The Shockingly Small Worth of a Woman’s Life: Texas, Gun Culture, and Black & White Worlds
In most murder cases, juries are asked to parse out the conflicting stories presented by the prosecution and the defense so that they can determine which is telling the true version of events. This was not the case in a Texas murder case last week, however, as both sides were very much in agreement as to what had transpired – which made the trial’s outcome just that much more controversial.
Here’s the short version:
After sundown of Christmas Eve 2009, Ezekiel Gilbert contacted an escort agency to engage the services of Lenora Frago, a young woman whose picture he found on Craig’s List. He was told that the cost for such an engagement was $150 for half an hour of her time. Both Frago and her pimp arrived at Gilbert’s homes at the designated time, and the pimp waited outside while Frago went inside with Gilbert. Gilbert and Frago apparently spent the thirty minutes talking rather than having sex; as her fee was time-based rather than service-based, she believed her obligation to be fulfilled at the end of that thirty minutes.
Gilbert, on the other hand, wanted sex and felt that it was the completion of a sexual act, not the amount of time, that should indicate when the contract was complete. If Frago was not willing to perform sexual acts after his allotted time was up, he felt he should be given his money back. He argued this point to both Frago and the pimp, but they disagreed and refused. As Frago and her pimp were getting in their car, Gilbert went to get his AK-47. He fired four shots into the car; one of those shots hit Frago in the neck at the base of her skull. Initially paralyzed and brain damaged, she passed away a few months later when her family finally took her off of life support.
Here’s the even shorter version:
Ezekiel Gilbert paid a prostitute $150 for half an hour – an illegal act in Texas – but for some reason didn’t have sex with her during that time. He asked for a refund and when she refused, he shot and killed her.
This past week a Texas jury agreed with the defense that the disputed $150 should be seen as stolen property, and not money unwisely spent. This distinction is an important one. In Texas, it turns out, you are allowed to kill people that steal property that belongs to you – regardless of the value of that property – provided that the theft occurs in the evening. This law apparently applies to a theft that occurs as a part of your illegal transaction. More than that, it seems to apply in instances where it’s not entirely clear that you are being robbed, but you still feel like you are.
Ezekiel Gilbert was acquitted by the Texas jury and set free. And unlike other crimes of passion where the accused narrowly escapes consequences, Gilbert goes back on the streets secure in the knowledge that should he get involved in a dispute with a prostitute again in the future, the state of Texas is OK with him killing her.
This case upsets me on a number of levels, not the least of which is the astoundingly small value of a woman’s life in Texas. My main takeaway, though, is that this entire affair seems the natural and inevitable consequence of gun culture in America.
Regular readers will know that I am not a gun control advocate. Part of this has to do with the fact that I cannot envision an actual gun control law that will deliver the good-intentioned results proponents claim. Also, being a gun owner who was raised by a gun aficionado, guns in and of themselves don’t bother me the way they do others. It is therefore possible, I suppose, that some might label me as pro-gun. Though that seems a tad overstated (in the same way “I’m pro-cleaver” or “I’m pro-ball peen hammer” seems overstated), it is probably accurate enough. What I am beginning to oppose is our gun culture, which seems to revel in taking increasingly creepy, frightening stances on anything to do with guns. I am sure that this is a collective response to actions taken by gun control advocates, but this hardly seems a justifiable excuse.
One of the chief memes employed by the gun culture is this black and white vision of the world being Good Guy vs Bad Guy. In the world of gun culture, people and societies simply aren’t complicated: there are Good Guys, and there are Bad Guys. Whatever is done by the Good Guys with guns is acceptable, because they are the Good Guys; whatever is done by the Bad Guys is an acceptable reason to arm ourselves against them. This way of looking at the world fits perfectly with acquittal of Ezekiel Gilbert.
Imagine for a moment that Frago had not collected her fee up front from Gilbert. Imagine that at the end of the half hour she demanded $150 and that Gilbert, having not gotten his rocks off, refused to pay. Imagine that she and her pimp had then killed him. Can you honestly imagine the jury acquitting? Or, if you prefer, imagine that Frago was a business consultant who was hired for half an hour to advise Gilbert. If he had spent that time chit chatting rather than asking for advice and she had refused to refund the money for that half hour, would a jury have approved of his gunning her down?
To me, this seems like it has less to do with the letter of the law, and more to do with the mindset that “a whore gets what’s coming to her.” She is, after all, a Bad Guy – especially if she’s with a pimp, that most notorious and despised of urban Bad Guys. The nice white boy who just wanted to have sex in the privacy of his own home? Hey, that could be any one of us.
To a certain extent, this seems similar to the strategies employed by George Zimmerman’s defense attorneys that Jonathan chronicled earlier this week. To shoot an unarmed boy is a hard sin to forgive. But if you can create an image of him as a Bad Guy, that task becomes infinitely easier to sell to the gun culture crowd. One person was a pot smoking, rap-listening, gangstah thug; the other, a gun-owning volunteer for the neighborhood watch. What more do you need to know? Sure, that thug may not have been doing anything illegal at the time – but we are all men and women of the world, and we know that he would have been committing crimes eventually, yes? The important thing is the Good Guy killed the Bad Guy, which is why we have guns in the first place.
I’m unsure how to reverse a dangerous cultural trend, but I think it’s time to figure out how to reverse the current trends of gun culture proponents and bring them into the 21st century, for their own safety as well as everyone else’s.