Saturday, January 23, 2010

Kids and Race

“Mom. Who was Martin Lu… Martin Luf… Who was Martin…”

“Who was Martin Luther King?” Kay asked, anticipating the name our 5 year old was having trouble with. After having just had time off from school, lots of big dinners, presents, and decorations, our daughter is very interested in holidays. She knows she has a holiday coming up but she doesn’t know anything about it.

Kay told her that a long time ago black kids weren’t allowed to go to school with white kids and they couldn’t play together. My daughter stared at her Mom with mouth open and eyes wide.

Kay continued that white people could sit in the front of the bus, black people in back, white people anywhere in the movies, black kids only in the balcony. At this my little girl looked concerned and with pleading eyes asked, “where did the tan kids have to sit?”

Studies show that white people don’t talk to their kids about race. A group of parents signed their kids up for a study on children’s attitudes about race. Parents were asked their views on race, and black people in particular. All said their opinions were favorable. The kids of these same parents were asked if their folks liked black people. More than half said they didn’t know, the rest said ,”no”.

Turns out kids can see the difference in skin color, they don’t have to be told about it. At the same time kids figure out that we don’t talk about things that are bad.

The prevailing idea among many white people is that race does not matter. Not only does it not matter but it is best to ignore race as if it does not exist. Consequentially we talk to kids about candy, making their bed, home work, dreams, movies, crayons, friends, the difference between boys and girls, all sorts of good stuff.
We don’t talk to them about bad grown up stuff like death and sex. We don’t let them see scary movies and we cover their eyes when bad stuff comes on TV. We don’t talk about war and we don’t talk about black people.

Kay told how Martin Luther King gave a big speech that helped people realize that keeping everyone separate was wrong. She told how he helped get bad laws changed. Our little girl said, “oh, O.K.”, and went off to play.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Justice and it's system

I was in court again today, this time with the prosecution.

Before everything got started, the public defender addressed the crowd sitting with me in the gallery, “I am the court appointed defender. I am by myself today so please be patient. Do not worry if we have not spoken yet, I will get to you, and the court will give us time to talk before your case is heard. Though your case may be new to me, I am not new to this, and you will get a good defense.” He looked to be all of 25 years old.

The prosecutor who called me last night, to make sure I was still coming, was nervous. As we waited through the two hour roll call of cases she explained that this was her first theft case. Her bulldog of a partner was not nervous at all but rather in her element.
She rolled her eyes at the defense attorneys, exchanged knowing looks with all the police officers, and whatever she did, she did it abruptly.

The court made myself and all who were to testify in this case leave the room till it was their turn to take the stand. I found myself in a small waiting room with the three cops who caught the guy breaking into my car back in September.
“This guys gonna get off”, said the young, blonde, officer who had originally offered to let me have some “alone time” with the captive in the back of his squad car. “Why”, I responded.

He explained how he had seen it a million times. They catch people and always end up right back on the street for him to pick up again. “That’s why I always tell people that if they catch someone, to handle business themselves. We will say they fell down, or say whatever we have to, but if you want justice you need do it yourself. Besides, this judge is an @#$... they all are; lawyers and all”. At this last remark Officer Ramos looked over at him, then over at the fidgety prosecutor, and suggested, “present company excluded of course.” The blonde guy just stared back silently. “You’re an --- ----,” Ramos finished.

This disillusioned cop reminisced about a poster a Sr. officer once had in his office showing a picture of Commissioner Rizzo and a quote that read “No judge can administer justice as well as the end of a nightstick.” At this all three officers began to tell tales of how they miss the tool they are no longer allowed to carry. One even told of how once, while pursuing a suspect, another officer with one swipe of his wand, shattered both the suspect’s legs.

“Seriously?!” I inquired. “Tell me you have to be absolutely sure you have the right guy before doing something like that.” At this they all laughed out loud. The third officer, who had not previously spoken, told a story of how he had once joined a pursuit while off duty and in civilian clothes. He was ahead of the other cops, who quickly caught and beat him. He told the story while chuckling.
I asked What about catching the wrong guy? I asked if he had ever caught the wrong guy. After looking down at the desk for a moment, as if reflecting, he answered,”no”. He was serious.

The case was tried and the thief was found guilty of attempted theft and reckless conduct (he kicked out the tail light of the car while being arrested). As this was the defendant’s 33rd arrest and fifth conviction, he was given 2 years jail time. He was also ordered to pay restitution. When I asked the experienced lawyer how this restitution thing works she replied, “with this guy, he will probably leave a stolen radio on your porch every other month.” I don’t plan on seeing a dime.