I am Joseph Scott Pemberton. I’ve been that boy in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve been in dark alleys, rented rooms, and in the company of strange women. But I was lucky (like you’ve been lucky) that the person who could have harmed either of us just didn’t harm us at that time.
It could have very well been me who attracted the attention of an opportunistic predator in a foreign land whose culture I barely understand. It could have been you whose appearance just perfectly fit the profile of what you had been raised to believe is that of a walking ATM. Or maybe I could have been the kind of person before whom dangling a sexual hook had become as normal as breathing. After all, I am far from typical in dress and personality, and last week we learned that to many, that means I deserve to be had.
My deceiver could have believed that thinking with the wrong head amid the free flowing booze in a darkened hazy bar should cost me my youthful innocence. So he took the opportunity so casually reeling in what was but a fry.
A great catch nonetheless.
The worst part is that after my identification as a suspect, everyone else treated Joseph Scott the same way – like a bad seed, a pawn of the Evil Imperialist, and a murderous trained killer – instead of someone who was someone’s son, and innocent until proven guilty. Regardless of how you feel about him, Joseph Scott is also someone’s child. He is someone’s partner, brother, and friend. He had some kind of life – one that was changed in an instant by a deceiving person of the world, seven years his senior.
Take one look at the comment sections of news stories and you’ll see that this country’s warmth and kindness we brag about is a joke. It cannot exist when we lack the basic human trait of empathy.
When we say that someone deserves to be condemned (for whatever reason), we play God. We make judgments on something even the gods we worship would not.
Religion aside, when you say out loud that a person deserves vilification and summary judgment, you dare the fates for the same treatment to be delivered to you or to someone you love. When you lack empathy and speak of it, it only means you cannot place yourself in someone else’s shoes. You ask fate to do the favor of reminding you that what your fellow person has been through may also happen to you.
The thing is, it could very well have been you. Don’t say that you could have prevented it by not being in strange places or situations. Don’t say that you don’t do anything to arouse the attention of the opportunistic. Don’t even believe that just because you are an American, no one could possibly hurt you.
Joseph Scott could have been your son, or he could have been your best friend. We’ve all placed ourselves at risk at one point or another. You know that your children go to places you don’t even know. I don’t wish it for you, but always think before you speak because each one of us is only another person’s eye’s twinkle away from being taken advantage of.
I hope that if it happens to your son, no one will judge his skin colour, his job, or whether he behaved as expected of a 19 year old boy. I hope that if it happens to your son, the crowd won’t say it was because he was a trained killer, or that he deserved the deception he suffered for being the red-blooded male that he was.
The price of your life
I pray that if it ever happens to you, your family will seek justice even if going against a judgmental vindictive society and culture is pretty much a lost cause. I hope that your family will be able to grieve quietly and not be bombarded by media reports that your son has been summarily deemed a cold-blooded murderer, or that simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time and chatting up the wrong “woman” was equal in price to your future career in the US Marine Corps.
I hope the media reports don’t make you a headline and already assign “valid” reasons why you deserve to rot in a Philippine jail. I hope they never say it was because you were ten times stronger, because one can’t possibly just be a heterosexual teenage boy in the company of a 26-year-old man presenting himself as a woman.
I hope that when it happens to you, people won’t say that you asked for it. I hope people won’t flood comment sections to say your kind deserves to rot in a squalid prison for being “intolerant” of a person’s fraudulent representation of their “preferred” gender. I hope that in your moments alone spent in your holding cell while you wait for the Philippines’ “justice” system to move along at its characteristically glacial pace, you will be able to see the true colors of your “hosts” who are only too glad to rationalise why you should be held up in effigy, than to question why young Filipino women — and men — routinely swarm around white men in their own land.
I hope your hometown won’t write an article mentioning that you had been the kid that you are — “young, dumb and fulla cum” — after months at sea lusting after what you thought was a young woman – and then say that this youthful folly had made you deserving of the demonisation of an entire nation.
You are Joseph Scott Pemberton.
I hope that if it ever comes to the point when a dude-who-looks-like-a-lady’s grip is on your groin as you are being led to his bed, you count one to ten and overcome the revulsion millions of years of evolution had ingrained in your mind when you suddenly realise who you are with.
I am Joseph Scott Pemberton. You are Joseph Scott Pemberton. The difference between us is that I know that every life is precious and I lament the plight of my brother half a planet away in the midst of a baffling foreign culture as I want others to lament the bind I had gotten myself into while serving my country.
Your lack of concern, your summary and premature assignment of blame, and your passing of judgment only ensures that everyone’s life will be at the hands of a system that has been routinely unjust not only to me but to its own citizens. When you say with so much certainty that some kinds of people deserve to rot in jail for life, you make sure that someone out there believes your kind deserves to rot in jail, too.
[This is an unconventional commentary on Shakira Sison’s article I am Jennifer Laude published on Rappler.com, the 23rd October 2014. Some parts of this article were lifted verbatim in blocks (and italicised for reference) from Sison’s work and its structure, flow, and composition rendered almost identical to her work to emphasize the point of the message the author wishes to convey.]
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