In Craig case, stigma clouds judgment

Public bathroom users, beware: Taking a bag with you in the stall has become an unmistakable sign that you are preparing to engage in homosexual activities of the most depraved kind.

This is in essence what transpires in the police report of conservative Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s June arrest for lewd behavior in a Minneapolis airport. Craig pleaded guilty, deluded by the vain hope that the charges would never be made public. Roll Call magazine broke the story last week, which led to round-the-clock media coverage, Republican despair and Democratic snickers. This controversy further demonstrated the mind-boggling hypocrisy of so many defenders of family values, especially since it erupted a month after Sen. David Vitter, R-La., confessed to having used a prostitution service and a few weeks after Bob Allen, a Republican state senator from Florida, also was arrested in a public bathroom for soliciting gay sex.

But this latest scandal is making me uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, this story is newsworthy. Any sitting U.S. senator who pleads guilty to any offense should be scrutinized, especially when he appears to have used his position to pressure the police officer to drop the charges. And it is inconceivable that some of Craig’s defenders are arguing that his lifestyle is a private matter when social conservatives like Craig go as far as wanting to criminalize what gay couples do inside the privacy of their bedroom — remember the Republican outrage following the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas?

That said, the details of this scandal are troubling. Not only do they reveal an unnecessary crackdown on gay cruise spots — controversies have erupted recently over law enforcement’s obsession with such crackdowns in places like Fort Lauderdale — but the arrest itself was done on little or no evidence. Let’s review the offense, as outlined in the police report: Craig entered the stall and put his bag in front of the door, tapped his foot, and finally “swiped his hand under the stall divider” three times, at which point Sgt. Dave Karsnia flashed his badge and arrested Craig.

There is little doubt that Craig has indeed engaged in homosexual behavior in the past. He was outed by a gay activist at the beginning of this year, and the Idaho Statesman uncovered further indications of the married Craig’s adulterous actions. But this does not mean that anything that fits in this narrative should be accepted at face value. There is still a small thing called due process, and the charges against Craig do not pass the test.

Regardless of whether Craig intended to engage in sexual activities in that bathroom, this police report is a classic case of police overreach. Craig might have looked into Karsnia’s stall, but how many of you have not tried to glance inside a stall to see if it is occupied before preparing to use it yourself? And I do not doubt that Craig placed his bag in front of the door, thereby blocking the view, but where else could he possibly have put it? “My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall,” Karsnia wrote in his report. Such speculation would have been acceptable if there had been more substantive allegations against Craig, but the entire case was built on similarly weak suspicions. As for tapping his foot and swiping his hand, those were at worst gestures of intent, and Karsnia should have waited for Craig to carry it further, especially if he had nothing more than this flimsy evidence.

So much of this could have been challenged if a defense attorney had looked into the case on Craig’s behalf. But, as we know, Craig panicked at the thought of seeking counsel and making the charges public, and the police report stood unchallenged. And naturally, no one in the media is questioning the facts of the case. After all, what the police say is always truth.

The Republican reaction to this scandal is also scandalous. Craig’s party piled on him. Senators lined up quickly to demand his resignation; presidential candidate Mitt Romney called Craig’s actions “disgusting” and Craig was quickly stripped of his Senate committee assignments. But the contrast with the GOP’s reaction to the Vitter scandal last month could not be greater. Not only were Republican leaders publicly mute after the scandal broke, but media reports revealed that Vitter received a standing ovation shortly after at a GOP conference luncheon. The Republican caucus has been reduced to a group of high school “dudes” high-fiving each other for their sexual exploits — provided, of course, that they be of the right kind. And in the process they are trampling the moral values they invoke so easily on the campaign trail, revealing themselves as bigots and hypocrites at once.

Craig is responsible for much of what is happening to him. If he had been more open about his sexuality, there would be no controversy and he would not have to cruise public bathrooms. But we still have to acknowledge that the stigma of his sexuality is also what is getting him in so much trouble — both because of the police officer’s vivid paranoia when it comes to homosexual behavior and because of the GOP’s homophobic instincts.

Daniel Nichanian is a senior in Branford College.

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