Don’t disparage the victims of the ‘Grim Sleeper’ murders

by Margaret Prescod, Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders (BC)

Yesterday at the opening of the so-named “Grim Sleeper” trial, prosecutor Beth Silverman laid out what seemed like a strong case against the suspect.

Photos-of-poss.-victims-found-in-Grim-Sleep-suspect-Lonnie-Franklin-Jr’s-home-0710, Don’t disparage the victims of the ‘Grim Sleeper’ murders, National News & Views
When LAPD arrested Grim Sleeper suspect Lonnie Franklin Jr. in July 2010 and charged him with 10 murders, they found scores of photos of women in his home. These are a few of them. The pictures were published and distributed in hopes of identifying more victims.

But in her opening statement, Silverman painted the victims as “prostitutes” and “crack addicts,” racist and sexist stereotypes that the Black Coalition has had to continuously object to when the police and media used them to dismiss the fact that human beings were being murdered.

Even for those victims who were sex workers, it was their criminalization and poverty that made them vulnerable to violent predators. And for those who want to know why so many people in South LA are addicted to crack, we suggest you listen to the Congressional Black Caucus hearings, available in the Pacifica Radio Archives.

The prosecutor said the targeted women were “willing to sell their bodies and their souls in order to gratify their dependency on this powerful drug.” Sell their souls? Why is Silverman discrediting the victims in this way? How does that help a prosecution for mass murder? We cannot remain silent.

In contrast, Detective Kilcoyne came across as a serious and professional officer concerned with solving these murders. On the stand and in media interviews, he made clear that not all the women were prostitutes and/or crack addicts, affording the victims and their families the truth and dignity they are entitled to, especially as the wrenching and heartbreaking images of the murdered bodies of their loved ones, many covered with trash, were on display on courtroom screens.

Silverman painted the victims as “prostitutes” and “crack addicts,” racist and sexist stereotypes that the Black Coalition has had to continuously object to when the police and media used them to dismiss the fact that human beings were being murdered.

The prosecutor was also disparaging about the South LA community, describing it only as in the grip of the 1980s crack epidemic. Compare this with the treatment afforded the present heroin epidemic in white middle class states like Maine.

Yet despite the racism that results in impoverishment, unemployment, homelessness and lack of decent housing, criminalization, too few drug treatment centers for those who want them, schools falling apart and more, the South LA community has survived. But sadly the serial murder victims did not.

We strongly object to this kind of sensationalism by the DA’s office. The jurors have first to hear the victims’ story, not the case for the defense: The victims were some mother’s daughter, some children’s mother, sisters, aunts and cousins; they were human beings who did not deserve to be killed. They have families who love them still, whose hearts remain broken. We have made this clear for the past 30 years and have the records to prove it.

Princess-Berthomieux-15-Grim-Sleeper-victim-191x300, Don’t disparage the victims of the ‘Grim Sleeper’ murders, National News & Views
Princess Berthomieux, allegedly strangled to death by Franklin in 2002 at the age of 15, had been placed in foster care at the age of 3 after she was beaten, tied up and raped by her father’s friends. “She mattered,” said Samara Herard, her foster sister. “She was so wonderful. I don’t want anyone to think she wasn’t absolutely, positively adored and loved.”

At the opening of the trial, we were told that the police did all they could. Really? The victims did not deserve the neglect that followed their deaths in terms of media coverage or law enforcement and city and county officials’ response.

We all know if these many women were missing or killed in Beverly Hills, we would have seen a different response all ‘round. It would not have taken from 1988 to 2007 to set up a task force; there would not have been a wait until after three victims were killed before a new task force was set up, and the entire nation would have known what was going on.

The survivor should not have had to wait 22 years before she even knew she was a survivor of a serial killer, and families should not have had to find out on TV that their loved ones had been murdered. The community should not have had to wait 22 years before the release of a 911 call that led the police to the exact place where a victim had been dumped.

Black women’s lives mattered so little to them as to be considered not human. None of the victims, indeed no other person either, should have been referred to by law enforcement as NHI (No Humans Involved). What message did that send, including to anyone out to do harm?

To admit law enforcement mistakes – most of which happened before Kilcoyne’s time on the Task Force – would not in any way compromise the case or the evidence gathered. It would send a message that the truth is finally being told and that this trial will not be a cover-up.

Furthermore we have learned that the task force investigating the serial murders has been disbanded. How can that be, given those 35 women whose photos were found in the suspect’s home are unaccounted for, that up to 200 Black women in South LA are missing with 100 thought to be killed?

The devaluation of Black women’s lives continues. Black Lives Matter is not merely a hashtag, an organization or a movement; it is all those things that reflect our reality.

A task force that is effective and neither racist nor sexist must immediately be established to solve these horrific murders. The mayor and other city and county officials must see to that. We are also asking for their support for our community-based efforts for a permanent Victims Memorial in South LA, and for compensation to assist those the murders left behind.

The devaluation of Black women’s lives continues. Black Lives Matter is not merely a hashtag, an organization or a movement; it is all those things that reflect our reality.

What the victims did to survive is not on trial here. What is on trial is that they were brutally murdered and are deserving of respect and justice.

About the Black Coalition

The Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders was formed in 1986 after LAPD announced that 11 women were already dead as a result of a serial murderer operating in South LA. Since then, the Coalition has given out thousands of flyers in the impacted community, organized vigils and other protests, held press conference and community meetings.

Some of the BC work was covered in the HBO film by British filmmaker Nick Broomfield entitled “Tales of the Grim Sleeper.” The film includes interviews of several survivors and victims’ families and it exposes that some in law enforcement referred to the victims as NHI (No Humans Involved). #talesofthegrimsleeper

Contact the Coalition by email, at Blackcoalitionfightsback@gmail.com, via Twitter at @CountBlackWomen and on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/blackcoalitionfightsback/.