fightin' words

The Art of CONTRITION

Power, corruption, lies and Corrine Brown

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I’ve been writing about Corrine Brown and One Door for Education for close to a couple years now, and the whole thing’s exhausting—but not for the reasons the comment thread all-stars might think.

If I had a nickel for every doddering racist cracker who told me—outside the courtroom where most of the case drama has taken place—some variation of “lock her up” relative to Brown, I could buy a scratch-off ticket and at least one cup of Jiffy Mart coffee.

It doesn’t take long in these generally one-sided conversations to hear some racist conspiracy theory. It doesn’t take long for these people to get comfortable with saying the kind of shit that people used to say openly and aloud. It’s much like the kind of humor for which the oft-used “Go gatas!” quote is intended as shorthand.

It’s a mindset that reduces Corrine Brown to a stereotype. And it’s absolutely wrong.

It’s hard to escape the reams of documentary evidence provided by the federal government that Corrine Brown, her former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons, and One Door CEO Carla Wiley all had active roles in the grift. Wiley’s shell of a charity provided the perfect foil for the unique symbiosis between Brown, who charmed/worked the donors, and Simmons, who ensured that the deal was closed.

After two years of Brown being flagellated by every mouthbreather with a Facebook login, and after a couple of decades of the same racist shit being spewed about Brown, it’s also hard to escape the feeling that the concern for justice among those who marinate in their outrage over billionaires becoming $10,000 or $25,000 poorer is misplaced.

Brown’s lawyer phrased it interestingly the other week when I asked if Brown’s office was “pay to play,” as another lawyer in the case asserted. He said it wasn’t “pay to play” like other offices in Congressional corruption trials; however, the donors may have been conducting “transactional philanthropy.”

That phrase is accurate, harking back to former Florida Democrats’ chair Stephen Bittel—a donor—saying during the actual trial that “transactional money is a challenge.”

And it gives the lie to all the maundering by federal attorneys that the real victims in this case are the kids who somehow expected laptops from a charity scam they wouldn’t have known anything about anyway.

Here’s a reality: A laptop is useful for many things. But a laptop itself is not a game-changer for kids who likely have to deal with the pressures of mass incarceration defoliating their family trees, with being stopped and frisked by cops for jaywalking, with subpar schools and neighborhoods with infrastructure from the Lou Ritter era.

All these crocodile tears about what the charity didn’t do, in other words, might as well be contextualized in the bad faith American society has shown for centuries, from slavery to Separate But Equal, from Jim Crow to mass incarceration. Corrine Brown’s laptops could not, in that context, be anything more than a band aid on a flesh wound.

Corrine Brown apologized this month. For the optics; not for the offenses.

“I am sorry that you have to be here today to see me in this situation. I have always strived to protect my name and my reputation.”

“I never would have put anyone intentionally in this situation,” Brown added, saying that “these charges … run contrary to everything I am and everything I’ve done in my life.”

Brown asked for “consideration” and “mercy and compassion,” urging that “everything she has done in her life” be considered.

While that sounds like bullshit to some, it’s a useful metric to apply.

There is no actual justice meted out by the criminal justice system. As attorneys said during the sentencing hearing, the guidelines are rough approximations of appropriate levels of prison time—but no one really knows what an appropriate punishment is for getting some billionaire whose side hustle is buying political outcomes to cut yet another check.

Much of the punishment for the crime, arguably, has already been assumed by Brown. She lived through and rose up through a construct of overt racism, being clowned in a way no other politician in this region has. And when she fell, media exploited it for clicks and readers and audience expansion.

Is that a sentence in itself? To be pilloried by strangers, who then frame your defense as insufficient?

Lots of folks will derive joy from Brown quite likely being sentenced to time in prison next month. But it’s a tragedy in ways beyond the ultimate mundanity of innocence or guilt. Brown’s fate was a self-fulfilling prophecy for a media culture entirely divested from her base, except for those moments when that base can be exploited.

As ever, if we don’t have the luck to die young, we’re all defined by our enemies in the end.

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