Snap Judgment

Michael Brown never had a chance to receive a trial, but in many ways the Ferguson case turned him into a defendant, post-mortem. Here are two competing images of the victim:

michael brown
One image of Michael Brown, according to those who knew him: a sweet, angel-faced big boy, who occasionally smoked weed and always played video games, like most teenage boys growing up in America. He got along with everybody. He was visiting his grandmother the day he was shot six times. He wrote fairly amateurish rap songs instead of doing his homework on time. Sometimes he did dumb things, as again, most teenage boys hopped up on testosterone and peer pressure are wont to do. But he was never known to be a fighter, despite – or maybe because of – his size: he typically “tended to use his size to scare away potential trouble.”

Unfortunately, this tendency may have contributed to Michael’s death. Here’s the image of him from Officer Darren Wilson’s testimony:

…Brown looked up at him “and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up.”

via NPR

Officer Wilson knew none of the context of Michael Brown’s abbreviated life. All he came armed with was a lifetime of images of angry black men, negative reinforcement from interactions with previous suspects, high levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Oh, and a loaded gun.

It is during rapid-fire moments like these, when prejudice becomes fatal.

I don’t know what to do about institutional racism. It’s a problem far beyond me, or the scope of my generation, a problem that has been brewing ever since the first slave ships arrived on the shores of this fledging country. Time heals most wounds, but not these – a dark and shameful past reechoes itself in modern-day iterations of Jim Crow.

What time can do is potentially save lives. In their official statement to the press after the verdict, the family of Michael Brown called for a “campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.” One of the many reasons for this being that police, feeling the extra layer of supervision and accountability from being filmed, will think twice before deploying what might constitute excessive force. Cameras alone cannot solve the problem of black men being disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. But they have been shown to deescalate situations on both sides of a law enforcement interaction (reality TV notwithstanding, people tend to be on their best behavior when cameras are rolling).

On that hot, fateful August day, the presence of a camera might have slowed things down enough to spare Michael Brown his life. It looks as though prevailing sentiment is on board with body cameras, with police departments around the country in process of adopting them into their routines. More studies should be done to definitively assess their effects. And no camera, no matter how Google-advanced, could capture all subtleties and nuances brought to the table in a hostile police encounter.

But if the widespread adoption of these cameras can avert needless deaths, simply by virtue of psychological effect, then perhaps the death of this young man will not have been totally in vain. There is currently a police body camera bill set to become law in Baltimore City — unless Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issues a veto, which she is likely to do. Time to hit the streets?

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In Defense of Marriage

Been busy as a recently “funemployed” person, watching endless games and commentary about the NCAA tournament. (Rock chalk Jayhawk! Go KU!) Will return to India postings in between rounds, I promise.

Today, the Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments both for and against state and federal level gay marriage bans. This marks a big day in the history of American civil rights, in the midst of a sea change in American society at large. Let’s look at the year on the calendar (2013, in case you needed a reminder. 2013!), and hope that the outcome of these hearings puts America on the right side of history. Go marriage! Go freedom! Go America!*

20130326-103557.jpg

*I may still be in relentless cheering mode from this weekend. Ahem.

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Electoral afterbirth

I have no idea what is going on here.

I have no idea what is going on here.

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Please Vote for Me: Korean Middle School edition

Meanwhile, last Friday my students had their own elections for next year’s school president and vice-president. Last year, there wasn’t much of a vote because only one candidate was in the running. This year, there was a much bigger to-do, as there were three tickets. Number one consisted of a pair of boys: one boy, the ticket headliner, is this model student who is “oh very handsome!” and popular with his classmates. For some reason, he chose as his running mate a boy who is generally reviled as being a huge bully by the rest of the 8th graders. The other two tickets were all girls.

The model student, who I’ll call Mark, came to my class during recess one day with his best friend Raymond (not the running mate! I can only assume he didn’t want to run), looking glum. “How’s your campaign going?” “It’s very suck, teacher.”

“Well, why’s that?” I told them that they had a clear advantage, out of sheer gender politics – since the other two tickets would likely split the girl vote, if they managed to lock up the boy vote, they would for sure win it. (Look at me, trying to be Nate Silver).

“Maybe,” said Mark, “but I don’t know…” I didn’t tell Mark that several boys had admitted to me that they wouldn’t vote for him, out of hatred for his bully running mate. “We only have two posters, and no girls will make posters for us.”

“Well, why can’t boys make the posters?” No way, Teacher, said the looks on their faces. Even Raymond wouldn’t help make the posters, so poor Mark was stuck painstakingly doing them all himself. As the week drew on, the school walls proliferated with posters…for the girls’ tickets. “The girls teams are tough,” said Raymond. “Why this school doesn’t have debate? We would crush them.” Though I love a good rumble with ideas, given that this is middle school and their emotions run high anyways, it’s probably for the best that there wasn’t a public debate. One day, right before one of my classes, I ended up having to intervene to protect Mark from getting his shins kicked in by one of the ticket 3 supporters! She is a model student herself and is ordinarily a very nice girl, but man, I guess she got caught up in electoral fever.

The girls’ teams had very elaborate posters, with creative themes:

"The Little Prince" themed!  That book is super popular here, for some reason.

“The Little Prince” themed! That book is super popular here, for some reason.

This was my favorite campaign poster - the artist had made cutouts of her friends' heads and put them into an Easter Egg basket, for some reason.

This was my favorite campaign poster – the artist had made cutouts of her friends’ heads and put them into an Easter Egg basket, for some reason.

And this is one of the two posters I saw hanging up for the boys' ticket.  Bonus points for simplicity and use of a foreign language (English), I guess?

And this is one of the two posters I saw hanging up for the boys’ ticket. Bonus points for simplicity and use of a foreign language (English), I guess?

Had there been a School Elections Commission, I think it would have been kept very busy with all the allegations of cheating and bribery going on. Some students accused a candidate of lying, because one of her campaign promises was to get rid of the school rule that students not be allowed to dye their hair. The way it works now, if a student’s hair color is lighter than a certain shade, then they are made to dye it back to natural “black” because everyone has that hair color here. Well, this candidate claims that she is a victim of this rule, given that her hair is naturally a light brown. Her detractors accused her of “거짓말!” even though they probably want to see this rule struck down also.

Later in the week, Mark’s running mate came into my class to buy some candy (I offer fake money as a reward for participation in class, which students can then use to buy candy from my “store”), trailed by a girl with the brightest smile on her face. He bought two lollipops for her, and she exclaimed something in Korean about him being the best, and ran off with her prizes. I’m not sure if what I witnessed was vote-buying, or if he had a crush on this girl or what, but something was exchanged.

After the votes were all tallied, the team with the Egghead poster ended up winning. The day after the election, I congratulated the girls and asked them how they felt.

“STRESS, teacher!” Apparently there are a lot of things to do, as president of a school – one must be on all sorts of committees, and welcome the incoming students for next year into the school, plan school field trips and contests and work to implement the roughly eighty gazillion promises that one may have hastily delivered during the campaign. Welcome to power, ladies.

-p.s. – anyone who hasn’t done so should watch the documentary “Please Vote for Me”, about an election that takes place in a Chinese elementary school. Great stuff.

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