05.28.09

Chris Brown's New Low

Chris Brown wants to know who leaked photos of Rihanna's battered face after his alleged attack. But Wendy Murphy says his outrageous request shows the legal system coddles abusers.

Entitlement reached a new low Thursday in a California courtroom, where attorneys for Chris Brown sought confidential records to determine who released a photo showing his alleged victim’s bruised and battered face.

In truth, we don’t really know who released the photo—but it doesn’t matter. Brown has no more right to complain about the release of Rihanna’s photograph than a drunk driver has a right to bitch about the disclosure of pictures showing his victim’s car smashed against a tree.

If anyone has the right to complain, it’s Rihanna, because the cops have a policy of keeping victims’ identities confidential.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg denied the motion, saying it was premature.

If Brown can act tough when he’s allegedly hitting a woman, he should take it like a man when the truth comes out.

Here’s what I hope the judge says if the issue comes up again: “Mr. Brown, you are charged with a crime, which is an offense against the public. You are being prosecuted by the public’s lawyer, in a public venue, and it’s all being funded by the public’s money. Nothing about the violent beating of a woman is ‘private.’ As far as your rights are concerned, the public has a right to see all the evidence—including pictures of the crime scene, which in this case happens to be Rihanna’s face. You have no privacy rights, no right to complain. Your request is denied. Please apologize to the court for filing such a dopey motion.”

Some people say the photo should have been kept “private” because it’s embarrassing to Rihanna—whose attorney says she’ll attend a hearing next month as a possible witness. Maybe she does feel ashamed. She shouldn’t.

But Chris Brown should—because when it comes to domestic violence, shame is a good thing. Hell, it’s the only thing in most cases, because the legal system in this country still hasn’t figured out how to punish batterers. Despite years of public awareness and attempts at law reform, a guy can still knock his wife around and expect a slap on the wrist from a judge who thinks she deserved it. Even though studies show recidivism rates go down only when offenders are incapacitated (read: incarcerated), it’s a rare case when a man who beats a woman sees any jail time at all.

No wonder Brown—who released a YouTube video of himself Wednesday claiming he “ain’t a monster”—allegedly felt no need to restrain himself when he had an urge to smack Rihanna. With arrogance like that, it’s no surprise that he also felt entitled to whine about the release of the photo.

The guy should grow a pair.

If he can act tough when he’s allegedly hitting a woman, he should take it like a man when the truth comes out.

Which is not to say he can’t complain that the photo might lead some people to prejudge the case. But anyone who can’t be fair to Brown will be excluded from the jury when the time comes. The first World Trade Center bombing trial in New York was fair—and lots of photos of that crime scene were released before the case was tried.

In any event, it’s hard to swallow the “it’s not fair” argument after Brown hired a PR team to release statements designed to generate sympathy for the guy. Almost immediately after his arrest in February, Brown’s people issued a media advisory saying the singer had apologized and was seeking treatment and advice from his pastor. (Do PR firms actually get paid to suggest such drivel?)

When the defense grinds out such propaganda, they cannot be heard to complain when others insist on full disclosure of the truth. The constitutional right to a fair trial in a real court of law does not include a right to distort the truth in the court of public opinion.

Any attempt to manipulate public opinion in any criminal case should be met by law enforcement “leaks” of the truth.

Had we embraced such an idea during the Kobe Bryant case, the big lie about the victim having “sex with three men in three days” would have been corrected. Sure, we know the truth now—but it’s a bit late for those who were hoping for real justice.

I’m not saying Rihanna doesn’t feel sad about the picture coming out, but if I were her lawyer, I’d encourage her to be pleased, not only because other battered women won’t feel so bad when their truth is known, but also because what Brown is accused of doing is a very big deal—and now the public can hold the system accountable if Brown tries to plea bargain down to minor charges by suggesting it was “only a little bit of shoving.”

It’s too bad the media and the rest of us focus more attention on celebrity violence than the scads of abuse taking place in the homes of regular people every single day. But while more needs to be done, we can also celebrate the fact that paying attention to just one famous case can change how we feel about domestic violence.

Rihanna’s battered face is now the symbol of a mostly silent epidemic in a nation of laws that have never effectively redressed violence against women. So if star-gazing means the tide rises for all women, then let’s gaze! But let’s make sure we’re gazing at the truth—and not some PR machine’s version of reality, bought and paid for by yet another wealthy bad guy.

Wendy is a former child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor who teaches at New England Law/Boston. Wendy is an impact litigator who specializes in the representation of crime victims, women and children. She also writes and lectures widely on victims' rights and criminal justice policy. Her first book, And Justice For Some, was published in late 07 and is a scathing expose of the American legal system. A former NFL Cheerleader, Wendy lives outside Boston with her husband and five children.