Not This Skin

what holds us together prevents us from getting out there

Cops in Schools

July 24, 2018

The action

Here is a chance to be, as in Hamilton, in “the room where it happens“. A little harder than arguing on Facebook, but more rewarding. The rationale is below, and here is the action: show up and support No Cops in Schools, headed by Freedom, Inc at these events. Your simple presence is enough.

  1. Education Resource Officer (ERO) Committee meeting July 25 5-8pm Madison School District – Doyle Administration Building
    545 W Dayton St, Madison, WI 53703, USA
  2. School Board meeting July 30 6-8pm Madison School District – Doyle Administration Building
    545 W Dayton St, Madison, WI 53703, USA

ALTERNATIVELY, call or email the school board (all the adults here) with the points below, or use this template.

Freedom, Inc is asking for (from a handout at their meeting tonight, you can check me on their Twitter)

  1. ALL cops removed from schools
  2. Invest the $360k/year currently put towards EROs instead towards resources benefiting youth of color.
  3. Give the Community control over the safety of our kids. MMSD’s agreement with MPD gives MPD complete control over what cops do while in the school. There is no accountability.

These are supported by research. Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? talks about acting out as a manifestation to the extra challenges kids of color statistically face and provides examples of how addressing that reduces disruptions and violence in schools and improves academic performance (e.g. 2nd ed. p 155-156). Restorative justice advocates in Madison agree.

The history

Cops in schools is one of the answers governments implement in the wake of school shootings. Columbine and Sandy Hook both prompted more money being directed this way, and Parkland followed suit (and added other things you remember like arming teachers).

In Madison a committee was formed to evaluate the ERO program on a timeline of 15 months. Those months are up, and the school board will make policy decisions soon based on the Committee’s recommendation draft (a quick 4-page read). The draft nods to racial disparities outside the classroom having an impact on the first page, and says restorative justice should be available (p.2, #5), but it’s unclear how that would happen when MPD isn’t accountable to anyone. The draft talks about creating a pool of 20+ officers who would be trained in school policy and be the ones to respond to calls, but would not be stationed in the school. Chief Koval and Mayor Soglin have said MPD cannot deliver that service. It does ask for police to only be involved on criminal, and not behavioral, issues.

There was a meeting last week wherein David Blaska, ex-Dane politician (liberal, even) and current conservative blogger, tried to record a child speaker with a phone. Freedom, Inc members prevented it by standing in front of it or holding objects in front of it. There is a statute that says government meetings can be recorded by anyone as long as no one’s rights are violated. Freedom, Inc argued that the students did not feel comfortable being filmed by a stranger with unknown intentions, and later posted that Blaska doxxed the kids (I haven’t found proof, and Blaska denies it on his site, and I haven’t gone back and asked Freedom, Inc about it). A woman named Faye was also being prevented from filming, and struck a student when she felt threatened. Her phone was knocked out of her hand. You can get Blaska’s version of events on his blog. Here is a good sample of the kind of empathy he has on this issue, including video of the blocking and accusing his opponents of “thuggery”.  He is also asking for a police presence at the next meeting. (Bonus point: first comment suggests inviting the local Proud Boy chapter). Because of this, you will see Freedom, Inc asking that known white supremacists (Blaska) be prevented from attending as well as asking that no police are present for the same reason they shouldn’t be in schools. 1A rights at a public meeting versus the right to safety? All the more reason to be in the room where it happens and come to your own conclusion.

 

This is Our Campus – Shapiro Pt 1

Ben Shapiro came to town. I got a friend who posts some of his stuff, so I know him to be a smart, quick-witted, principle-driven self-described conservative. He didn’t support or vote for Trump and left Breitbart as it became a tool of the alt-right, which he said suffers from identity politics like the left does; the alt-right just identifies with the social group of white supremacists.

The Q&A line ran out of time for me, but I would’ve brought up the genetics of X/Y (discussed below) and also asked that while the 1st Amendment protects all speech except “fighting words”, as a society is that legal standard the only standard we should apply when deciding what makes a healthy community for all of us? I believe this was the protester’s message tonight when saying, “This is our campus.” It belongs to straight whites and queer blacks and everyone in between. To make it the best it can be, we have to step outside our personal viewpoints since we don’t all have the same needs. Do ADA ramps and wheelchair slots in lecture halls and stadiums impair your freedom (Shapiro’s anathema)? Maybe a little, but that’s a small cost to pay for making society as a whole better. And our rights never existed in a vacuum in the first place: they only extend until they impinge on someone else’s rights, and one of the main jobs of government is to arbitrate when rights conflict. Even vaunted free speech that was on the pedestal tonight has exceptions like child pornography.

Back to Shapiro. As he uses actual facts to make his points, I have more respect for him than the regurgitating talking heads like Tomi Lahren and most of Fox News. But I think he cherry picks facts to back himself up.

He stated that crack is punished more severely than powder cocaine because it is more addictive. This is not a fact but an unchecked claim made by an addiction treatment entrepreneur in a Newsweek interview (see: Myth #2). The Crack Scare of the ’80s after a few celebrity deaths is a well-studied media phenomenon (the bottom of this page shows how Newseek manipulated the data to generate an alarming-looking graph). Not surprisingly, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 punished possessing 500 grams of powder at the same level as possessing 5g of crack.  Reform was first called for in 1995 by the U.S. Sentencing Commission as part of the massive Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, then again in 1997 and 2002. (A 2010 bill did pass, reducing the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1.) In 1997 a study done by Reinarman, reported in Crack in America, found no difference in usage over time. The National Survey by the US Substance Abuse Administration found that of everyone who tried crack and powder in their lifetime, the percent of current users (used in last 30 days) is equivalent, 5.9% for both in 2004, and 4.4% and 4.8% respectively in 2015. Shapiro added that the original sentencing disparity wasn’t racist because black legislators were involved. A better gauge of racism is the outcome, which was that a disproportionate number of black people went to jail for a disproportionate amount of time. The well-meaning intent of black leaders to rid their neighborhoods of an over-hyped demon had a racist effect. To use Shapiro’s words, the facts don’t care about your feelings.

Another example: in pointing out that having two parents instead of one statistically gives a child a better chance at success, he said that white single mothers are more often poor than two-parent black families, and uses this as an example that white privilege doesn’t exist. (It’s part of his misleading characterization that privilege has made life comfy for white people, whereas tons of poor and middle class white people definitely struggled at some point. More accurately, privilege has only made it less crappy.) Shapiro selects this datum, but data about wealth inequality are ignored, such as Pew Research numbers (skip down to “economic realities of black and white households”) based on US Census Bureau data from 2014 showing “median household income for whites was $71,300 compared to$43,300 for blacks. But for college-educated whites, the median household income was $106,600, significantly higher than the $82,300 for households headed by college-educated blacks”. Since Ben knows two-parent homes are better, then let’s compare apples to apples. Median single mother wealth by race in 2007: white: $45,400; Hispanic: $120; black: $100. That’s pretty stark, no?

Let’s ask why that is. According to Ben’s lecture, if we follow 3 rules anyone can break out of poverty:

  1. Graduate high school
  2. Get a job
  3. Get married before having a kid

Again, statistically, he’s right. These things do correlate with wealth. However, his reason for disparities in following these rules: values and individual decisions. This is the part of the racial disparity arguments that always get me: all of the conservative viewpoints I’ve read and seen from National Review to (old) Breitbart to Fox News put the onus 100% on individual decision-making and values. Nothing else is allowed to factor into this disparity’s cause. And the view on the left is characterized as 100% of the fault is on the system. Conveniently polarizing, no? Most of the left-leaning stuff I’ve come across from Vox, Huff Post, The Atlantic, and the NYT is usually asking to split that 100% and say there are two things responsible: personal decisions do matter, but so do systemic pressures.

What do I mean by systemic?

We just talked about wealth, and we found that single mothers of color have shockingly little of it. Shapiro says we can’t blame the past for the present. He says no one is asking for redress from the Holocaust (though maybe that’s cuz reparations already happened?), although, as he is well aware from Twitter trolls, he and we are still dealing with anti-Semitism in this country, both the overt explicit language on Twitter and the more subtle prejudices. These things are related, the past and the present. It’s not overnight you convince an entire country that an entire minority is the problem and build infrastructure for the solution. That prejudice was long in labor, and dies longer.

Similarly, as soldiers returned from WWII, they had the GI Bill to get them educated and to purchase homes. There were about 70,000 black veterans in 1947, but of the first 67,000 mortgages in New York and northern New Jersey less than 100 were to non-whites. In Mississippi, by October 1946 5,600 soldiers had been placed into non-farm jobs. Eighty-six percent of the skilled jobs went to whites and 92% of the unskilled jobs went to blacks. (Source)

It’s also interesting to note where people of color were often allowed to get loans to buy houses. A little history on redlining, which was a federally-endorsed practice and persisted explicitly at least until the mid-1980s (an investigation won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize) if not longer, also contributes to the wealth gap. Coates has a great piece in The Atlantic that gives you both the data and the story of people who went through this in Chicago. Add in something like Milwaukee’s 1955 city limits freeze to partition property taxes and then ordinances requiring large land parcels and house square footage to make sure only rich people can move in. Since America insanely funds schools by property taxes, now we have good schools in the suburbs and crap ones in the city. Having a better school because of where you were born is privilege.

What else can undermine Shapiro’s 3-step plan to wealth of graduate high school, get a job, get married before kids? The poorer areas created by the practices above have poorer infrastructure, including health care, so it’s harder to get healthcare and when you do, it’s not as good. So maybe you miss school more often cuz you’re sick, or your single parent is sick, or your sibling is sick and your parent(s) work(s) and can’t afford child care so you stay home. Or you get suspended more often cuz teachers expect you to act up literally because you’re black. Turns out you find problems where you look for them. Sound familiar, policing?

Now you’ve graduated from a crappy high school, which means your college and job prospects are burgeoning, right? Maybe you have a black-sounding name, which means potential employers call me back 33% less often than white names with the same qualifications. Tell me again how this racism stuff is all in the past.

(Shapiro also hammered on the lack of marriage being the problem, but there is evidence that marriage isn’t the answer to poverty.)

I think I’ve showed how non-individual factors can contribute to wealth. Let’s switch gears to transgender issues now. Here’s a teaser for Pt 2:

Forcing people to the bathroom of their birth certificate, not the other way around, results in dissonance. His birth certificate says “female”:

Image result for trending twitter put me here bathroom
(For more examples, check out #plettputmehere.)

Yet the benefit is huge: trans people face tons of physical assault and harassment, and the bathroom where they blend in mitigates that. And, how does it really affect you, cis-gender person? Shapiro doesn’t want to meddle with individual freedoms, and I fail to see how this impairs someone else’s freedom significantly. But Shapiro is willing to tell a trans person they don’t have the personal freedom to identify as a different gender?

Even if it did impair, remember the protester saying, “This is our campus.” I believe the meaning is that we share it. It belongs to Shapiro adherents. It belongs to the queer community. Society is about coexisting. As I left this evening, I did catch one conversation amongst people exiting where one expressed support for and reliance on safe spaces, and asked friends what they liked about Shapiro’s dismantling of them since they were valuable. That’s the start on the road to empathy. That’s the conversation we all need so we can build a place we all want to live in. Contact me if you want to have it.

 

Tolerating Intolerance

Originally published July 28, 2015.

This all started when someone posted this article, which says
1. Discrimination lawsuits have been brought against Christian businesses to force Christians to approve of behavior they find morally odious.
2. He would just “find another bakery”
3. If you call yourself tolerant but are intolerant of intolerant viewpoints, you are intolerant. This is the paradox of tolerance.
To the pastor’s credit, he points out that conservatives are misunderstanding tolerance, and he also talks of loving those you disagree with, but stops short of concretely saying what Christians should do in these scenarios.

The lawsuits
To me it seems a conflation to say that the lawsuits are seeking to force Christians to approve of gay weddings. Far more likely is that the lawsuits are a result of everyone having the right to pursue happiness. If every bakery in the area refused to make you a cake, wouldn’t you feel like a second-class citizen? Part of the problem here is that LGBTQ are already treated as “not quite full citizens” in this country–the opportunities are just not the same. So there is a conversation about tolerance (the one Pastor Hein had), and the next conversation is about tolerance between different levels of privilege (the one Hein should’ve had). While legally the US is ostensibly secular, our culture and institutions still default to Christian in a lot of places, meaning things are harder for non-Christians, which leads me to the second point:

Find another bakery
Hein says if a Muslim bakery rejected his cross-bearing cake, he’d understand and find another bakery. That demonstrates the privilege Christians hold in the USA–you probably don’t have to travel far to find a bakery willing to fulfill this order. Hein falsely assumes that it’s the same for LGBTQ. That is not equality, and it’s not tolerant. Because people are acting in unequal ways we have to make laws about it, and many states and cities have. Not that we have to make laws about all intolerance, which I’ll come back to.

Tied up in all this is the idea of marriage itself. It’s this weird mix of legal and religious, two separate bindings, but we call it one big event. Even when a UVA law professor wrote a defense of Indiana’s RFRA (which is not the same as the federal RFRA or the ones in 19 other states), he said, “[The florist] objected to serving the wedding because she understands weddings and marriages to be inherently religious. She sees civil marriage as resting on the foundation of religious marriage.” As if that view is relevant since the two are, in fact, distinct. For the legal marriage, where you get a certificate from the courthouse and a sweet tax break and some end-of-life rights, who cares what mix of genders enters into that? (The New Mexico case was actually about a commitment ceremony since gay marriage wasn’t legal there yet.) Every church can still refuse to marry whomever in a religious ceremony. I think the New Mexico court’s ruling in the Elane Photography case had some very good wording: you take the pictures, but you can still say you’re against gay marriage (free speech), and you obviously don’t have to use the pictures in your marketing if you don’t want to. You just can’t refuse service based on orientation. From the concurring opinion: “In a context in which a business otherwise operates as a public accommodation, [denying service] is simply too harmful to the excluded parties to be tolerable.” And now we are at the meat of it since some intolerances are tolerated and some are not:

The paradox of tolerance
Hein cites the philosopher Rawls, who thought not tolerating intolerance is unjust and itself intolerant, which Hein takes as agreeing with the paradox. I haven’t read a lot of philosophy around this, but my research did find Karl Popper on the other side of the fence. I think Popper goes too far in saying that tolerating intolerance leads to elimination of the tolerant. But he did have a thought resonating with my point that we aren’t proposing to suppress all intolerances: “I do not imply…that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary”.

Philosophers aside, dumbing this conversation down to tolerance vs. intolerance loses the nuance of privilege and oppression which is at its heart, and which guides the morality. Even Rawls himself went on to say “While an intolerant sect does not itself have title to complain of intolerance, its freedom should be restricted only when the tolerant sincerely and with reason believe that their own security and that of the institutions of liberty are in danger.” So, are security and the institutions of liberty in danger? (Aside: Hein should also take note that Rawls is saying here that Christians intolerant of gay marriage have no right to point out that their viewpoint is not being tolerated.)

Yes, they are. Hein, and other proponents, have only looked at their own liberty. If they have asked about LGBTQ liberty, they haven’t accounted for the privilege Christians have and LGBTQ lack. They forget it’s not so easy to “find another bakery”. Anecdote: my friend is traveling in parts of the South, and she pretends to be Christian to get along with people because it is safer than revealing her atheism. And the problem for LGBTQ comes not just from Christians, but from most religions. My point here is that it is death by a thousand cuts for LGBTQ. You are limiting access to the benefits of our society for a group with already limited access. The default view is that people believe in God. The default view is that people are straight. These aren’t true everywhere, but there are enclaves where they definitely hold true, especially the latter. Our rights do not exist in a void, but in an ecosystem where they extend until they run into another’s rights. Here Christians’ religious freedom bump into LGBTQs’ right to pursue happiness on the same level field as everyone else.

Talking about this in only terms of tolerance loses all this. We can see this nuance if we look at two continua: intolerant speech and intolerant action. For speech, on one end is saying, “The Bible says homosexuality is wrong.” That intolerance is protected under the 1st amendment, and it’s not putting the Rawls’s “institutions of liberty” at risk. On the other end, as a society we’ve gone on to classify some speech as “hate speech” and are legally intolerant of it. For actions,  on one end you have the right to protest (free assembly), but we have restrictions about how close to an abortion clinic those protests can occur. The point here is simply that intolerance is nuanced, and we have to hash out where we are going to draw the line as a society. That line will move over time since society and culture influence which is the worse of evils. For example, maybe we can be less defensive against intolerance of LGBTQ when the LGBTQ suicide rate from bullying comes down.

This is part of why gay activists and allies have taken up gay rights as a cause–a lot of harm is being done. But why have Christians chosen to have this fight? What makes gay marriage more of a sin that lots of other stuff we permit in our society? Because it’s a so-called lifestyle or existence sin as opposed to a single action? I’ve heard that a Christian baker is different from a Christian store owner who sells cigarettes, but I don’t fully understand why. If you believe the body is the temple of God, wouldn’t you believe that habitual smoking is on par with homosexuality? Do Catholic store owners sell condoms?

I think it’s important to ask yourself why only some battles are being fought. It seems to me that the big factor is change. “No gay marriage” was the status quo, and keeping something the same is easier than reversing it, like you’d have to do for cigarettes. I also think news media plays a big part by making it a litmus test for candidates, a proxy you can use to gauge their moral fiber.

I, and some Christians, want to go even further: The Christian baker isn’t “participating” in a wedding they don’t condone. They’re selling a cake. What would Jesus do? Go the extra mile. And not the extra mile of “explaining yourself courteously, and even provide another business which could meet their needs” proposed here, but the bake-for-them-two mile. And, no, it’s not the same to ask pro-gay bakeries to put “gay marriage is wrong” on the cake because of the power dynamic of privilege. See Reality Check #3 in this article to see how that is not tolerated in a world where Christians must sell cakes for gay weddings and why no persecution of Christians is happening here.

Mightier Than the Pen

This was mostly inspired by a text from my mom. It is my love-letter response.

Originally posted May 10, 2015. A revision was performed at NPS 2016.

Bright Knife I

Originally posted November 7, 2014.

Open Places

Originally posted on November 7, 2014.

Play Crack the Sky

September. When summer loses its teeth but not its heart. The leaves still so green I can smell it, dark in their cathedral arches and bright translucence in their sun-catching eaves.

I get a whiff of vertigo turning onto my road. Noteworthy because my road is wide and Wisconsin-flat, and because heights don’t do that to me–I’ve stood on Angel’s Landing and watched a yellow school bus caterpillar-crawl through the canyon.

No, the vertigo is because reality feels thin. It has this whole summer, whenever I’ve paused, after a collision of Buddhism, free time, self-reflection, and conversations with old friends. I just talked with TK in person for the first time since we both left town over 15 months ago. I think of her as an old friend despite knowing her for 20 months because we can do that time travel where no time has passed, that cliché where we’re different–knowing new things, having new memories, seeing new people–but we are still us.

Two blocks down a UPS truck turns onto my road, ruining the illusion…no, ruining the perception that the 200m I can see is 2D, that I could step out of this chair and put my foot down on the other side of the rise that blocks the view, that I wouldn’t be stepping on concrete or suburb or earth or Earth. That’s how I got the vertigo when I turned the corner–each pool of tree shade dark water, the defiant black sewer mouth in the bright, dry-aired sunshine the figurative rabbit hole.

And the universe isn’t helping. Or maybe I’m not helping. In a mindset ready to tip and motivated by talking with TK, I decide to do something I haven’t done enough of lately: put pen to paper. Both are available as I stand in my office eschewing work. Where to write? Outside the answer I knew 3 blocks ago when the ghost of the woods took up its current haunt. I’ll need a chair. A folding one is leaned against my bookshelf. Who left it there–me, or the universe? Stepping to the door, through the kitchen, I’ll want water just before spying a jug I filled yesterday. Outside, contemplating the accuracy of the caterpillar bus simile, I notice millipedes cruising beneath my feet. Yup, accurate. But the serendipity of all this strikes me. Someone is conspiring to unravel me. I think it’s me, looking for the temporary suicide at the bottom of meditation and the top of drug trips. I don’t ask the universe to let me in. I tell myself to let me out into it.

That’s the vertigo, feeling this close to standing on nothing solid, on something unknown, disoriented. The loss of directions like “up” and “west” and “the way back”.

Then again, home isn’t always behind you.

 

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