Sunday, May 19, 2013

Paranoid Intolerence

“Do we fear terrorism so much that we throw out our Constitution, and are we unwilling and afraid to debate our Constitution?”
Rand Paul

“We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.”
Christian Nestell Bovee

“The first duty of man is to conquer fear; he must get rid of it, he cannot act till then.”
Thomas Carlyle

The case of teenager Cameron Dambrosio might serve as an object lesson to young people everywhere about minding what you say online unless you are prepared to be arrested for terrorism.

The Methuen, Mass., high school student was arrested last week after posting online videos that show him rapping an original song that police say contained “disturbing verbiage” and reportedly mentioned the White House and the Boston Marathon bombing. He is charged with communicating terrorist threats, a state felony, and faces a potential 20 years in prison. Bail is set at $1 million.

Whether the arrest proves to be a victory in America's fight against domestic terrorism or whether Cameron made an unfortunate artistic choice in the aftermath of the Boston bombing will become clear as the wheels of justice advance. What is apparent now, however, is that law enforcement agencies are tightening their focus on the social media behavior of US teenagers – not just because young people often fit the profile of those who are vulnerable to radicalization, but also because the public appears to be more accepting of monitoring and surveillance aimed at preventing attacks, even at the risk of government overreach.

“When I was young, calling a bomb threat to your high school because you didn’t want to go to school that day was treated with a slap on the wrist. Try that nowadays and you’re going to prison, no question about it. They are taking it more seriously now,” says Rob D'Ovidio, a criminal justice professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia who specializes in high-tech crime.

Teenagers are generally blissfully unaware that law enforcement agencies are creating cyber units to track and investigate developing ways that criminals, or would-be criminals, research, socialize, and plot nefarious actions, from child molestation to domestic terrorism. The Boston Marathon bombing suspects, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, fit this profile: Each maintained a YouTube page and Twitter feed that promoted the teachings of a radical Muslim cleric. alongside innocuous postings about music and sports. For law enforcement officials, filtering what does and does not constitute a threat is a delicate balancing act that, since the April 15 bombing, may be tilting to the side of additional caution over individuals' free speech.

“The danger of this in light of the tragedy in Boston is that law enforcement is being so risk-averse they are in danger of crossing that line and going after what courts would ultimately deem as free speech,” Mr. D'Ovidio says.

One morning at Bartow High School in Florida, she put toilet cleaner and aluminum foil in a water bottle to see what might happen. It was just, she said, an experiment.

Even her school principal admitted that it merely sounded like a firecracker.

However, she found herself expelled from school and arrested for felonious possession/discharge of a dangerous weapon. It emerged that the same D.A who charged her had, two days previously, decided not to charge a 13-year-old who shot dead his 10-year-old brother.

However, now there is some good news. The criminal charges have been dropped. She will not have to live her life as a felon.

As the Orlando Sentinel reports, the office of the state attorney (what? not the governor?), Jerry Hill, declared that it had made "an offer of diversion of prosecution to the child." Wilmot will be asked to perform some sort of community service.

A school district spokeswoman offered these words of comfort: "The Polk County School District will take the state attorney's decision into consideration in determining what, if any, further disciplinary action is appropriate."

The effects of unchecked criminalization: Teen charged with felony for science experiment

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Kiera Wilmont, the young woman of color unfairly criminalized, smiles and does NOT look menacing. When we talk about the criminalization of communities and people of color, especially African Americans and Latinos in America, we often talk about the criminal justice system in America that disproportionately targets those communities.Schools are often the major accomplices in making this system run with the school to prison pipeline. Nothing exemplifies this more than what is happening to 16 year old Kiera Wilmot in Florida. According to the Miami New Times,
 ”7 a.m. on Monday, the 16 year-old mixed some common household chemicals in a small 8 oz water bottle on the grounds of Bartow High School in Bartow, Florida. The reaction caused a small explosion that caused the top to pop up and produced some smoke. No one was hurt and no damage was caused.
…Wilmot told police that she was merely conducting a science experiment. Though her teachers knew nothing of the specific project, her principal seems to agree.
‘She made a bad choice. Honestly, I don’t think she meant to ever hurt anyone,’ principal Ron Pritchard told the station. ‘She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did. Her mother is shocked, too.’
This sounds like a harmless instance of experimentation gone wrong. No harm, no foul right? Even the principle thinks it was simply a poor decision. A week of detention, maybe even suspension, was in order no doubt. So why did it go down like this?

“After the explosion Wilmot was taken into custody by a school resources officer and charged with possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds and discharging a destructive device. She will be tried as an adult.
She was then taken to a juvenile assessment center. She was also expelled from school and will be forced to complete her diploma through an expulsion program.”
The school released the following statement:
“Anytime a student makes a bad choice it is disappointing to us. Unfortunately, the incident that occurred at Bartow High School yesterday was a serious breach of conduct. In order to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment, we simply must uphold our code of conduct rules. We urge our parents to join us in conveying the message that there are consequences to actions. We will not compromise the safety and security of our students and staff.”
I call bullshit. This is not about the “safety and security” of students and staff at Bartow High School. This was about setting an example, at the expense of Wilmot, and sending a message that even (mis)perceived threats will be dealt with swiftly and harshly. The unfortunate truth is that in America, those perceptions are heavily tied up in notions of race, class, and gender.
Those perceptions may have helped them come to the conclusion that Wilmot’s concoction was indeed a weapon. The code of conduct clearly states that “intention” is a factor in whether or not there has been a breach of that specific rule. But somehow the principal managed to defend the girls intentions but still expel and have her arrested.
Is the perceived threat to the safety of her classmates and teachers also the reason why Wilmot is being tried as an adult with a felony? A student with good grades and no behavioral problems to speak of should be followed with a felony because she was curious about a chemical reaction? She has been ushered into the criminal justice system with this decision. Access to employment, education, housing, etc. will all be limited to Wilmot with a felony on her record.
As a graduate of a Chicago Public School I am very familiar with teachers not being interested in nurturing the minds of students. Instead, they create a mindless generation that simply does what they’re told, no questions asked, all in the interest of maintaining an orderly “classroom”. Sending students to prisons is the solution for those who can’t be “controlled”. I have witnessed the policing that happens when school staff and administration fears its students, of color. Let me be clear, zero tolerance policies are not about keeping schools safe. They exist to keep school administrators from being held accountable for the environment they create in their institution and making contextual judgement calls.
I pray that all works out for Kiera Wilmot.

A Sacramento couple is speaking out about their ordeal after their five-month-old son was taken from their home by police and put into protective custody.

The nightmare began on April 23 when parents Anna and Alex Nikolayev brought their baby Sammy to the Sutter Memorial Hospital. Trips to the doctor are a regular event for the family because Sammy has a heart murmur and needs to be checked frequently. On this visit, he was exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

Anna says she became concerned when she witnessed a nurse administering antibiotics, something another doctor had advised against. Then, a physician told them the baby needed open heart surgery as soon as possible. The couple put their son into his stroller and brought him directly to another hospital to obtain a second opinion, without receiving an official discharge. Doctors at Kaiser Parmanente Medical Center told them it was safe to return home with Sammy.

The next day, in an incident that was caught in a disturbing home video, police showed up at the Nikolayev's home and took him from the parents to place in protective custody. "I'm going to grab your baby and don't resist," says one officer. A statement from Sutter Memorial provided to ABC News reads: "Our nurses and physicians are bound by duty to call authorities if they believe a pediatric patient's health is in danger."

After almost a week of only being able to visit Sammy for an hour a day, the Nikolayev's have been reunited with their son. On Monday, a judge ruled that he be moved to Stamford Medical Center where his condition is being evaluated. Although they have regained control of his medical decision, they have to allow Child Protectice Services (CPS) to visit their home and also agree never to remove him from a hospital without official discharge. The parents will appear in court on May 28. Sacramento CPS said in a statement: "The law is clear. If there is imminent risk of serious physical harm to the child and there is insufficient time to obtain a court order to remove the child from the care of the parents... the social worker or law enforcement officer can remove the child."

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