Thursday, July 2, 2015

What to do about Zach Jesse, with a little (a lot of) help from my friends

I want to share a couple of my friends’ reactions to the Zach Jesse suspension below after some brief thoughts of my own.

It is deeply troubling that Wizards (and Hasbro to the extent they are driving) is acting this way.  To those claiming this is protection of their legal liability rather than their public image – not in any defensible way it is.  All the information shared about Zach Jesse on social media was part of the public record.  If letting a sex offender in the door created liability at events, they’d ask everyone on a form to confirm they were not a sex offender.  Actual knowledge and constructive knowledge of a 10+ year old crime are nearly the same thing – what they are is not enough to amount to actionable negligence should an incident arise in the future.  If their legal team is behind this, the policy is just as bad, and the reasoning just as wrong. 

More likely than this being an attempt to limit legal liability, this is an attempt to control public image. 

The way they chose to do this was just as frustrating, if not more, than what was done.  No announcement, no explanation (and here their legal team may have said “sure, you can ban him, try not to comment” but if they stuck to statements of true fact they could have made a statement).  A frozen MTGO account.  A call to Zach Jesse from a lawyer with the non-negotiable terms of his removal.  Talk about a sloppy broom used to sweep this under the rug.  Of course this got out and went viral. 

They acted without articulating a policy, but I don’t want them to articulate a policy for these things and then proceed under that policy to sweep up the next Zach Jesse and the one after that.  I want them to back away from this and reinstate Zach Jesse.  I’ve never net Zach Jesse in my life.  But I know that if I only advocate for the most well-known, the most respected members of our community, I’ll just be rubber stamping the “in crowd” vs. “out crowd” dynamics already in play.

To those who think this action that Wizards/Hasbro took is justified for reasons other than their own public relations, as yourselves, “Who does this action serve?”  Perpetrators?  Victims?  If not either, is WotC helping itself not both despicable and short-sighted?

I’d like to share two very important perspectives from within my circle of friends, and from within our community.  Thanks to both for giving me permission to share!  First, on the victim impact, Magic player and Magic judge Tasha Jamison
“I find this really troubling.
 I've been following this story as it unfolded, so here's the short version as I understand it:
Zach Jesse made top 8 at Grand Prix Atlantic City, during which it was noted on Twitter (by Drew Levin) that he was convicted of felony sexual assault. He served his time and was complying with all legal requirements of his conviction. According to his own post on reddit, he commits a significant amount of time to volunteer organizations and community service. (He quantified it, I'm summarizing.)
 The rhetoric around the ban is that this serves to make Magic environments a safer place for all participants. Likewise, rhetoric leading up to the ban questioned whether his mere presence created an unsafe or hostile environment.
 There's a lot swirling around here about criminal justice, rehabilitation and risk of recidivism, and restorative justice that's beyond my depth. The thing is...
 As a woman, as someone who has experienced domestic violence and sexual assault, one of the ideas that has held me back from reporting is the idea that "reporting would ruin [the accused]'s life." This makes me sick to the stomach because it reinforces that idea: here is a person who has served his time, who has complied with all requirements, who appears to me to be genuinely remorseful and committed to public service...
 ... and he gets what is effectively a lifetime ban from the competitive Magic community when his prior conviction came to public attention due to his strong performance.
 Since he has a conviction, I hesitate to bring in the rhetoric of "false rape claims," but it's going to hover around anyway. It seems to me that this ban *is* something that gives credibility to the idea that women have the power to ruin men's lives through false rape claims, which reduces the credibility of anyone who accuses someone of sexual assault (even when the evidence is sufficient to satisfy a court of law), which in turn reduces the willingness of a victim to pursue any sort of formal action.
What strikes me as especially troubling about the rhetoric that this is about "safety" is that it seems to be implying that this is somehow pro-"women in Magic" (or is a result of efforts to make tournament spaces less toxic to women in Magic). I don't see any outcome where this makes Magic tournaments more inviting to women, and a whole lot of outcomes where Magic tournaments become more *toxic* for women.”
 The part of Tasha’s post that really struck me the most was the discussion of one of the reasons rape is underreported, and how this feeds right into it.

Next, my friend Noah Weil, a practicing criminal defense attorney on the perpetrator impact.
“As a criminal defense attorney, especially when I was a public defender, I have worked regularly with people whose criminal histories have marginalized them. Many of these individuals, unfortunately, fall back into crime through frustration and a lack of opportunity to meaningfully participate in the community. While they are responsible for their choices, society suffers when its members are pushed to the fringes. We lose diversity and we increase recidivism.
 Mr. Jesse pleaded guilty to felonious sexual assault in 2004. This was apparently a plea deal approved in part by the victim of the crime (this is common). Mr. Jesse will be a felon for life. I’m sure he could share many stories on how his criminal history has affected his life.
 Are we defined by the worst choice we ever made, or are we allowed to see what we’ve done with our lives since then? Mr. Jesse’s crime should be condemned, his actions reviled. But can we also celebrate his successes? In my work, those successes are all too rare. In my work, I treasure them.
 I am concerned a contingent of players think that certain individuals should be shunned forever based on their past actions. These players feel any punishment is too light. People are allowed to feel whatever they like, but there’s a reason we want sentences handed down by an impartial judiciary. Mob rule is a poor way to run a community.

I fear that WoTC’s capriciousness won’t change; feel free to make your financial decisions accordingly. But when you encounter someone who has done something heinous, and you certainly will, consider whether publicly calling for their head is best for you, your community, and the people affected by those actions.”
If after reading what Tasha and Noah shared, you’re inclined to say it doesn’t matter because someone other than the perpetrator and the victim should be considered here, make sure your concerns are as tangible as theirs, as real, and have as large in impact on our society before you say someone’s “safety” or discomfort from a by-all-accounts-reformed criminal should override the impacts outlined above. 

Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro, make this right and we will move on from this.  That is possible, but you have to allow for it.  That’s the lesson here.