Alex Blaze

More an Andrew Anthos

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 30, 2007 8:59 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: Andrew Anthos, Don Wildmon, medical, Michigan, narrative construction

The medical examiner in the Andrew Anthos case declared his death to be of natural causes. From the ME report (pdf):

It is my opinion that death was caused by respiratory failure secondary to quadriplegia, the consequence of spinal stenosis due to advanced degenerative arthritis of the spine.
Spinal stenosis is where the spinal canal has gotten smaller, usually due to calcification brought on by wear and tear, and constricts the spinal cord. The ME goes on to describe Anthos's only injury as a bruise behind his right ear on February 13th. On February 14th, according to the report, he underwent a laminectomy to relieve pressure on the spinal cord, but after the operation the calcification of the C4 vertebra was so bad that he was paralyzed below it (the C4 is right behind the jaw). The ME believed that this paralysis caused his lungs to fail.

According to the ME:

"He probably just flexed his neck," which caused arthritic spurs to compress his spinal cord enough to cause paralysis of his legs.
The ME's report contradicts the statements of both Anthos and the friend that he was with:

[Anthos's cousin Athena] Fedenis has said in interviews that her cousin told her about the attack while Anthos was in the hospital. She said police interviewed him and a friend of Anthos, whom she believed witnessed the attack.

Police said they indeed interviewed that friend and the bus driver. The driver reported that he had heard raised voices from the rear of his bus, but couldn't make out who was saying what.

The friend, police said, reported getting off the bus in front of Anthos and hearing a thump. He turned to see Anthos lying on the sidewalk and another man standing over him. That man turned and walked away without a word.

According to the friend, there was nothing in the man's hand and he did not see him touch Anthos.

Initially, Anthos told police he did not know what happened to him, police said. But about a week later, he told police he was struck from behind after someone called out, asking him if he was gay.

Of course, the ME's report cannot tell us whether or not he was harassed on the bus, but we have two witnesses to that and the bus driver's corraboration of that story. Also, the ME's story of what happened doesn't discount the possibilty that there was an attack; he says that there was something that caused Anthos's spinal canal to close a bit further to bring about leg paralysis so that he fell. Even though the ME is quick to conclude that he just flexed his neck, a strike to the back of the head could have caused him to turn quickly or bend strangely bringing about that paralysis.

Another contradiction between the ME and witnesses:

Fedenis also disputes [the ME]'s findings that Anthos' only injury was a two-inch bruise on the back of his head.

"Could (Anthos) have been wrong about the pipe? Probably. It could have been the guy's fist," Fedenis said. "But what was the size of a softball behind his left ear? It was a cut, a gash. ... If he was never struck, this wouldn't have happened."

Well, a gash is pretty different from the hematoma (bruise) that the ME describes in his report. The former is external bleeding; the latter is internal. While it's easy to side with the doctor on this point, it doesn't take an M.D. to recognize bleeding. Also, the cousin says that it was behind his left ear, and the ME report says that it was behind his right ear (based on initial examination, not autopsy).

What is interesting about the way this story continues to play out though is how little people actually know about it but how much they fill in with their own personal experience. What we knew from the press when it first hit the AP wire was that there was an elderly man who was harassed then attacked because someone thought that he was gay. Then we found out that he was in fact gay and that he had died due to his injuries. This story got a lot of blog coverage, including on this one, because there was definite, experienced truth to the narrative that it worked with. Those of us who have been attacked because of our status as sexual or gender minorities know that this sort of thing does happen. At the time, anti-gay groups weren't willing to decry his death or really say anything at all about it, even though they had the same facts that we did. But we saw it as a singular manifestation of something that we know is common, and we were able to fill in the blanks left by the media reports.

The same thing is happening now. In the OneNewsNow story, Anthos isn't gay but a homosexual or a man with a same-sex preference, quotation marks are put around everything, and this lie comes out:

"This really calls to mind the incident in Wyoming a few years ago [when] a young man named Matthew Shepherd supposedly ... was beaten because he was a homosexual," says Wildmon. "The truth later came out that the people who beat him to death did not even know he was a homosexual; they were robbing him."
Even though that's not the way that the Matthew Shepherd story went down, suddenly an ME report from a case ten years later from the other side of the country regarding a completely different incident is being used to prop up a false story about it. These organizations that couldn't be brought to care about the death of Anthos are now suddenly putting it front and center of their political agenda. Even if they find the person who did this and he confesses and a video of the whole thing appears on YouTube, expect Wildmon to be saying ten years from now that Anthos died due to natural causes.

What we do know for certain is that this story has played into the dominant narratives of both pro-gay and anti-gay groups on the subject of hate crimes. Anti-gay folk think that the whole thing is a conspiracy to make them look bad even though there are thousands of hate crimes against GLBT folk each year, many that go unreported. This one case will be and has already been used by them to imply that those thousands of other cases are all lies as well. Pro-gay groups grabbed onto this story because, like Matthew Shepherd, Andrew Anthos was a particularly sympathetic victim, what with his life goal being to deck the state Capitol in red, white, and blue on Independence Day and quirky personality and love of singing and all. This story was used to give a voice to and elevate other stories about attacks on queer people that we often don't even report to the police or share with others for shame or fear of retribution.

We may never actually know what went down that Tuesday afternoon since the police are closing the investigation. This plays again into yet another narrative - that government officials can sometimes not care at all about GLBT people. Don Wildmon's antipathy towards queer people isn't that different from that of the city council in Largos or Gen. Pace or Eric Miller or some of the police officers many of us have had the pleasure of trying to get help from. And Don Wildmon has constructed a whole story about what happened to Matthew Shepherd, so who knows what the real motivation behind the ME and the Detroit police is to shut this case down. I'm not accusing them just yet of not fulfilling their duties because of homophobia, I'm just saying that it's very possible that that's what happened up there based on the way that I've come to see the world and the facts presented in this case. On the flipside, anti-gay folk are blaming this whole story on a vast left-wing MSM conspiracy, a narrative developed through years of Bill O'Reilly, et al, trashing other news sources to build and isolate their audience.

So what's the moral to this story? Here we have two competing and well-developed narratives, both expressing generalities in this one particular case. We don't know which side this particular case supports, but either way, it can't be used to support or reject such general realities in the way that many people are using it to. Andrew Anthos's attack wasn't the first hate crime against queer people, so that doesn't mean that it provided an absolute justification for hate-crimes legislation or for the idea that queer people are the victims of hate crimes. It also doesn't mean, if proved false, that it's a justification for foregoing hate crimes legislation or believing that the real victims are always anti-gay groups.

What it does mean is that his death should be fully investigated, which it will not be. And that when developing a narrative, this incident should be taken as part of a whole, another piece of evidence not to be elevated above all others.

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