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Opinion: Ed Buck Cannot Get Another Free Pass

This is what happens when wealth, class, and privilege matter more to society than a vulnerable black queer life.

Posted on January 15, 2019, at 4:25 p.m. ET

Damian Dovarganes / AP

Last week, for the second time in 18 months, the body of a black gay man has been found in the home of Ed Buck, a political activist and a donor to the Hillary Clinton campaign and other Democratic causes. This tragic story is an important lesson in what can happen when wealth, class, and privilege matter more to society than a vulnerable black queer life.

Timothy Dean, 55, was found nonresponsive after what was reported to be an accidental overdose. News outlets quickly picked up the story, and outrage grew online — there was no justice or accountability following the last suspicious death in this man’s home, and Buck and his attorneys immediately began to blame the dead man.

A lawyer representing Buck told reporters that his client was innocent and played no role in either death. "This is a situation where Mr. Buck has had longtime friends who, unfortunately, do not handle their life well,” he said. It was a similar story to the one told when the first gay black man was found dead in Buck’s home in July 2017.

That man, Gemmel Moore, was a 26-year-old acquaintance of Buck’s, who invited Moore to his home. The LA coroner at the time ruled his death an accidental overdose before outrage from Moore’s family and others pushed the LA Sheriff’s Department to investigate further. By the end of the investigation, the prosecutor’s office refused to indict.

Now with a second death in Buck’s home, the Democratic politicians and groups he has bankrolled need to do what is right for the black queer community. Remove Buck’s class, wealth, and proximity to power from this scenario and it’s hard to imagine this story unfolding the way it has. He is not only a donor to the Democratic National Committee, but to many local politicians and council members in LA; they didn’t want to ruffle feathers during the first probe. That investigation took place amid a heated political atmosphere gearing up for the 2018 midterm elections, and Democrats didn’t want to rock the boat. Buck was not held accountable.

This time, it is unacceptable for this powerful man to get another free pass. During the first investigation, major news media let us down. It is not lost on any of us how coverage differs when the victims are black. We have seen reporting that far too often blames the victim and protects the abuser. When trans women are being murdered, articles are littered with misgendering and assumptions alluding to the victim being culpable in their own death. When Moore was found dead, many news sites described him as a sex worker — a taboo subject in this country that can devalue a life in the eyes of some readers.

Black victims are rarely given humanity, for those who still think black folks have ever been afforded that in this country. I think of cases like Philando Castile, who was legally allowed to carry a gun and still lost his life at the hands of a white officer. You’d expect the National Rifle Association to rise to defend someone killed for exercising their Second Amendment rights, yet what we got was silence. That same silence from many in the national media followed the first black body found in Buck’s home, and that middling coverage played its part in the lack of accountability that followed.

Supposed allies, like Ellen DeGeneres, who are happy to intervene when one of their friends is being criticized, are nowhere to be seen when two black gay men die in the home of a rich, politically connected white man. We experience this same wall of silence from our own community with certain black victims, struggling to get institutions like the black church or the NAACP to fight in our struggle. It’s a double oppression that we face whenever we look for advocacy or allies.

We must do a better job of holding abusers accountable, especially when the victim is someone who can easily be ignored. The press has always served as a voice for the voiceless, and the black queer community will not be denied a voice this time around. The buck stops here.


George M. Johnson is a black queer author, journalist, and activist whose YA memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue is set to debut in January 2020.

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