In the aftermath of the 2006 cyber-bullying case that led to 13-year-old Megan Meier’s suicide, there has been a predictable effort to clamp down on any actions by students that seem even vaguely similar to the fatal case. There is also a movement to perhaps criminalize such actions.
Now, however, free speech advocates are pushing back.
LA Times writer Victoria Kim writes a very informative and thoughtful article on the topic that begins with a story about Beverly Hills girl who was the victim of mean girl video in which a bunch of fellow students said creepy things about her on camera and posted it on YouTube. School officials reacted by suspending the student who did the YouTube posting. Her parents took the case to court and, last month, an LA Federal judge sided with the mean girl.
To allow the school to cast this wide a net and suspend a student simply because another student takes offense to their speech, without any evidence that such speech caused a substantial disruption of the school’s activities, runs afoul” of the law, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson wrote in a 60-page opinion.
“The court cannot uphold school discipline of student speech simply because young persons are unpredictable or immature, or because, in general, teenagers are emotionally fragile and may often fight over hurtful comments,” he wrote.
School administrators will be appealing.
Although the female grizzly mother in me wants all the video-posting little wretches suspended with extreme prejudice, my wiser self agrees entirely with Judge Wilson.
Read the rest of the story. It takes a multi-sided look at a complex question with far-reaching implications.
NOTE: I admit, I took the night off last night because it was my birthday, and I was celebrating with friends and family. (My son and his girlfriend cooked for all concerned. How cool is that?) I am running off shortly, but I have a pile up of good stories, so stay tuned.
NOTE 2: Speaking of parents and worry, over the weekend, there was an alcohol-related death of a South Pasadena teenager that was reportedly related to a high school party. According to the back stories I have heard, the tragedy appears to have some similarities to the Orinda case.
In an excellent article in the current issue of The Boston Review, immigration reporter Tom Barry looks at where profit, poverty and immigration policy converge. Barry writes that in depressed communities along the U.S. southwest border, a series of public/private prisons are opening up that are changing the face of the nation’s imprisonment policies.
These facilities are owned by local governments, privately operated by corporations, publicly financed by tax-exempt bonds, and located in areas where jobs are desperately needed—a combination that has often led to abuse, Barry writes.
Here is how his story begins:
County Clerk Dianne Florez noticed it first. Plumes of smoke were rising outside the small West Texas town of Pecos. “The prison is burning again,” she announced.
About a month and a half before, on December 12, 2008, inmates had rioted to protest the death of one of their own, Jesus Manuel Galindo, 32. When Galindo’s body was removed from the prison in what looked to them like a large black trash bag, they set fire to the recreational center and occupied the exercise yard overnight. Using smuggled cell phones, they told worried family members and the media about poor medical care in the prison and described the treatment of Galindo, who had been in solitary confinement since mid-November. During that time, fellow inmates and his mother, who called the prison nearly every day, had warned authorities that Galindo needed daily medication for epilepsy and was suffering from severe seizures in the “security housing unit,” which the inmates call the “hole.”
I arrived in Pecos on February 2, shortly after the second riot broke out. I had driven 200 miles east from El Paso through the northern reaches of the Chihuahuan desert.
Pecos is the seat of Reeves County in “far west” Texas and home to what the prison giant GEO Group calls “the largest detention/correctional facility under private management in the world.” The prison, a sprawling complex surrounded by forbidding perimeter fences on the town’s deserted southwest edge, holds up to 3,700 prisoners. Almost all are serving time in federal lockup before being deported and are what the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security (DHS) call “criminal aliens.”
Although the term “criminal aliens” has no precise definition, its broadening use reflects a trend in dealing with immigrants. …
On Monday, California lawmakers saw their pay cut by 18 percent. Instead of earning $116,208 a year, they will drop to $95,291.
It was a move that our dear legislators did everything they could to keep from occurring, including pleading with State Attorney General Jerry Brown to declare the cut illegal. (He wisely and correctly declined to do so.)
This brings us to this past Tuesday when the LAUSD board threatened cuts closer to home. The board told the LA’s public school teachers that either 5000 more jobs would be slashed from the district payrolls in the next two years, OR the teachers could take a more than 11 percent drop in pay.
It hardly needs to be said that, if LA’s teachers take the proposed wage hit, they will NOT be grossing $95 grand as their remaining take home.
On the Huffington Post, impassioned Venice High English teacher Dennis Danziger takes a look at the brand new unholy choice of LAUSD cuts from a perspective other than purely fiscal: He sees the cuts as a civil rights issue.
Here, in part, is what he writes:
I stood in a crowd of four or five hundred red-shirted fellow teachers outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters near downtown LA late this afternoon. Inside the LAUSD Board was debating, and would later vote on a budget plan which called for a 12% teacher pay cut; plus they’d consider tossing in a few furlough dates just for good measure. All totaled, the package, if approved, would amount to just under a 15% pay cut.
There goes cable TV. Christmas gifts to everyone on my list. The photographer at my daughter’s upcoming wedding. Hand sanitizer. July, August and September rent. Abbot Kinney pizza. The 3,000 mile oil change. Bully sticks for my dogs Leo and Soni. And the land line.
More disappointing than imagining my shrinking paycheck was the Board’s lone alternative to the proposed pay cuts. In lieu of a pay cut we teachers could vote to have 5,000 LAUSD employees, including 1,400 of our fellow teachers, canned. Kind of a Sophie’s Choice move by the Board. Your money or your colleagues’ jobs. You choose.
This year the LAUSD booted 2,000 teachers off its payroll, and the English classes I teach at Venice HS jumped from 27 students per class in 2008 to 37 students per class this year. Another round of teacher cuts and my classes will be so packed they’ll be in violation of city fire codes. Oh well.
We few hundred protesters milled around in the cold shouting the same old lame union chants: “Enough is enough. Enough is enough.” And the old reliable United Teachers of Los Angeles chant, “U-T-L-A! U-T-L-A!”
Someone with a microphone shouted, “Louder, so they can hear you upstairs!”
Maybe if the 48,000 UTLA members who stayed away from our demonstration had showed up, the people upstairs would have heard our voices. Would have thought twice before threatening our livelihoods, trashing our profession, before threatening to turn a second-rate school district into little more than storage units, holding facilities for the poor. Because that’s what the LAUSD is fast becoming.
Check out the LAUSD website and you’ll learn that over 90% of its students are non-white and the vast majority of them are poor.
So I don’t take the Board’s proposed pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs personally. It’s not that the Board hates teachers. Heck, I figure they could care less about us one way or the other.
This is a civil rights issue. What the Board is doing, if they impose these cuts, is making sure that LA’s poor and working class children don’t stand much of a chance when it comes time to compete for college slots. When it comes time for these kids to enter the workforce.
What the Board will insure if they pass these cuts is that the status quo will prevail. They’ll make sure the tech schools and the military fill their quotas. Make sure there’s another generation of cheap labor. Bus boys, car wash attendants, people who can answer phones, vacuum office floors, deliver pizzas, rake leaves, change diapers, stock shelves and check the oil…..
Wednesday night I was on KNBC’s The Filter again, this time with Jack Weiss, the former City Council Member, would-have-liked-to- be-City Attorney. In this segment, we were questioned by Fred Roggin on the following topics:
1. The abortion-related Nelson amendment to the Senate’s version of the health care bill, an amendment that was recently (and thankfully) voted down.
2. The recent city council race.
3. The 18 percent pay cut that California lawmakers got hit with on Monday.
4. The Connecticut elementary school that may or may not have gone too far in its clamp down on Christmas decorations and the like.
All of this was accomplished in ten minutes, which is about 50 seconds per person per topic.
If you think that means blazing at full gallop through the subjects, you are entirely right. There’s even a timer. That’s part of the format—and the challenge of doing it. Opining on speed dial. (Heck: I figure it’s good exercise— like running wind sprints.)
UPDATE: I should have added when I posted this late last night (but I was too busy unwrapping cough drops) that I found Weiss to be refreshingly candid, informed and intelligent, both onscreen and off—which made me wish he was back in public office.
You can find the first half of Weiss’s and my segment above, the link to the second half here.
Be forewarned that I have a horrid cold (Kleenex, cough drops and chicken soup R Us around my house), thus my voice is nearly a full octave lower than usual (which might be an improvement), and I seem to look most of the time as if I’m about to sneeze.
Jack Weiss looks like he has a cold too. Although it may be simply the camera and the lighting.
One of the conceits of The Filter, this new show that the local NBC folks are developing for a possible full launch next year, is that the guests are all Skyped in, meaning that we each are photographed through the teensy, weensy fish-eye-ish lens on our laptops while sitting at home (bathed in the vanity-withering light of the computer screen)—a look that is intentionally both hi-tech and primitive.
On the other hand, it means there’s no driving time, and I can be wearing my oldest, scroungiest, most comfortable pair of Ugg boots. But, as long as I completely my sentences in a reasonable manner, you and the show’s producers will not know or care about my footwear.
Anyway, take a look. As I said, KNBC is still experimenting. So feel free to critique.
(Oh, and in case anyone’s curious, that weird background behind me is my great, great aunt’s, slightly raggedy log cabin quilt made of, no kidding, men’s neckties.)
I’ll be back later with updates on the Sanchez case and other stories once I’ve…… I don’t know….. napped.
The gang conspiracy case against Alex Sanchez was transferred to the jurisdiction of a new federal judge today after weeks of community protest alleging bias by Judge Manuel Real. The decision was rendered by a judicial status conference in a closed chamber December 2. Supporters of Alex Sanchez saw the ruling as a major change for the better.
After weeks of protests alleging judicial bias, the gang conspiracy case against Alex Sanchez was transferred to the jurisdiction of a new federal judge.
The new judge assigned to the case is Judge Christina Snyder, 61, appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 on the recommendation of California senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Judge Snyder is a Pomona College alumna (1969) and a Stanford Law School graduate (1972). In an important recent decision, she ruled against California state Medicare cuts in 2008. Little is known about her approach to juvenile justice or police reform issues. She was in private practice for twenty-five years before her appointment to the federal bench.
Alex Sanchez supporters were thrilled.
Certainly the change in judges in no way suggested whether or not legal events would play out in Alex’s favor. But supporters felt it would mean a trial that would hopefully be fair—an outcome that many even outside the Sanchez camp had increasingly come to question should the proceedings stay in Judge Real’s courtroom.
The order to transfer the Sanchez case from Judge Real—which also contained a concurring signature of the new Judge, Christina Snyder, signed Dec. 2—- was filed on December 4, and then reportedly sent to Sanchez’ defense lawyer at 3:07 Monday afternoon.
Then a couple hours later on Tuesday afternoon…..everything changed.
Sanchez’s attorney received a new email, this time from the government prosecutor. Judge Real’s clerk said that Real wanted to keep the case and that Judge Snyder’s signature was “a mistake.”
Hayden sent around an email Tuesday night containing details and reactions. It read in part:
“The turn of events will raise new suspicions about alleged manipulation of the proceedings which began six months ago with Sanchez’ arrest on gang conspiracy charges. Sanchez, a well-known gang intervention worker who helped expose the Los Angeles police Rampart scandal a decade ago, asserts his innocence in the case. He is being held without bail at a federal prison in Los Angeles.
As of 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, no order reversing the transfer had been received by defense counsel, and no explanation offered for the unusual chain of events.
The order surprised and pleased the Sanchez defense team. His supporters, organized as www.wearealex.org, assert that Sanchez is being railroaded and denied any semblance of a fair trial. Sanchez’ court-appointed counsel, Kerry Bensinger, argued in a recent appeal to the Ninth Circuit that the case should be remanded to another judge.
Why the December 4 transfer order was withdrawn less than a day after it was made public will raise questions about the inner workings of the judiciary itself.
Uh, huh. Something like that.
Or to put it another way: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???!!
(PHOTO NOTE: A bunch of people posted rainbow-over-Los Angeles photos Monday on Facebook. This one is by my friend, photographer Anne Fishbein. She ran out and snapped it while she had turkey soup cooking in the kitchen.)
Monday night, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck sat down at the LA Times for a Q & A session. Video of the event will be available shortly, but until then, by far the most entertaining account of the event is from LA Times crime reporter Richard Winton’s Twitter updates.
(UPDATE: The video was promised. But it still ain’t there. Keep you eye on this spot. If I see it, I’ll post it.)
WHEN DOES RESTRAINING AND SECLUDING KIDS TURNS ABUSIVE AND DANGEROUS
On Wednesday, December 9, Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) plan to introduce a bill that prevents the misuse of restraint and seclusion on school kids. (Miller is the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee. McMorris Rodgers is a member of the Committee.)
One would imagine that such a bill as this one would not be necessary in this day and age. But one would be wrong.
It seems that, unlike with hospitals, and like facilities that receive federal funding, there are currently no federal policies that provide guidelines as to how restraint and seclusion can be used in schools, and the state laws are ridiculously uneven.
As a consequence, there have been reports of horrific cases of adults sitting on kids who are face down until they have stopped breathing, adults placing mentally disabled kids in closets for extended periods of time, in certain cases with fatal results, and on and on.
(The video above shows the Congressional testimony of a mother named Toni Price about once such incident. Price’s account is dignified, clear and heartbreaking.)
A look at the report on the matter from the US General Accounting Office is quite sobering.
The video above is of one mother’s testimony at a Congressional hearing on the issue this past spring.
ROBBER APOLOGIZES TO VICTIM
Evidently on Sunday night, a gun-wielding robber who jacked $70 from a Christmas tree salesman apologized to his victim saying, “Times are tough,” according to the LA Times.
I know several young able bodied men who are about to apply for General Relief because, despite daily searches for any kind of work they can find nothing, and they need some way to put food in the house but do not want to turn to the same desperate strategy as the gunman.
I got a call from one of them last night. He does not want a government hand out, he said. “But what can I do?” he asked me. I had no answer.
CAN A CAMPUS CHRISTIAN GROUP BAN GAYS AS VOTING MEMBERS?
On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to take a case which pits issues of religious freedom against a college’s policy of nondiscrimination. Moreover, the case has views of two circuit courts at odds with each other, one of them California’s beloved and sometimes notorious 9th Circuit.
The Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco was stripped of its registered student organization status at the college because it refused to allow gay and lesbian students to become voting members or officers of the group.
Under the Hastings nondiscrimination policy, student organizations must allow fellow students to join and potentially seek leadership positions in any organization without regard to their status or beliefs….
Starting in the 2004-2005 academic year, the CLS required prospective members to sign a statement of Christian faith. The statement includes a pledge that the undersigned student trusts in “Jesus Christ as my savior.”
Prospective members must express belief in several religious tenets, including “one God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The statement includes a pledge of belief in the virgin birth, eternal life, Jesus’ resurrection, a divinely created heaven and earth, and that the Bible is the inspired word of God.
In addition, the national Christian Legal Society developed a policy position stating its view of biblical principles of sexual morality. The position, adopted by the Hastings chapter, said that “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” was inconsistent with the group’s statement of faith and would disqualify an individual from membership.
Great case! Morally complex and legally ambiguous. Go Supremes!
JUSTICE BREYER: “GET ME THE REWRITE GUY!”
And Speaking of the Supreme Court…based on another case that went before the court on Monday, it looks quite possible that the nation’s Miranda warning may get rewritten. The case—Florida v. Powell—concerns one Kevin Dwayne Powell who did not understand, even after the warning was given, that he could have an attorney with him during questioning—as that fact is not really spelled out.
(Although if Mr. Powell had watched a little more episodic television, surely he would have known his rights a bit better.)
This isn’t really a social justice issue at all, it’s a literary issue. But if you care about such things, the new posthumous piece of fiction by David Foster Wallace in the upcoming issue of the New Yorker, is a reminder why so many of us are, more than a year later, so devastated that Wallace could seem to find no way out of his personal psychic pain other than to silence it in the most permanent of manners.
Still and all, no matter how bittersweet, another encounter with DFW’s huge and humane talent is utterly thrilling.
In the past few weeks, a new element has been unfolding in the case of Alex Sanchez.
(For those unfamiliar with the basics of the case: Alex Sanchez is the El Salvadoran-born, former MS-13 gang member who transformed his life to become a nationally respected gang intervention leader. This past June, Alex was arrested by the FBI as part of a federal racketeering indictment and accused of plotting the murder of another gang member among other charges. Previous posts on the matter may be found here and here and here and here.)
As you will remember, in three different hearings, Sanchez was denied release on any kind of bail, despite more than 100 letters of support from various prominent LA community members, plus $2.5 million dollars in bail pledges and property. His trial is not expected to begin until December 2010.
Now his lawyer, Kerry Bensinger, is trying one more time for bail by taking the matter to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with what blogger/author Tom Diaz, describes as a “take-no-prisoners brief that (in nice, polite lawyer language) flames trial Judge Manuel L. Real.”
The government is expected to answer Bensinger’s brief with it’s own legal pile of papers as soon as this week.
Diaz, who leans strongly to the law enforcement view of things in the Sanchez case, has an excellent rundown of Bensinger’s brief. I urge you to read the whole of Diaz’s post. But here are a very few representative clips:
The brief scorches a few other targets, including the government’s trial lawyers and the principle MS-13 expert witness in the case, Los Angeles Police Department Gang Detective Frank Flores. Flores’s testimony about the meaning of wiretaps (Sanchez allegedly directing a “hit” on a renegade gang member) was key in the detention hearings. The defense claims that the government not only got one of the key phone call participants wrong, but Flores misconstrued what happened during the calls.
But Bensinger focuses his flamethrower on the 85-year old Judge Real, stating, “At a minimum, the matter should be remanded for a detention hearing before a different judge.”
If the judge did anything right, it escaped counsel’s notice.
Reading between the lines, Bensinger is conveying to the appeals court the message that â€” in his view â€” Real for whatever reason or reasons is confused or willfully obtuse about what the federal law requires in a bail (“detention”) hearing. In short, the brief argues that the trial judge just doesn’t “get it.”
The 32-page document landed in the appeals court docket less than a week after that court issued an opinion and order applying its own flame to Judge Real.
After that, Diaz pretty much lays out the whole brief, in interesting and accurate detail.
The core of Sanchez’s appeal is that he was denied a fair hearing on the only issues relevant to whether he should be released, which are (1) is he a risk of flight, and (2) does he present a threat to persons or a community? Instead, the brief claims, Judge Real essentially held a “mini-trial” on whether Sanchez is guilty of the offenses with which he is charged.
Yet, while Judge Real held a “mini-trial,” the brief contends that he refused to allow any evidence from the defense that would dispute the central core of the government’s case against Sanchez.
A focus of the case so far has been the government’s wiretaps of four calls in which Alex Sanchez certainly takes a leading role. But the crucial question has developed to be: was that leading role as a mediator and peace-maker or as a “shot caller” pushing the conversation to the ultimate murder in El Salvador of one Walter Lacinos (aka Camaron) by a gangster known as “Zombie”? A close second is whether the government got the wrong “Zombie.”
â€¦Of critical importance, given the district court’s focus on “the content of these [four wire-tapped] conversations” is the district court’s refusal to permit Father Greg Boyle’s testimony. Fr. Boyle is the Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the country, and a nationally recognized gang expert knowledgeable in gang language, interactions and “codes.” After listening to the calls and reviewing Det. [Frank] Flores’s declaration re-interpreting the calls and the prosecution’s arguments based thereon, Fr. Boyle concluded that, rather than corroborating a murder plot, Mr. Sanchez’s statements reflected a gang mediator’s peacemaking efforts.