Monday, January 29, 2007

Examples and choices

This story troubles me.

Apparently there's a new criminal penal statute in Florida making hazing a felony if it results in serious bodily injury. It's about damn time we stopped the cycle of abuse just so you can join an on-campus gang (frats may get more legitimacy -- but I'm not sure what else to call it when the initiated undergo a series of tasks that used to be silly and embarrassing, and have increasingly become physically harmful and psychologically damaging). I am all for holding fraternity members to account for abusing pledges for no other reason than that they can.

Similarly, I understand the judge's desire to make an example of some of the first people convicted under this new statute. I truly do.

But, frankly, I have to wonder about a conviction that results in two young black males going to prison for an admittedly unnecessarily lengthy period of time, for doing something white men have been doing for decades without punishment. I understand that ex post facto laws are unconstitutional, but let's look at some facts.

According to the 2000 census, 14% of college students were black, compared with the roughly 70% who were white. Florida A&M, the university in question, is the only historically black college in the state. Interstingly, white students are more likely to engage in the binge drinking which has served as the focal point for much of the concern revolving around fraternity initiation rites in the past several years. Indeed, the Florida statute in question was inspired by a drinking-related death in 2001.

To be clear, what those boys did to the victim was atrocious. It was vile and disgusting and, frankly, I can't say I'd be against simply banning fraternities outright to prevent this sort of behavior. Treating a fellow human being that way is, well, inhuman. What these boys did was wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and about five million more "wrong"s. They absolutely deserve to be punished.

But I'm troubled that Florida prosecutors and a Florida judge are deciding to make an example out of black students at a predominantly black university for problems that appear to largely stem from behavior more (statistically) commonly undertaken by whites. I would be very surprised indeed if there weren't white students engaging in behavior at least this bad. The difference, I suspect, is that those white students have rich white parents.

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35 Comments:

At January 29, 2007 at 7:41 PM, Blogger Gino said...

ever stop to think that black students can also have rich parents?

 
At January 29, 2007 at 8:19 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

gino, white people, by and large, are much wealthier than black people.

That said, I doubt many rich black parents' kids get in trouble when they actually do stuff wrong, either. What I'm addressing here is the hypocrisy of a system that already disproportionately imprisons black men, relative to the frequency of their commission of crimes.

The cynical remark at the end about rich white parents is only one possible suggestion why the prosecutors haven't gone after white kids. I bet a significant part of it, as well, is just good old-fashioned racism.

 
At January 30, 2007 at 8:12 AM, Blogger T said...

Could be - but it looks like it was also a pretty good test case for the new law. There is hazing (which I went through and organized - which didn't result in any injury, real risk of injury or forced drinking) and there is torture - which is what this was.

The purpose of hazing is for a pledge to demonstrate his or her committment to joining the organization, and to create a bond with the pledge class through shared hardship.

Making a pledge go across campus in the middle of the night, in winter, to open your beer for you is a hardship. Beating someone until they need to be revived with water, and then continuing to beat them is something out of Abu Graihb (sp?). That kind of shit needs to be punished immediately, visibly and harshly to show that there is no tolerance.

No frat at my school, or my brother's school, inflicted that kind of punishment, ever. Some frats have enforced drinking, with is really stupid and dangerous, as well as unnecessary, but ritualized abuse?

Even if this was prompted by race, the fact is that the sentence is just, and even a little lenient, imo. The severity of the criminal acts transcends race. If a white student did they same thing and was not punished, rich or not, that would clearly be racism.

Even if you could establish that the prosecutor was in fact racist, even a broken clock is right twice a day - not becuase of the race of the students, but because of the severity of the crime.

While some frats may force students to drink too much, or to do other stupid, dangerous or criminal things, this stands out in my experience as a particularly eggregious case of sadistic abuse masked as hazing.

 
At January 30, 2007 at 11:04 AM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

Right, t, and again -- I agree that these punks should be punished severely. I'm just troubled by the statement BY THE JUDGE that this will be the "example" case. She determined that a year would be a long enough sentence. Whether or not she's right, that was her determination. She then decides to make THESE kids the "example." Again, I can understand why... but I'm also troubled by it. I can't help but wonder if we're winning a battle here but losing another, equally important, war.

 
At January 30, 2007 at 3:21 PM, Anonymous knights13_ghost said...

From the tools that were used to bring the victim into this situation; I agree with t. It seems as if one of the two persons involved was the instigator and the other one followed along. One of the two had it in for the victim and used initiation as a blanket.

a) It was easier for the instigator to get the victim to surrender and not expose himself to retaliation.
b) He can use this as cover without being caught for abuse or intent to brutally hurt the victim.

Both of these individuals are losers and one of them is an even bigger disgusting coward. I also don’t understand why younger people would go through embarrassment just to fit in with losers. Anyone who has dignity, loyalty, respect, etc., wouldn’t humiliate people.

 
At January 30, 2007 at 7:13 PM, Blogger Gino said...

so what would make you feel better?
that 'x' number of white frats get nailed in exchange for 'y' black frats?

or, how bout everycase taken on its merits, as it's time comes.

just maybe, this black frat made it to the front of the line, on its own, to set the example.

besides, we are on the verge of black history month, and need to celebrate all milestones made by blacks. well, here's one.

personally, i'd rather all criminals were punished. i dont care if blacks or whites make up a fair share.

 
At January 31, 2007 at 1:26 PM, Blogger DarthImmortal said...

I just did a post on racism today. Why are we even looking at these students' race? It doesn't make any sense. They broke the law and were punished. Race should not even be a factor in a court room, unless you are saying the judge is a racist?

If anything, argue the harshness of the law and NOT that the first two convicted were black. Should we be putting college students in jail for this? Aren't there better ways of handling this?

 
At January 31, 2007 at 6:21 PM, Anonymous Hujo said...

"is just good old-fashioned racism."

This is somehow worse than your new fangled racism?

"White men are rich racists"

"black men are criminals"

Law fairy is a hypocrite.

Are there not more women than men in your law class fairy? White women, privileged white women.

I seem to remember a lot of female hazing, hearing stories of humiliating stunts carried on by women, what about punishing the privileged women or to follow your racist thinking, JUST the white women, the ones you failed to even consider?

 
At January 31, 2007 at 6:37 PM, Anonymous Hujo said...

"for an admittedly unnecessarily lengthy period of time, for doing something white men have been doing for decades without punishment."

You really don't seem to understand that race has nothing to do with violence and why it is wrong and why it needs to be punished.

This is not hazing the father is correct. If you beat on muscle tissue for that length of time it becomes ground beef, it was torture the revived him as he passed out from pain to continue beating him.

Where are the white male cases that are this extream ? You present it as if this level of violence is at epidemic proportions, inherent to white men, that are all "in" with the cops against black men, where is your proof hate monger?

I want to ask you if it was a female victim would 2 years be to much time? Why is a male victim of male violence so easily disrespected like this?

Typing WRONG ten times doesn't make this post of yours any less disgusting and ugly.

You do nothing to promote equality give it up.

 
At January 31, 2007 at 8:50 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

Anyone who has dignity, loyalty, respect, etc., wouldn’t humiliate people.

knights, I couldn't agree more.

gino, I'm all for taking every case on its merits. If only that's what happened in America. It isn't. Black men are disproportionately imprisoned for their crimes. This is a fact, and as responsible citizens we need to recognize it, and recognize that it is our COLLECTIVE responsibility to deal with it. There are LOTS of racist cops and racist prosecutors and racist judges and REALLY racist juries. Once again, to be crystal clear, I am NOT saying what they did even approaches any kind of "okay" in any halfway decent book that has ever been written. I am not saying they shouldn't be imprisoned. I am not saying they shouldn't be imprisoned for a very, very, very long time. I am not saying this is a bad law. I am saying that the judge determining that she would impose a sentence GREATER than the sentence legally determined to be sufficient (again, not saying it was in fact sufficient -- honestly I don't think it was, but that's not the point I'm making here) to MAKE AN EXAMPLE of these boys, smacks of racism. You want an example? How about looking at the black community, which is ENMESHED in a prison culture. We don't NEED to make examples of black men going to prison. A young black boy only needs to look at 80% of the men he knows to see this example. This young boy knows that he'll probably go to prison just for living his life the only way he knows how. Sure, give him more examples to relate to. Let's just raise black boys to be as ready for prison as they can be, since that's where most of them will end up.

As a judge, this woman had a responsibility to look at the message she was sending, and she shirked that responsibility the minute she decided that THESE boys needed to be an "example." She could have just as easily sent them away for five years through a determination that the maximum sentence was required for such a reprehensible crime. There would still be problems with the disproportionate rate of imprisonment for black men, but she would not be particularly adding to them. She would have simply taken the case as it came to her, as you say she should.

Unfortunately, we don't get every criminal who commits a crime -- if we did I'd be much less concerned with racism in the penal system. As it is, we disproportionately prosecute and convict black men.

I'm not going to address the black history month comment because it's racist. Gino, you are smarter and better than this and you should be ashamed of this remark.

darth, I'm looking at race because I strongly believe this is racism (even if subconcious -- which most racism is anyway). I mostly agree with you -- the key difference is that the judge EXPLICITLY SAID she was making an example. SHE made this political. So I'm evaluating her decision on political terms.

hujo, I don't feed trolls. Do you realize how pathetic it is to follow people over from feministing just so you can spam their comments? Grow a brain and we'll talk.

 
At February 1, 2007 at 7:51 PM, Blogger Gino said...

"Gino, you are smarter and better than this and you should be ashamed of this remark."

No, i am not.
racist is even having a nat'l black history month to begin with, where we make special notion of footnote contributers soley on the basis of their race.
yeah, i am mocking it. to prove a point.


history is history.
teach that year round.
leave black/white/whatever out of it.

 
At February 1, 2007 at 10:21 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

::sigh::

okay, well I don't see the point in trying to demonstrate how one hundred billion percent wrong you are. Hopefully someday life will open your eyes. I don't have the time to bang my head against a wall.

Ha! Interesting, my verification word is "jewdwf"

But, of course, saying the word "Jew" is probably racist in your fucked-up view of "reality."

Bleah.

 
At February 2, 2007 at 8:50 AM, Blogger Gino said...

hehe,
not at all.
i play with the 'jew' word without hesitation. (andy's been a little twisted with me over a post two months ago)

ya know,LF, you and i have two very different perspectives on life and the circus that surrounds us.
though it might make you wrong on many points ;), it doesnt mean that neither you, nor i, are bad folks.

and if i didnt like you on a personal level, i wouldnt be coming here to talk to you.
though i do wish you'd visit me more than once in a while.

 
At February 2, 2007 at 1:11 PM, Blogger Lazerlou said...

Identifying race is not racism. Having a black history month is not racism. Racism requires an analysis of the disparity of power. Identifying race for the benefit of those who have been discriminated against, nay, those who were enslaved, by virtue of their race is not racism.

Thus, affirmative action is not racism, though it identifies and distinguished between races.

When our country's history is one of extreme prejusice and racism, to make amends, to cure the wrongs requires the identification of race, no matter how much, as an ideal matter, we would like all law to be race neutral. History requires othrwise.

Those who would argue that affirmative action is "racist" or make the proxy argument that all government and law should be race blind are often just trying to excuse the advantage whites have and have always had in this country. They are often the very bigots themselves who hide their advantage and prejudice behind false claims of wanting equality. Pick any rich white republican from the south, like Jesse Helms as an example. he was an amazing foe of affirmative action, and I promise you, it is not becasue he was a bleeding heart idealist longing for equality.

I am with lawfairy 100%. It is a statsitical impossibility that the courts would choose a black frat to make an example of when there are far more instances of harmful hazing amongst whites, both per capita and obviously in absolute numbers.

That bigots hide behind an idealism that has no place in the racist reality of our country is distrubing to me.

Gino, you may not be a bad person, but you are on the side of very bad people, I can promise you that.

 
At February 2, 2007 at 1:53 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

gino, you're right, I should visit you more. Even though you and I don't see eye to eye, I like you as well (indeed, some of my closest friends/family are people with whom I disagree probably 70-80% of the time :))

Last night I worked until well past 11:00 (third time this week), so I was a little irritable.

lou, it's nice to be agreeing with you instead of arguing ;) Very well said.

 
At February 2, 2007 at 4:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On-campus gangs was actually a better characterization. In my experience, the hazing athletes go through on sports teams is often worse than what happens in fraternities.

Racist or not, I have a visceral reaction to "making an example" out of someone. In this case, what the two did was abhorrent, but I really doubt such a harsh sentence will be imposed again.

I can see what gino is saying, though. I've long felt that Black History Month is a cheap token that doesn't do nearly enough to correct centuries of injustice. "You have a whole MONTH! What more do you want? Equality? Respect? Equal opportunity and pay?"

I still think it's good for little black kids to see black role models that have played important parts in history, though.

 
At February 2, 2007 at 8:33 PM, Blogger Gino said...

lazerlou:
my father, who is white by govt definition, came to this country, alone, at 15 yrs old, with nothing more than a suitcase, and no education to speak of. all he had in his 'favor' was an address of distant relation (who,btw, didnt want to take him in, so he lived in a bare naked basement in chicago) somehow had an advantage over the educated son of a black attorney, so the black guy gets the break.

that is racist.
i dont care how much you wanna parse definitions, but racism is racism, regardless of who is practicing it for whatever reason.

 
At February 3, 2007 at 10:05 AM, Blogger Lazerlou said...

Eduacation or not, he was not the grandson of a slave. Education or not, he was not thought inferior due to the color of his skin. Yes, indeed he had many advantages over that eucated black kid, and certainly over the 9 out of 10 other black kids who, despite not being fresh off the boat, still had no real education of which to speak.

I'd rather be your grandfather than that educated black guy in this country.

 
At February 3, 2007 at 10:32 AM, Blogger Gino said...

lazarlou,
it was my FATHER, and not long ago either, 1952.

something about your mindset, in justifying a two-tier racial spoils system, is twisted.
obviously, all that stuff MLK said means nothing to you.

dad had no advantage that he didnt make himself. he worked hard. he was smart, and still has no education beyond 6th grade italian.
yeah, functionally, he's illiterate.
he never took a public check,(and still never will) so spending time in school instead of at work wasnt an option.
and you want to punish him?
blacks, as group, have far more built in advantage than dad ever had.
but, somehow, you also think i'm with the 'bad' people.

you're funny.
and ridiculously so.

 
At February 5, 2007 at 5:03 PM, Blogger Lazerlou said...

Gino, it was a *dream* MLK had. I can promise you that MLK supports affirmative action and public recognition of black history. I have that dream too, but we are a long way away buddy.

Two tier racial spoils system? Huh? Affirmative action and black history month are not racial spoils systems.

Your father huh? That explains a bit. I'd still rather be him in this country than a black man of any education. He had the advantage of not being looked down upon and discriminated against by virtue of the color of his skin. That's a huge advantage, fresh off the boat and without education or not.

 
At February 5, 2007 at 5:59 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

"and you want to punish him?"

gino, I think this is where the major disconnect is. Affirmative Action isn't "punishment." People who support substantive equality don't want to "punish" white people. We simply recognize and acknowledge that the system and our culture perpetuate bias against black people. In other words, black people are already punished, and we're trying to undo the ill effects of that punishment. It's very zero-sum to see this as a question of "who" should be punished. I and others who agree with me see it as trying to eradicate punishment once and for all by correcting for the unjust barriers that exist. We're not "taking" from the White Man and "giving" to the Black Man. We're correcting for injustice in the system in the hopes that someday we'll all share justly and fairly in a much bigger and more diverse pie.

I think the problem is that too many people see it as punishment. But this, too, is white-centric. Those of us who support affirmative action don't support it because we want to hurt white people (I mean, I certainly don't want to hurt myself). We support it because we think that the existing bias against black people is wrong, and this is one way to correct it. At most we could be said to ignore the effect on whites (though I don't believe we do)... but there's no animus or desire to "punish." Everything isn't about the white folks, KWIM? ;)

 
At February 5, 2007 at 7:52 PM, Anonymous knights13_ghost said...

"Identifying race is not racism."

Having an ill feeling that comes after the identification is racism, right?

Not liking a person just by the color of their skin. This would make the majority of the population not rasict because naturally it is hard to not like another human based on looks.

So, why do we as a society feel like we are punishing black people? I as a white male haven't done anything to make a black person go to jail. I haven't tried to harm a black person in any way. On an individual basis; most of the white race is along this spectrum. So, why is it as a whole that black people are disadvantaged?

 
At February 6, 2007 at 10:24 AM, Blogger Lazerlou said...

becasue three and somtimes two generations ago, many black people in this country were chattel, were property of white people, were slaves. As much as you'd like to point to individualism, racism exists subtely and pervasively in social institutions passed down from generation to generation, only slowly being transformed by time. There is still institutional racism in this country, all good intentions acknowledged. Human identity and considerations of social justice must look beyond the individual to the social institution, and one need only look at the financial and educational reality of the vast majority of balck people in this country to see that the vestiges of slavery still afect our culture and social institutions. It's just that simple. Go look up median incomes for whiotes and blacks in teh census, and then get back to me.

 
At February 6, 2007 at 11:25 AM, Anonymous knights13_ghost said...

It doesn't matter how you spin it because it still comes down to the individuals. That is what makes institutions applicable or functional. I don't need to look at the financial and educational reality. I went to public schools which did not exclude black people or poor people. Now, you can say the teachers are racist on an individual basis and try hard to fail a black person. Although, that could fall for any student and doesn't have to be a racist dislike.

I don't think it's as simple as you think. Because the institutions I went through; treated everyone as “equal” citizens of my country. If you are black, yellow, purple or green, poor or rich. You get the opportunities to get your education and find a good job.

One thing I don't like is how you bring up slavery and somehow that is still alive today. We can go and argue plutocratic slavery. That would then apply to many of us.

 
At February 6, 2007 at 1:28 PM, Blogger Lazerlou said...

You obviously don't know much about public school funding. Go read 'Savage Inequalities' by a guy named Jonathan Kozol. I promise you, there is little equity in public education, despite what you have seen. Urban black public schools are sytematically disadvantaged in our country due the means of public financing of schools.

 
At February 6, 2007 at 1:30 PM, Blogger Lazerlou said...

Also go do some research on voting practices, especially in black areas of Republican run states. Again, the equlity you so desperately want to point to is conspicuously absent.

 
At February 6, 2007 at 2:06 PM, Anonymous knights13_ghost said...

I don't need to read someone’s theoretical practices. I've experienced public schools empirically. If the government didn't fund my school which was not exclusive to any race then I would have felt the money pinch too.

Now, if you have special schools for certain races then you are willingly asking for discrimination. That's a problem in itself. That is not a public school and it's a special interest group. Why are they urban black public schools? Why are they urban white public schools? Why not like the public schools in my country? Just public schools for all citizens.

If you point out the voting practices and show the evidence then I'll comment. What about the voting practices?

 
At February 6, 2007 at 3:01 PM, Blogger Lazerlou said...

So the fact that I grew up in a area that was extremely affluent and 98% white and had 3x the money spent on me in my public school than the poor black kids who went to public highschool in the city (99% black) doesn't strike you as institutional racism because technically, if there were more rich black families and someone would sell them their house in Winnetka, they could have, for the sake of argument, gone to New Trier. I suppose you are right. There is nothing racist about public school funding becasue there were indeed 3 black kids in my highschool, and one hispanic kid at King.

Kozol's book isn't theory buddy, its an empircal sociological study and it's got a lot more empirical evidence in it than the small world from which you derive yours.

Man o man.

 
At February 6, 2007 at 3:54 PM, Anonymous knights13_ghost said...

Man o man are you picking on the wrong guy. :)

He has statistical numbers that show what?

Then you go on to say you were a privliged white kid that was rich which is a stereotype. I was a white kid that was extremely poor.

So, How did I make it to one of these "Privelaged" schools?

Kozol has studied poverty. I've lived it. If you can't get an education in America or Canada then you only have yourself to blame. No one else. I don't care what Kozol or anybody writes.

 
At February 6, 2007 at 4:18 PM, Blogger Lazerlou said...

...which might explain the poverty.

You're like the living example of what steven Colbert makes fun of. "I don't like books. They are full of facts. I have my eyes and my gut, and that's all I need for truthiness."

Yea, see we base school funding in almost all states on local property taxes, so the poorer your neighborhood, the less money in general that gets spent on the local public schools. Thus the public schools in the black urban slums that have existed since the emancipation suffer even though a poor white person like yoruself could technically have gone there if you lived in a poor black neighborhood, which you don't.

Kozol's book, which is many years old now, has in depth analysis of public school funing that shows systemic racial prejudice. That is what it shows. How rich white kids like me get far more monet spent on their public education than urban poor balck kids.

I love how the poor white guys and the first generation whites are the ones in whom latent racism still lives. It is understandable though as the idea that blacks are dicriminated against when you yourself or your family are poor would mean you are somehow even more responsible for your own or your family's poverty than the offspring of slaves are, which would be tough on the ego.

 
At February 6, 2007 at 4:31 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

lou, I have a big fat crush on Steven Colbert. Loving the quote.

 
At February 6, 2007 at 4:33 PM, Anonymous knights13_ghost said...

I mean, I have nothing against Colbert. He is a funny comic that somehow makes fun of conservatives like me and unedumcated us can't even figure that out. Wow, I love the elitist thought process.

By your explanation; since I'm white and poor, I still get to live in the suburbs? Most urban kids are black and there are no white poeple there at all? There are a lot of white people in urban areas too. Maybe you are right, David Rockefeller just wrote us a personal check.

Agian there was nothing rich about the schools I went to. There were all kinds of people attending. A lot of black students too. I don't see how I had an advantage on the black students at the same schools and locations.

 
At February 6, 2007 at 5:52 PM, Blogger Lazerlou said...

You didn't, but racism also has to deal in the aggregate. There are many rich black people in our country. That fact alone certainly doesn't mean that blacks are not still at a disadvantage in the workplace. We are dealing with bell curves here, not absolutes. We are dealing with statistics. When there are statistically significant disparities in average income and household wealth between whites and blacks, in education, in health, it means the black people, on the whole, are at some kind of systemic disadvantage, a disadvantage that ultimately stems from their unique history in our country,a nd which we as a country must address, becasue it is our inhereted legacy.

Anyway, having to convince someone that there is still racism in our country is about as interesting to me as digesting deposition transcripts. But I'm paid to do the latter, so I better do it.

LF, aside from the whole Jesus thing, I'm a huge fan or yours. Keep up the disgust. You are good for the world.

 
At February 6, 2007 at 6:35 PM, Anonymous knights13_ghost said...

lazerlou, you don't have to convince me that there is racism in the world. What you have me convinced is that your types of people make sure there is racism in the future.

 
At February 6, 2007 at 11:51 PM, Blogger Roonie said...

Wow. Quite a debate I missed.

 

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