Friday, November 9, 2007

Where is the United States Headed?

The Chicago Tribune reports today:

Anti-war and free-speech advocates joined angry parents and students in their battle with Berwyn school district officials who may expel a group of students who took part in an Iraq war protest at a school last week.

The lunchtime protest Nov. 1 in the Morton West High School cafeteria was viewed as a peaceful sit-in by students, but school officials charged two dozen of them with “gross disobedience and mob activity,” which call for suspensions and possible expulsions.

The activists joined parents, students and teachers at a District 201 meeting Wednesday, during which board members were implored to reconsider the punishments.

District 201 Supt. Ben Nowakowski started reading a statement, which drew boos. Board President Jeffry Pesek told the audience not to be disrespectful to Nowakowski and said the meeting would be held up if they continued to yell.

Nowakowski said the disciplinary actions were taken because the students disrupted the educational process.

“The cafeteria was required to be shut down, and students were held in their classrooms, causing a major disturbance to the school day,” he read. “Protesting in the cafeteria rather than outside the school created an environment in the cafeteria which could have caused harm to many people. It is the responsibility of the district to correct inappropriate behavior … to preserve a peaceful and educational environment. The students are subject to the disciplinary process based on their individual roles.”

There's just one small tear in the fabric of this narrative. The New York Times informs us:
[S]everal students said the protesters, whose numbers had dwindled to about 25, obeyed the administration’s request to move from a high-traffic area in the cafeteria to a less-crowded hall near the principal’s office. There, they intertwined arms, sang along to an acoustic guitar and talked about how the war was affecting the world, said Matt Heffernan, a junior who took part.

"We agreed to move to another side of the building,” Matt said. "We also made a deal that if we moved there, there would be no disciplinary action taken upon us."

Matt said the group had been told that the most severe punishment would be a Saturday detention for cutting class that day.

Police officers were on the scene, and Berwyn’s police chief, William Kushner, said no arrests were made. "It was all very peaceful and orderly," he said.

Let's see if I get this straight: a group of students hold a peaceful protest in the cafeteria, and The Powers That Be ask them to move to a more convenient location. The students comply; the protest fails to turn violent. Yet, the remaining protesters are suspended and now face expulsion?

Then there's the Shawn Hicks incident. Hicks returned home from a night out so tired that he didn't turn on the lights, didn't turn off his house alarm, and fell asleep on his living room couch without changing his clothes. He said that he was awakened when a police officer tasered him. One of the two cops he confronted upon becoming fully awake told him that they were responding to "a call from the security company monitoring [his] home" because they "believed a break-in was in progress".

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote:

The cops had entered the home, turned on the light and found Mr. Hicks asleep on the sofa. If they identified themselves or ordered him to get up, Mr. Hicks said he did not hear it. He said he wasn't aware of their presence until he was shot in the back with a Taser.

According to Mr. Hicks, the cops were skeptical. "How do we know that you're who you say you are?" the shorter of the two cops asked.

At that point, the cop holding the Taser squeezed the trigger, sending Mr. Hicks into paroxysm of agony. It was not a short jolt like the first one he received. He fell to the floor. His screams woke the neighbors.

"What do you want?" Mr. Hicks asked. "Please stop [shooting] me." The shorter cop helped him to his feet. Swaying unsteadily, he offered to show them his identification. They searched him and found his wallet. After inspecting it, they threw the wallet on the coffee table.

"I told you I lived here and that I'm the legal resident," he shouted, believing he finally had justice, common decency and the angels of heaven on his side. A staff member at the African-American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania, Mr. Hicks counts himself on the side of the law-abiding citizen.

The cop with the Taser squeezed the trigger again, anyway. Mr. Hicks flapped his arms wildly, but didn't fall. All he could do was scream loud enough to be heard all over the Mon Valley.

And even though Hicks was able to prove his identity, he was arrested anyway. His request for medical help was turned down, and said that he was warned that "he would wind up in county lockup if he insisted on it"--so he promptly quieted down. He was put into a holding cell until 5 AM, when he was released. Hicks' tormentors informed him, "You're free to go, but if you get into trouble in the next year, we will file charges"!

The reporter also notes, "The North Braddock police department referred inquiries to the borough solicitor, John Bacharach, but he declined to give the officers' side of the story. 'I know about the incident,' Mr. Bacharach told me. 'I don't want to comment because I am not confident enough in the facts to say one way or the other.'"

Where is the United States headed?

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