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Rotten at the Core

Kobe Bryant and the Price of Freedom

by DAVE ZIRIN

Now we know the price of freedom in the USA: eight to ten million dollars. That’s how much Kobe Bryant shelled out to his legal team to avoid a rape conviction and four to life in a Colorado Maximum Security Prison. That’s how much it costs for a young black man to evade a trial by a jury pool that is .5% African-American. That’s how much it costs to get out of Dodge.

It was a small price to pay. If convicted in Eagle County, Kobe would not have shared a cell with Martha Stewart in the Michael Milken wing of a country club prison. He would have been grinded through the sick machine of Colorado’s sex-offense "rehabilitation" system.

Frankly, "sick" doesn’t begin to describe it. First, Kobe would likely have been denied bail–a standard Rocky State result of a Class A felony conviction–and then spend 60 days in a county cell waiting to be sentenced.

Then, during the 60-day waiting period, the NBA All-Star would have been given what is called a "penile plethysmograph test." The PPT, which plays a determining role for sentencing, involves fitting an electric measuring band around the penis and connecting this apparatus to a computer. Then Kobe would be shown films of graphic sexual violence and illegal pornography as the computer gauges his level of "arousal and deviancy".

Former head of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar Dan Recht described this "program" to SI’s Rick Reilly as "Kind of Clockwork Orangish." That’s a bit of an understatement. It sounds more like Abu Ghraib as run by Clarence Thomas.

At sentencing, probation or a suspending sentence would be a fantasy, even for a first time offender. The judge’s only option is the state pen because of mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.

For Bryant, raised in Italy, the son of a globe trotting professional basketball player, a Colorado Maximum Security Prison would be a rude awakening. For the first year, "he [would] be in a cell 23 hours out of 24," explains Denver trial attorney Bob McAllister. "He’s famous so the guards will make sure there’s no appearance of favoritism. They’ll probably be harder on him, full-body cavity searches, just to show him he isn’t anything special."

After this first year of near total isolation, Bryant would have had to endure a mandatory rehab program that takes "five to eight years." According to the program’s website, the rehab would have included group therapy, anger management, admission of guilt and a listing of his "distorted core beliefs about self, men, women, children, sex, family and the world."

With such a program, an outside observer would think that Colorado must be the safest place for women outside Vatican City. Hardly. According to the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. In Colorado, it is one in four.

But just ask Katie Hnida, the University of Colorado female football player who was physically abused by teammates and eventually raped. She then suffered further abuse at the hands of the University of Colorado football coach and administration that first ignored, then mocked, and finally smeared her name.

Colorado’s penalties for sexual assault are not a byproduct of heightened awareness toward violence against women any more than the US Armed Forces are now the Women’s Liberation Front in Afghanistan. Instead they are a result of the 1990s racist crime hysteria–which bred one unjust policy after another across the US.

Three-strikes laws, zero tolerance policies, and mandatory minimum sentencing have left more than two million people in this country rotting in prisons, the numbers disproportionately black and brown. For those who don’t have ten figure salaries to spend on attorneys, punishment, torture and 23-hour lockdowns become your new life. For women who suffer from violence, the state may have money for the latest in deviant pornography and erection testing computers, but don’t expect anything in the way of counseling or safe haven. There are more animal shelters than battered women shelters in the United States, with cuts occurring in every state and federal budget. The priority is repression, not the rights of women.

This was obvious in the treatment of Kobe’s accuser, who was clearly pressured by an over-ambitious and incompetent District Attorney, Mark Hurlbert, and then dragged through hell by Kobe’s attorney’s Pamela Mackey and Judge Terry Ruckriegle. They created a maelstrom of pressure swirling around her 19 year old life, trashing every rape shield law in the process. Her name and picture are on thousands of Internet sites. Her medical records were leaked to the press. Her sex life in the three days prior and following the alleged rape were ruled as admissible. She has also received "countless death threats." As Mike LoPresti of USA Today wrote, "Whichever side one falls on the Kobemeter–believing he should be a pro or a con–everyone surely understands the latest cautionary tale here, of just what a woman must plan on enduring if she yells rape. Her life will be turned over with shovels. Unless the suspect is wealthy, and then it will be turned over with earthmovers."

Unfortunately neither Hurlbert, Mackey, nor Ruckriegle will be forcibly compelled to come clean about their "distorted core beliefs."

So what did we learn from this putrid event known as the Kobe trial? We now know that prison is the destination of the penniless. We know that the wealthy have about as much chance ending up in maximum security as Jenna and Barbary Bush have seeing combat duty in Najaf. We know that women in 2004 are still put on trial for their own sexual assaults. And we know that the criminal justice system in this country is rotten and racist to its core. Frankly, we knew all this before. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to scrub my skin with steel wool.

DAVE ZIRIN has a book coming out this Spring 2005, "What’s My Name Fool: Sports and Resistance in the United States (Haymarket Books). He can be reached at: editor@pgpost.com.