You know, anyone can have a bad day. But some of us, due to an admixture of character and destiny, have worse days than others.
Marcus Epstein had a bad day on July 7, 2007 in our nation's capital. It was a bad day because he got a bad drunk on, and because he got arrested. Why did he get arrested? Well, apparently Marcus Epstein approached a woman on the street — a complete stranger to him — called her a nigger, and karate-chopped her head.
I think it was a pretty bad day for her, too.
Regrettably, fisticuffs by drunken racist boors are not unknown in Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, and this story might have gone largely unnoticed nationwide.
Except for one thing.
Marcus Epstein was the Executive Director of Team America PAC, the anti-immigration political action committee founded by Republican Congressman and vigilant immigration foe Tom Tancredo and co-run by Bay Buchanan.
What is more notable is that Marcus Epstein remained the Executive Director of Team America PAC even after entering a no-contest plea to the July 7, 2007 incident.
The Washington Independent has the link to documents from Epstein's case, including the U.S. Attorney's factual proffer:
On July 7, 2007, at approximately 7:15 p.m. at Jefferson and M Street, Northwest, in Washington, D.C., defendant was walking down the street making offensive remarks when he encountered the complainant, Ms. [REDACTED], who is African-American. The defendant uttered, “Nigger,” as he delivered a karate chop to Ms. [REDACTED]’s head.
The Independent also links Epstein's statement of acceptance of responsibility from January 2008, which appears to have been altered by hand to allow him to enter a nolo plea (that is, admitting that the government could prove its case rather than admitting that he did what he is accused of), despite news reports describing him as having entered a guilty plea.
This story broke more widely recently when Talking Points Memo picked up on the Washington Independent's story. Team America PAC (which is not run by profane puppets, but might as well be, it seems) reacted with outrage. And if you are going to bring the outrage, who better to bring it than Bay Buchanan?
What happened next was a modern day lynching by a faceless, angry, ignorant mob who reveled in the collective assault on their victim. They had wounded an adversary and drawn blood — without pausing to ask how so talented a young man could have found himself in such a mess.
I am telling his story because Marcus Epstein deserves to have his good name returned to him.
Buchanan goes on to describe how Marcus Epstein apparently struggled terribly with depression and alcoholism before the incident, and how Team America PAC kept him on as Executive Director out of a sense of mercy and redemption.
A few things about this annoy me. Sorry, too mild. A few things about this really piss me off.
First, I'm appalled by the spectacular lack of proportion, tin ear for metaphor, and general moral confusion required to call it a "lynching" when people on the internet condemn and ridicule someone for attacking a black woman on the street and addressing her with a racial epithet.
Second, a personal prejudice: I don't think a drunk person ever said something they weren't thinking when they were sober. In vino veritas and all of that. I also don't think a drunk person ever took a swing at somebody they wouldn't rather like to hit when they were sober.
Third, I'm irritated as a nutcase, and more specifically as a nutcase who has lived with major depressive disorder for more than a decade, variously medicated and unmedicated. I'm really fucking sick of assholes and their lawyers and apologists using major depression as an excuse for abusive behavior, or the media breathlessly reporting that somebody who committed fraud or assault or murder was suffering from or taking medicine for depression. I haven't karate-chopped any black people and I like my chances to get through the rest of the week without doing so, depending, as always, on how my clients behave. I can, in bad times, be withdrawn, moody, curt, and generally exude a level of ennui that makes a cafe full of goth kids look like an Up With People concert. Getting out of bed can be like pulling out of a slough of quicksand, and existence can be indescribably miserable. But goddammit, depression doesn't make me some sort of violent madman that everyone ought to fear, and I'm outraged when people offer up depression as a justification or excuse for their own violent or fraudulent inhumanity to others. Bay Buchanan, go open the DSM-IV and show me where it says major depression makes you attack people on the street.
Fourth, I'm irritated by the cynical misappropriation of the concepts of redemption and forgiveness. I believe I'm only loved and forgiven by grace, not because I deserve it. I don't have a problem with people deciding that Marcus Epstein is worthy of redemption, forgiveness, or grace. But none of those things mean that our actions don't have natural consequences here on the material plane, or that we should be spared reasonable and proportionate consequences. A natural consequence of directing racial epithets to a random stranger and karate-chopping them in the head would, in nearly any circumstance, be losing your position representing a political organization. That's especially true if your organization addresses an important subject that is already racially and politically charged, like immigration. Immigration is a tremendously important subject in this country. The entirely arguable position that it is out of control, and that our approach to immigration is incoherent, has been relentlessly marginalized by the racially-tinged rhetoric of morons like Tom Tancredo and Bay Buchanan and her increasingly scary brother Pat. The decision to keep Marcus Epstein on as the Executive Director of Team America PAC sends a message not of forgiveness or redemption, but of indifference to racism and violence, and of fuck-you intransigence in the face of legitimate questions about the tone of the immigration debate. If I did this, I would get fired, and should. If one of my employees did it, I would fire them, and I should. I might forgive them, I would try to have compassion for them, I might try to help them rehabilitate and find appropriate alternative work. But I would not keep an employee who did this as the public face of my firm, because I would be aghast at the message that would send.
But, as I've said before, F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong and there are second acts in American life. Apparently Marcus Epstein is choosing precisely the second act that you would expect for a politician who directed a racial epithet at a stranger and karate-chopped her. As dramatic convention requires, he's going to law school. The moral sensibility of American higher education continues.
Edit: Hey, gee, and if you are thinking that it's all a big mistake and he loves all creeds and colors equally, check out what he has posted on Facebook during a trip to Ethiopia.
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