When it happens, don't say you weren't warned.
Of what am I speaking? Well, has anyone been watching the news or TV news magazines lately? Or even People magazine? Those who have know that the public relations blitz on the part of the Susan Smith defense team to turn her into a sympathy figure is in full swing. Hopefully, the warning given to you in my column a few months back has prepared you for this likely scenario that is playing itself out.
Susan Smith is no longer the woman who pushed her two children to a watery grave and calculated a story of a ruthless black carjacker to cover her tracks. She is a loving mother, but a woman who snapped under the burden of years of heartache, abuse, betrayal by men and deep psychological scars. Just awhile back, the attorneys were arguing over which psychiatrist to use for her examination to determine if she is fit to stand trial.
And what of the turn of events in little Union, S.C., where the public outrage was so enormous and where the scars run deep to this day? The catalyst, it seems, is the death penalty. "The prosecutor asking for the death penalty, well, that changed this town in a matter of minutes. It shocked people to realize that this girl could be electrocuted," said local talk show host Carlisle Henderson. I wonder how "shocking" it would've been if the killer had been David Smith.
Which brings us to the men in her life. On Dateline NBC three weeks ago, they spoke of Smith's father committing suicide when she was six. She was fondled forcefully by her stepfather as a 16-year-old. Her husband had "wandering eyes" for other women. Her beau didn't want to be with a woman with kids.
Do you see a pattern here? The villains here have become men. It seems that whenever a woman does something heinous, we always find some way to blame men. "She has been betrayed by all of the men in her life," said Laura Walker, a Union resident. But what of Linda Russell, the mother of Susan and wife to her assailant? No one stops to question the integrity of a woman who would stay with her daughter's molester. Indeed, she has been shown as the grieving mother, giving accounts of her heartbroken daughter and her letters daily to her dead sons. Did anybody ever visit the family of Joel Steinberg after he beat little Lisa to death several years ago? No. And Joel Steinberg is right where he belongs.
Personally, I have no quarrel with the family and friends of Susan Smith supporting her. Family love is supposed to be unconditional. But I can't help thinking that they need a small whiff of reality when they say things like "She misses the kids" or "She's not capable of this." She did it, didn't she? If she misses them, it's her own fault.
The true living victim in all of this, David Smith, has never been portrayed as a victim. I have yet to see a profile of him and his family. As mentioned before, there have been mentions of his blame in this, and that is inexplicable and inexcusable. When a man kills, the media do not paint his victims in a disparaging light.
As for the molestation excuse, well let me say this. Doubtlessly, many of you reading these words had similar experiences in childhood and adolescence. Personally, it has been my experience that those who are molested have a greater aversion to hurting people. All of us have crosses to bear, and it shouldn't exculpate anyone from personal responsibility.
There should be absolutely NO sympathy for Susan Smith. But there is, and as we are seeing now, it will lead to a sentence far from the stiffest the law allows. This case also points to male disposability. We have no problem killing or severely punishing men, but after committing the most heinous of crimes a woman still garners sympathy, even "compassion," like from Union resident Shirley McCloud because of her background. If this case makes us do one thing, it should make us examine the divergent ways we treat the sexes when it comes to crime. If it doesn't, cases like this one will be repeated.
Tyrone Henry is a political science senior.
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