happening nearby, or that the people in a similar accident were less socially disadvantaged than “your” victims? Another vexing question would be whether someone could be helped with her 26 year sentence until everyone with 27 year or longer sentences had already been helped.  To do otherwise would be gross insensitivity.

          One of the greatest examples of this type of self-serving, short-sighted insensitivity was, of course, that selfish bastard Jonas Salk. A polio vaccine?! Are you kidding me? A vaccine for (rich) people who don’t even HAVE the disease? He could have used his genius, his time, and the money he spent on polio to find a cure for cancer! Cancer! People alreadyhad cancer and were dying by the thousands. Even if you got polio, there were ‘Iron Lungs’ so you didn’t have to die. But if you got pancreatic cancer, it was over. You could not find, and still cannot find, an ‘Iron Pancreas.’ So while Salk selfishly worked on his vaccine, tens of thousands of people died of a disease more deadly than polio. What a waste. Why, Jonas? Why did you work on polio and not on something more important?

          And what about that ‘Iron Pancreas?’ In 1959, at a time when the world desperately needed (and still needs) an ‘Iron Pancreas,’ a device was created which did nothing except regulate the beats of a working heart; and it was called the “pacemaker.” What’s ironic is that pacemakers already existed, but they were bulky machines. This one was simply an internal, portable pacemaker so that the wearer could enjoy a better quality of life, and it was invented by one Dr. Wilson Greatbatch, who apparently didn’t care about people with cancer either. No one knows how much money was spent on this device which couldn't cure cancer or serve as an artificial pancreas. Cancer vs. better quality of life for people who eat too much cholesterol so they can go golfing? Really?

          Don’t get me started on Dr. Greatbatch.