Monday, October 28, 2013

Sexual Assault At Coast Guard Academy, The Webster Smith Case Intro


I have devoted my life to the pursuit of justice and fairness in America and in the world. As a student of history, a Christian, and as a humanitarian public servant, this case, and the entire process from the court-martial to the Supreme Court decision on appeal offends my sense of justice, human dignity and fairness. When I witnessed with horror the Webster Smith court-martial and appeals, I saw Justice fall from Heaven as lightning.
The Webster Smith case was a litmus test for justice in America. Every once in a while a case comes along that puts our humanity as a people, and as Americans, on trial. Everything that we profess to stand for as Americans was on trial. Our sense of justice in America and particularly in the U.S. Military was on trial. This was no ordinary trial. Our humanity was on trial. Our system of justice was on trial. This case dissolved the deceptive façade and exposed certain moral deficiencies in our system of justice. This case alone puts the legitimacy of the entire military justice system at risk.

Rape has occurred at the Coast Guard Academy and onboard the CGC Eagle as far back as 1977. From 1993 until the spring semester of 2005, the Coast Guard Academy (CGA) had 10 officially reported incidents of sexual misconduct, according to information provided by the Coast Guard Academy.
A former female Coast Guard Academy cadet, Caitlin Stopper, testified on Capitol Hill and told how her life became an "absolute hell" after she accused a fellow cadet of sexually assaulting her. Ms. Stopper said that Academy officials tried to blame her for the alleged attack. Her attacker was white. He was allowed to quietly resign his cadet appointment. He simply disappeared into the shadows. Her career was ruined; her life has never been the same.
According to a 2008 General Accounting Office Report, from 2003 to 2006 there were NO sexual-harassment complaints at the Coast Guard Academy, but there were 12 incidents of sexual assault reported to the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), with one incident in 2003, one in 2004, “NONE” in 2005 and 10 in 2006.

The 10 incidents reported in 2006 would appear to have occurred after the Webster Smith court-martial. Webster Smith was removed from the Chase Hall barracks in 2005. Who was doing all of the sexual assaulting in 2006? Why were none of these people brought to justice? They should have been given some form of discipline. It would have made it easier to understand why a general court-martial was necessary to punish Webster Smith.
Before the Webster Smith incident all cases involving allegations of sexual assault were quietly disposed of. The rapists were all  allowed to go quietly into the night. None of them were Black. This feeble attempt to make Webster Smith the poster child of Coast Guard Academy sexual assault is not worthy of the traditions of Hopley Yeaton, the first commissioned officer of the Revenue Cutter Service. The Revenue Marines were the forerunners of the modern Coast Guard. Yeaton was the commanding officer of the Revenue Service cutter USRC Scammel. Yeaton probably took along his slave, Senegal, during the Scammel's patrols as this practice was permitted by the Treasury Department at that time. It would appear that the Coast Guard’s attitude towards African Americans may have started on March 21, 1791 when Yeaton was commissioned by George Washington. His tomb now lies on the grounds of the Academy. In 1975 the Coast Guard  Cadets sailed the USCGC Eagle to Lubec, Maine where Yeaton’s remains were exhumed. They were laid to rest at the Coast Guard Academy, not far from Hamilton Hall where Webster Smith was court-martialed.[1]

Until he was court-martialed, Webster Smith was a shining star in American society. He was a success. He had successfully competed for and won an appointment to one of the nation’s premier military academies without the help of a congressional appointment. He was a good cadet, a good student, and a top flight athlete. He was six months away from graduating and becoming a commissioned officer in the United States Coast Guard. He was about to become a part of the system; but, out of the blue something terribly tragic happened. He received a wakeup call. He was told in no uncertain terms that his success, his becoming a part of the establishment, did not purchase for him what it purchased for the white cadets; that is, the equal protection of the law.
If this was not a rape case, nor a sexual predator case, then one might be compelled to ask what kind of a case was it. Well, it would appear to be a case of racial profiling. The Coast Guard was attempting to make Webster Smith the poster child of Coast Guard Academy sexual assaults. But the profile does not fit.
The Commandant of Cadets, Captain Douglas Wisniewski, addressed the corps of cadets and labeled Cadet Smith a sexual predator. Commander Ronald Bald, the prosecutor at the trial, described him as a manipulative senior who preyed on lonely women. They were attempting to build the profile of the Coast Guard Academy sexual predator. But former Cadet Webster Smith does not fit the profile. Later in this book I will give you the true profile of the Academy’s sexual predator.
The Coast Guard Academy trains a group of cadets that others are encouraged to turn to if they are assaulted. Victims can also approach teachers or administrators. They can come forward anonymously or publicly and, according to the school's policies, are offered counseling and guidance whether they choose to have an investigation or not.
This book will tell you what happened. It will tell you who did what to whom; but it will not tell you why. It cannot. The only people who know for certain have not been quoted in any media anywhere that I have been able to discover.
It is left to you the reader to try to fathom why. This book contains all of the relevant facts. Any reasonable person should be able to conclude why Cadet Webster Smith was tried and punished by a General Court-martial. Applying a little bit of common sense and reflecting upon one’s own life experiences in America should be sufficient to understand why Webster Smith was targeted.
 We, as Americans, cherish fairness. We like to believe that people are not punished or unjustly rewarded without justifiable cause.
We like to dwell on parables of white virtue and black advancement culminating in the flowering of goodwill all around. Events sometimes force us to widen our gaze and focus on terrain we would rather not see. The 2006 court-martial of Cadet Webster Smith at the United States Coast Guard Academy did just that.
The Year 2006 began like most others for Webster Smith with high hopes and lofty dreams. He was going to graduate from the Coast Guard Academy and realize his long cherished dream of becoming a Coast Guard commissioned officer just like his father, Cleon Smith. But 2006 was a harbinger of unexpected tragedy for Webster Smith. Instead of graduating with honors in June 2006, he would be found guilty at a general court-martial of multiple violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), sentenced to 6 months in jail, and kicked out of the Coast Guard.
How could a charmed life as a cadet go so tragically wrong in only a few short months?  The sense of loss of what might have been a brilliant career will follow us and the Coast Guard forever. Webster Smith was the best and the brightest of what the minority community had to offer at that time. The court-martial of Webster Smith flies in the face of the Coast Guard’s publically stated goals and official policies concerning minority recruitment. To have invested so much time and money in the recruitment and training of a superb athlete and a fine figure of a future officer, and then to court-martial him just a few weeks before graduation makes absolutely no sense; that is, unless he was sacrificed to send a message to America and the world.
The court-martial of Webster Smith separated Coast Guard history into two time periods, before and after. Just as the crucifixion of Jesus Christ split eternity into two parts, before and after; the court-martial of the first cadet in Coast Guard history left a permanent psychological marker in time.
The court-martial of a Black cadet marked a turning point for me in the way I think about my alma mater, the USCGA. When Webster Smith was court-martialed it felt like all the air had been sucked out of my universe. All my beautiful Coast Guard Academy memories were shattered. That world no longer afforded me peace and comfort. There was no harmony, nor tranquility left in that area of my memory banks.
Fundamentally life for cadets in Chase Hall has changed little since 1962 when the CGA opened its doors to the first Black cadet, Merle James Smith; yet, in many ways the Coast Guard Academy and the Coast Guard had become vastly different in 2006.
From 1962 until 1976 there were no female cadets at the Academy. Male and female cadets did not share adjacent rooms in Chase Hall. The notion of sexual contact between cadets was virtually unheard of. What to do if a cadet got raped or became pregnant was not something that we were formulating contingency plans for. The idea of a female regimental commander, or Commandant of Cadets, or a female Superintendent of the Academy was not even a figment in anyone’s imagination.
In one generation after 1976, one out of every three cadets is a female. The number of Black cadets had remained low and marginal. Nevertheless, I still had faith in the senior officers leading the Coast Guard. I felt that they were competent and trustworthy. I had faith in the system.
Something died in my spirit when Webster Smith was court-martialed. When the appellate courts for the Coast Guard and the Armed Forces failed to overturn that conviction, it quashed the illusion that institutionalized racism was not alive and well in the military justice system. The court-martial of Webster Smith poses a fundamental challenge to my basic aim in my retired life as a former Coast Guard Law Specialist and Chief Minority Recruiter. My aim is to speak truth to power with love and understanding so that the quality of everyday life for military cadets is enhanced and institutionalized racism is stripped of its authority and legitimacy.
In a speech to Newsweek magazine correspondents in 1963, publisher Philip L. Graham described journalism as a “first rough draft of a history.” Historians, like the general public, rely on journalists to get the story first, track down the leads, frame the issues, and shape public opinion about people and events. But journalists can only report on a small fragment of what happens on any given day. They concentrate on what they consider the most meaningful, unusual, or entertaining information; that is, stories that people want or ought to know about. Although the media seek to be a mirror of society, a mirror may distort according to the angle at which it is held. (Note 2) Also, a mirror may have blind spots.
Journalists strive to be objective, but their own backgrounds, experiences, and identities determine how they view the world, whom they choose to interview, what questions they ask (or do not ask), and how they interpret the facts they collect. In their quest for news, the media have often ignored or overlooked significant events, ideas, and whole groups of people. Who reports the news and who writes history therefore makes a big difference.
For these reasons and others I closely followed the accounts of the Webster Smith case in the Associated Press (AP) articles and the reports coming out of New London, CT in The Day newspaper. Also, since the achievements and failures of Black members of the Coast Guard have largely been ignored, I decided to write an accurate account of the events surrounding the first court-martial of a cadet in Coast Guard history. Since that cadet happened to be an African American I felt it imperative that the account should be written by an African American academy graduate who happened to be a specialist in the law.
The astonishing disappearance of any mention of the Webster Smith Case from the public discourse and news reports of the Coast Guard Academy and events in cadet life is a testimony to just how painful and distressing it is to have a serious discussion and analysis of the people and events surrounding the court-martial of the first cadet in Coast Guard history.
Why was Webster Smith court-martialed? Why must this talented young man register as a sexual offender for the remainder of his life? Why did he not find any justice in the military justice system? How could his case go through the entire appeal's process and end up at the United States Supreme Court without being granted any relief? Why would Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security refuse to grant clemency in a case that clearly cries out for justice?

 At this point in history when America had come far enough to elect a Black President why was this shining example of the best and the brightest of the African Americans of his generation denied the equal protection of the law? Why was he relegated to the second rail of military justice? On the second rail one receives "almost equal protection".  Like much else in the law, equal protection is a myth for America's citizens of color. The myth gives one the illusion of fairness.

Could the answer have anything to do with the nature of the criminal justice system or the definition of crime?  Crime is a legal concept, and the law creates the crimes it punishes. But, what creates the criminal law?  Behind the law, above it, and surrounding it is our society. Before the law made certain behavior a crime, some aspect of social reality transformed certain behavior into a crime.

Justice is blind in the abstract. It cannot see or act on its own. It cannot create its own morals, principles and rules. That depends on society. Behind every legal determination of "guilty" lies a more powerful and more basic social and societal judgement, a judgement that this type of behavior is not acceptable. This type of behavior deserves to be prohibited and punished. Our society has long chosen to prohibit and punish interracial sex.

After society makes a social judgement that certain behavior, acts, or conduct is wrong, the criminal justice system goes to work. It refines and transforms the list of prohibited acts and behavior. It interprets the list of acts, and does whatever is necessary to catch, convict and punish the lawbreakers.

Bias is inevitable. Crime and punishment are highly charged, emotional, and political subjects. There is no way to wring prejudice, attitude, or race out of the system.

Finally here is the full story. Now you can see the big picture. Find out who did what to whom, when, where and how. This is a story that is stranger than fiction, more entertaining than a three ring circus. See exactly what the cream of the crop, our nation's best and brightest are doing when they are not making the world safe for democracy. Here are ladies who can out drink, and out party the most salty of sea dogs; and young officer cadets that really know how to let their hair down. When the sun goes down and the lights go out in Chase Hall that is when the real action begins. Here is conduct in the best traditions of hard working, hard drinking, and fast talking seafarers. Here is conduct unbecoming cadets, officers, gentlemen, and ladies.
And at the end of the game, when all the pieces go back into the box, these cadets emerge from the Academy ready to be worthy of the traditions of commissioned officers, gentlemen and ladies, in the service of their country and humanity. Now you can read all about it. The only thing that surprises me about this entire sequence of events is that the United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) puts young, healthy, and randy men and women in the same living quarters next door to each other and allows alcohol and drugs to be introduced into that very volatile mixture at social events; and then feigns surprise when these normal human beings do what comes natural.

[1] Hopley Yeaton, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia




Post a Comment

<< Home