It is a testament to how far we have come as a society that an incident in which a gay paramedic is accused of spitting on a three-year-old and calling him the n-word dominates the evening news.
If anything, we have come too far. Those who fail to recognize this progress do not deserve to be taken seriously even if they did not get the verdict they hoped for.
On Wednesday night, Kansas City fireman Terrence Skeen, who had been charged with one count of battery, a single count of disorderly conduct, and a single count of assault, was found not guilty on all charges in an Overland Park Municipal Court.
Skeen had been accused in February after the incident at an Overland Park Hooters. The boy’s family had accused Skeen of spitting on the boy and slurring him because, as KCUR puts it, “the toddler was racing around the restaurant and bothering Skeen and his dinner companion.”
There would seem to be a touch of contributory negligence here in bringing a toddler to a Hooters and then letting him run wild, but in the rush to media judgment against Skeen, such objections were suppressed.
Nor did any previous reports note that Skeen was, as he testified, openly gay. “I have no tolerance for discrimination,” he told the court. A parade of his colleagues testified to his lack of prejudice. For the media, sexual orientation is a relevant variable only if the gay is presented as victim.
During the bench trial, defense attorney Tom Bath asked some pointed questions, most notably why were charges brought before Overland Park police reviewed the store’s surveillance videos. He suggested with some precision that the department responded to pressure from the media to bring charges. Apparently, the video did not support the spitting charges brought against Skeen.
In clearing Skeen, Judge Cynthia Cornwell cited inconsistent witness testimony and the failure of the city to present corroborating evidence. It took her one minute to dismiss all charges.
“Obviously the family is very devastated by the outcome of the trial today, but I think the family learned a couple things,” said the family’s attorney Reginald Stockman. “We learned that one racism is still prevalent and it’s alive and well in our community and in our society. We’ve also learned that you can be a victim of racism in this country not receive justice.”
Commenters on Tony’s Kansas City, an influential blog with no distinctive bias, saw things differently. A representative sampling:
“A good decision, a great day for JUSTICE!”
“Another KC hoax smacked down.”
“Convicted in the court of public opinion , narrative first, what actually transpired is irrelevant. That said, the public is full of low wave beasts with no true convictions.
“NOT Guilty. Free at last free at last! Don’t judge until you know all the facts. Hopefully he will sue the hell out of the black family for defamation of character for lying and ruining his life for 6 months, not to mention the media that presumed he was guilty from the start as well.”