Banks Not Angry at Gibson, But Should We Be?

 

And where th' offense is, let the great ax fall.

                                 –Hamlet, IV.v.216

Brian Banks says he's not angry with Wanetta Gibson, and you can only wish him Godspeed. He's been there, he says, done that. And when he points to the uselessness of holding on to his anger toward Gibson — whose false rape accusation cost Banks almost six years of his life in actual time and who knows how much damage to his psyche and dreams — we can only shrug and smile and express our compassion. Such anger now can only be a form of self-imprisonment, and the man has seen more than enough imprisonment for a lifetime.

But I'm not so sure we should follow his example. I'm not so sure that anger toward Wanetta Gibson isn't the most appropriate response to what she did to one of our fellow societymembers, to her abuse of our judicial system, to her theft from our school system, to possibly undermining the credibility of genuine rape victims everywhere. And I'm not so sure we shouldn't be angry at the legal system that both let it happen and apparently lacks the mechanisms to deal appropriately with such a scenario.

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"This is the face of EVIL!!!" screams BlackSportsOnline in a caption above a close-up photo of Wanetta Gibson. Is that right? Is Gibson simply evil? Personally I see little use in moral oversimplification. But whatever the case, what she did and why is clearly worthy of examination.

Gibson isn't talking to the press, so we are left to speculate on what possessed her high-school self to make as heinous a false accusation as you can make against a fellow human (rape being a form of torture, after all), then to keep silent during the ensuing decade, until attempting to reconnect with Banks via Facebook and finally to admitting the truth. It likely goes something like this:

Fifteen-year-old Wanetta had a crush on the handsome, 16-year-old football star, but he was interested in nothing more than a stairwell tryst. Feeling spurned, she figured the best way to avenge herself on someone treating her only as a sex object was to claim his lust took a criminal turn. Then came the money — $1.5 million shelled out by the Long Beach Unified School District — which Gibson didn't want to be forced to pay back. Never mind the shame her two children (born while Banks languished in prison) might feel if ever they learned what their mother did to an innocent boy. But then it was nine years later, and Gibson did what so many people do via social-networking sites: she looked up an old flame. “I figured you and I could let bygones be bygones," Banks quotes Gibson as telling him. "I was immature then, but I’m much more mature now.”

Yes, it sounds too warped to be true — except that we know something very much like this is what transpired, is indicated by the outline we can sketch from information coming from a combination of Banks, an attorney, and a private investigator; court records; and Gibson herself during a videotaped conversation. And we've got a pretty good idea that Gibson didn't reestablish contact with Banks to say "sorry," since Banks tells us she has not apologized.

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"[I]f the law won’t do anything about Gibson[,] we will," writes BlackSportsOnline CEO/President Robert Littal in the second article he wrote on the case wherein he includes 10 photographs of Gibson. "I don’t want her to be able to go anywhere without people know[ing that] this is the face of a liar who destroyed a man’s life."

It's a sentiment reverberating all over the Internet: Wanetta Gibson should be held to account. And I'm not sure how anyone could argue otherwise. If a convicted rapist is required (as Banks was) to register as a sex offender so that the people he might encounter have the chance to beware his history of damaging behavior, by the same logic shouldn't a woman who has shown such a wonton and costly propensity to lying be required to register as a "truth offender"?

But our system of jurisprudence contains no such provision. Neither does it seem to have adequate means for exacting retribution against someone like Gibson. "Even though a judge Thursday tossed out the rape charge," wrote the Los Angeles Times last Friday, "it remains far from certain if Gibson, 24, will face any consequences."

The reasons the Times documents for the possibility of Gibson walking away unpunished from her ruinous behavior are as accurate as they are unsatisfying: a four-year statute of limitations on the prosecution of false claims, Gibson's juvenile status at the time of the accusation, the fact that somehow Gibson has managed to blow through her LBUSD settlement to the point of not being able to pay court-ordered child support and even being on public assistance.

This adds up to a system in need of repair, because if those willing to bear false witness do not fear the wrath of God, we damn well need them to fear the secular consequences. Otherwise the message some will take from this story goes something like: False accusation — low risk, potentially huge reward.

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According to Banks's lawyer, while at present Banks does not plan to sue Gibson, he is filing a claim against the state for wrongful imprisonment, asking for compensation that would total around $200,000.

While it's easy to sympathize with Banks's suffering, I'm not so sure he's looking for compensation in the appropriate place. For starters, barring prosecutorial misconduct, Banks went to jail not because a court wrongfully found held him guilty of the charges against him, but because he pled no contest to them.

He says he agreed to the plea deal on the advice of his attorney. "If [you] go into that courtroom, the jury [is] automatically going to see a big, black teenager and automatically assume [you are] guilty," he quotes her as saying, claiming she also somehow denied his request to consult with his mother. We have no way of verifying his version of that conversation, but it's my guess that if the state contests Banks's claim and the defense attorney in question testifies as to what transpired between them, she will give a different account. Moreover, undoubtedly at some point Banks, a minor at the time, discussed his options with his family, and they chose to go the route they did. They could have consulted with another attorney of their choosing; or if financial reasons prevented such a scenario, had they not felt ably served by defense counsel they could have petitioned the court for a replacement. But they chose not to contend the charges, and from there the court cannot be faulted for sentencing him to prison.

I'm not naïve. I understand that oftentimes innocent persons plead out so as to avoid potentially far harsher sentences. Moreover, if Banks's account of what went down with his attorney is accurate, the state may legitimately bear some responsibility. I'm just not sure that liability for wrongful incarceration resulting from a plea deal automatically should devolve to the state.

What is not in question is that a terrible wrong was done to Brian Banks, and that Wanetta Gibson was the architect of the wrong. We all hope Banks will be able to more forward into a life that is good enough to help him forget the nightmare through which he has lived.

What to hope for Gibson is a far more complicated question. Wishing her ill is an understandable reaction — she hurt not just Banks but us as well, through what she stole from our school system, the trust she abused within our judicial system, etc. — while desiring her to suffer consequences that will help deter others from making similar false accusation is perfectly pragmatic.

Whatever happens, let us pray that Wanetta Gibson's two children do not inherit from their mother her valuation of honesty and the freedom of others. Perhaps eventually even she herself can help teach them better.

Admitting to Banks's private investigator that she lied would seem a step in the right direction (although I don't think anyone can be accused of too much cynicism for suspecting that this admission resulted only from some misguided attempt to get in well with Banks, her newest Facebook friend). A measure of the maturity Banks says Gibson claims to have found would be openly to admit to the terribleness of what she has done and to take complete responsibility, accepting unconditionally whatever consequences follow.

I suspect Gibson is not there yet. But she's still quite young, and perhaps a benefit of open societal censure for her reprehensible behavior will be that eventually she truly grasps what the hubbub is all about.



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