Bob Chatelle is tireless campaigner for truth and justice, and one who has dedicated his life to helping the oppressed. Below is an excerpt from Doing Justic, by Judith Levine, which gives a flavor of the splendid humanitarian work he has carried out, especially in the case of Bernard Baran, another victim of the sex abuse hysteria that now dominates the US, and increasingly global, political landscape.
It may have been at Baran's emotional nadir, in 1998, when others of Massachusetts' innocent accused were finding their ways to freedom, that Bob Chatelle learned of the case from Debbie Nathan, the first journalist to skeptically investigate and debunk, in the Village Voice, the myth of daycare abuse. Baran's story must have touched Chatelle personally. A fierce champion of sexual and civil rights and liberties, Chatelle had created a wildly diverse and opinionated listserv community called Friends of Justice. He was a gay man old enough to have been queer before Stonewall; he had survived the anti-gay witch hunts that resurfaced in Boston with each wave of a growing pedophile panic.
Chatelle made his living as a computer geek; his boyfriend, Jim D'Entremont, was a playwright flogging gay plays and writing for a gay tourism rag that also ran long pieces about sexual politics — taking minority, sometimes despised, positions within the community. Chatelle knew marginalization, demonization; he knew injustice. Chatelle wrote to Baran repeatedly. Almost a year later, in 1999, Baran replied: "I have spent 15 years of my life locked away for something I never did, and after a while you start to lose all hope... When I see your letter [I start feeling] hope and it scares me."
Chatelle began devoting endless hours to realizing Baran's wary hope. He founded a defense committee and, in 2002, the National Center for Reason & Justice, to educate the public about false accusations of crimes against children and the panics that produce them. Through NCRJ (on whose board I serve) Chatelle connected Baran with attorney John Swomley, who wrote the retrial motion and procured the uncut interviews that will likely exonerate Baran. NCRJ also collects donations for defendants whose innocence it determines to be probable. Baran's legal bills now near a half-million dollars.
To members of Friends of Justice and the NCRJ board, Chatelle's listserv posts can sometimes seem angry and almost cynical, as if all politicians were bums and all politics a waste of time. Moreover, NCRJ's work, of which Chatelle does about 99 percent, is demoralizing. Every week, fresh letters arrive from people — usually poor, uneducated people — begging for help. Many have exhausted their options. Some have been in prison for years.
The press has tired of the child-abuse panic. Meanwhile, penalties for sex crimes against children grow more Draconian: Oklahoma recently became the fifth state to propose executing offenders. Yet Chatelle keeps on writing letters to the editor, visiting prisoners, holding their mothers' hands.
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