Tag Archives: Jason Baldwin

In Ridgeway death, “goth” is scapegoated again

Sensationalist media have had a field day with Austin Reed Sigg, Jessica Ridgeway’s alleged 17-year-old killer.

Is Austin Reed Sigg a goth who was infatuated with death? Did he hang out in the “goth corner” with the “metal heads” at school? Was he a Nazi wizard (whatever that is)? Did he play World of Warcraft and Call of Duty?

Over the past week, plenty of news has come out about the demise of 10-year-old Colorado girl Jessica Ridgeway and the 17-year-old boy who led police to human remains, which were underneath his house. He has allegedly confessed to killing her, and a prosecuting attorney has said there is DNA evidence against him.

It’s almost funny how many different tropes the media have tried to pin on Sigg: goth culture, heavy metal, violent video games.

Did Sigg do it?

If so, what would his choice of clothing, school hang-out spot, video games, music, or even speculation about a cross found at a crime scene have to do with it?

Whether or not Sigg committed this horrible crime is for the court to decide, and let’s hope that he has a fair trial, with competent people working both sides of the case and a jury that is capable of setting aside its biases. And let’s also hope that, if Sigg did kill Ridgeway, that he gets more than locked in a hole for life, because a 17-year-old (or anyone) who commits such a crime needs help, not isolation and abuse.

I say that because while I was away, I was lucky enough to see a press screening of West of Memphis, Amy Berg’s new documentary about the West Memphis Three. It is such a stark, vivid reminder of what happened to Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Miskelley, who were jailed for 18 years on charges of killing three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas. Their case has some of the same hallmarks as Sigg’s: a gruesome crime against a child, a community hungry for justice, a teenage boy whose interests are less-than-socially-acceptable; a confession. Yes, there are differences, particularly the fact that Sigg turned himself in, had body parts under his house, and the DNA evidence (if the prosecuting attorney can be trusted); there was no such thing as DNA evidence when the WM3 were convicted, and there’s now ample DNA evidence that they were not involved.

Still, my point is that mistakes can be made this early in the game — mistakes that can send the wrong person to jail for a long time, while the killer may walk free.

My point is that a community starved for a scapegoat will sometimes land on whoever’s most convenient, particularly if he looks different or just never fit in. If something seemed “off” about him. There’s a big difference between someone who makes you uneasy and someone who’s guilty of murdering a child. One is a personal feeling. The other is for a judge and jury to decide.

My point is that calling this kid a goth doesn’t make him any more guilty than he may already be. Calling him a “Nazi wizard” doesn’t, either. All it does is imply that somehow the simple act of being a goth, or even a neo-Nazi, means you might as well be a murderer. And that’s an awful thing to say about a group of people, no matter how you feel about their beliefs.

Goths, understandably, are concerned. In that forum, “CallaWolf” said, “This, to me, almost felt like scapegoating. I wear all black on almost a daily basis (and as I’m writing this, I’m actually wearing a Slayer shirt), and while I do not know any fellow goths outside of this site, I still kinda consider myself a part of it in one way or another, but the very idea of doing these things is apalling to me.”

“Nephele” said, “This happens periodically: The news media confusing sociopaths with goths.”

And CanCanKant said:

Even if the perpetrator does consider themselves a goth, I don’t necessarily think that it was his “gothic” tendencies that caused him to commit heinous crimes. The overwhelming majority of people I’ve met that are goth are very cerebral, calm, introspective types. Hardly the kind to do anything harmful to another human being, especially on this scale.

It’s the tendency of the general public to equate dark, or especially black, clothing, band paraphenalia, tattoos and piercings with the word “goth” that causes this confusion. So many music and art related subcultures use these things, but not all of them would be considered goth. You notice how it’s used to shock. It’s quite sad.

“West of Memphis” trailer

This is the trailer from West of Memphis, the upcoming documentary about the West Memphis Three, directed by Amy Berg and produced by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Damien Echols (one of the Three), and Lorri Davis (Echols’ wife). It comes out on Christmas Day, 2012.

West Memphis Three could happen again

Half their lives ago, Damien Echols, Jessie Miskelly and Jason Baldwin were sent to prison for a crime they didn’t commit. They were released today.

In 1993, three teenagers from West Memphis, Arkansas — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Miskelly, were convicted of murdering three young boys. Almost from the beginning, many have maintained that the teens were innocent of the crimes. Today, after spending half their young lives behind bars, they are free.

These boys — Echols and Baldwin particularly — prove what can happen in a society that mistrusts teen boys, particularly teen boys who wear black clothing, listen to heavy metal music, and practice Wicca. In some parts of the South, “Wicca” is indistinguishable from “Satanism,” and “Satanism” is indistinguishable from “child sacrifice.” Wear black and practice Wicca and you might as well go straight to the gas chamber.

It is, in many ways, a relief that they’re free men. They can go home to their families and try to put nearly two decades of wrongful confinement behind them. However, because of the plea deal which freed them, they won’t be allowed to pursue a wrongful conviction case against the State of Arkansas — a case which otherwise deserves to go forward. And because these men were robbed of their early adulthoods, it may take some time before they can settle into the world — a world very different from the one they left in 1993.

The mistrust that put these boys in jail has not gone away. There are still people out there that would have us fear teenagers, since we don’t understand what makes a handful of them violent enough to kill. There are those who want us to fear teens who play too many violent video games. There are those who want us to fear teens who listen to too much heavy metal. And there are certainly those who want us to fear teens who explore pagan faiths. There’s no reason to believe that this couldn’t happen again. There’s no reason to believe that it hasn’t happened to other teens currently in prison. The West Memphis Three are free, but this fight isn’t over.