of the Day
- June 28, 2010
some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood
activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local
newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage
of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood
activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible
issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular
point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From the Los Angeles Times
Students face deportation to countries they don't remember
Thousands of young illegal immigrants were brought to the U.S. as children and have gone on to college. Proposed legislation would grant them legal status, even as more of them face removal.
By Ken Dilanian and Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times
June 28, 2010
Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles
Early one morning in March, two Chicago-area brothers were dozing on an Amtrak train when it stopped in Buffalo, N.Y. A pair of uniformed Border Patrol agents made their way through the car, asking passengers if they were U.S. citizens. No, the vacationing siblings answered honestly, with flat, Midwestern inflections: We're citizens of Mexico.
And so it was that college students Carlos Robles, 20, and his brother Rafael, 19 — both former captains of their high school varsity tennis team — found themselves in jail, facing deportation.
Their secret was out: Despite their upbringing in middle America, their academic success and their network of native-born friends, they had no permission to be in the United States. Their parents had brought them here illegally as children.
The Robles brothers, now out of jail but fighting removal in Immigration Court, are among thousands of young illegal immigrants in similar situations, living at risk of being expelled to countries they barely remember.
Two weeks ago, a Harvard University student who came from Mexico at age 4, Eric Balderas, joined their ranks after he was arrested by immigration agents at an airport in San Antonio.
They are known in some circles as "Dream Act" kids, named after proposed legislation that would grant them legal status.
Their cases underscore a contradiction in the Obama administration's approach to immigration enforcement. Even though the president supports the Dream Act — which would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought here as children who enroll in college or the military — his enforcement bureaucracy continues to pursue deportation cases against the increasing number of students who would be protected by it. It's part of a push that is on track to remove a record 400,000 illegal immigrants this year.
"It highlights the inconsistencies in immigration policies," said William Perez, a Claremont Graduate University professor and author of "We Are Americans," a book about undocumented immigrant students.
Immigration authorities say they rarely deport students, particularly once their teachers, coaches, friends and elected representatives speak out on their behalf.
Balderas, for example, was placed in "deferred status," meaning the government won't remove him unless he gets in trouble. Even so, the young people remain in legal limbo, often unable to land a professional job after earning a degree. And they live with a legal sword of Damocles over their heads, subject to removal at any moment.
"These cases illustrate the need for comprehensive immigration reform," said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "ICE uses its discretion on a case-by-case basis, as appropriate."
Carlos and Rafael Robles were on their way to visit a friend at Harvard — not Balderas — when they were arrested. They spent a weekend in jail before friends posted $5,000 bond for each of them. They had to travel to Buffalo again recently for a court hearing after an immigration judge turned down their request to move the case to Chicago. Their next court date is next year.
Their father works for a car dealer, and their mother is an assistant at a mortgage company. They came to the U.S. by airplane five years ago on a tourist visa and never went back.
"We want to go to school and to work here," Carlos Robles said.
Several residents of their community, a Republican-leaning Chicago suburb where most people have little patience for illegal immigration, have written letters on their behalf, said Robert Carroll, a teacher at Palatine High School.
"Gee whiz, these are just two quality kids," he said. "They are everything you would want your kids to be. These kids are going to be leaders in their communities — taxpayers, not tax recipients."
In recent months, immigration rights activists have renewed their push to persuade Congress to pass the Dream Act. Activists have staged hunger strikes and occupied congressional offices. This month, about 30 students marched outside the Los Angeles office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Feinstein is a co-sponsor of the Dream Act, but activists have criticized Democrats for not moving the bill this year.
"Immigration reform may be dead this year, but we feel that smaller pieces like … the Dream Act can move forward," said Marisol Ramos, founding board member of the national United We Dream network. "Democrats should really step up."
The Dream Act, sponsored by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and others, came up eight votes short in the Senate in 2007, when an effort to overhaul immigration law fell apart. The following year, then-candidate Barack Obama urged its passage during a presidential debate, saying that youths who "have essentially grown up as Americans" deserve legal status. But Obama has done little to push the bill as president.
After meetings with immigration rights groups this month, Senate leaders were hopeful they could move a Dream Act bill this year, a senior Senate aide said.
But proponents have to overcome opposition from those who say the measure would grant amnesty to a far larger circle of illegal immigrants than the college students who have become the faces of the movement.
Under the proposed legislation, when the youths become citizens and turn 21, they could sponsor their parents for green cards.
"It would lead to chain migration," said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, which supports stricter controls on immigration. "And they would create a lot of extra competition for our own students."
There are dozens of undocumented students attending Ivy League and other selective universities and hundreds at state schools, he said. They often speak flawless English and have few memories of their native counties. Many were not aware they were illegal until they began applying to college.
"I grew up thinking I was just like everybody else," said Jessica Lopez, 19, who just finished her first year at Cal Poly Pomona. "That is when it hit me, 'I am undocumented.' "
Lopez is trying to avoid deportation to Mexico — a country she hasn't seen since she was 7. Her family came to the attention of authorities after her father's employer initiated, then withdrew, petitions to secure green cards for the family, she said.
Lopez graduated near the top of her high school class in Pomona, then was accepted to UC Berkeley, UCLA and Bates College in Maine. She decided on Cal Poly Pomona because it was less expensive — and as an illegal immigrant, she couldn't qualify for federal aid.
Lopez, who is studying to become a chemical engineer, is gathering letters of support from her professors, coaches and counselors to present at the next Immigration Court hearing. At the same time, Lopez said, she is praying that the Dream Act passes.
"We are all just crossing our fingers," she said. "It will benefit so many of us. It's not just me."
From the New York Times
Lifetime of Tracking Killings Ends in Activist's Own
By ADAM NOSSITER
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Floribert Chebeya Bahizire went about his work with an accountant's meticulousness. He was trained to count numbers, and his life's work became adding bodies: those jailed, those tortured, those killed by a repressive government.
Early on the morning of June 2, Mr. Chebeya, Congo 's best-known human rights activist, was found dead in his car in the Mont Ngafula area of this capital city, his hands tied behind his back. The Congo police inspector general had summoned him for questioning the afternoon before.
“I'm in front of the office,” Mr. Chebeya said in a text message to his wife at 5:20. “Keep track of me,” said his message sent two minutes later. That was the last she heard from him. She later received a message from his phone, but said she is certain it was not from her husband.
Now, more than three weeks later, the “Chebeya Affair,” as his killing has become known, continues to be told day after day on the front pages of Kinshasa's newspapers. His death touched off an outcry that has not stopped, here or abroad. The United Nations secretary general said he was “deeply shocked” by Mr. Chebeya's death, and the United States, European Union and French governments expressed concern and called for an independent inquiry.
The police inspector general, John Numbi, one of the most powerful men in the government of President Joseph Kabila , has been suspended. Officials have announced investigations, several officers have been arrested, and Interior Minister Adolphe Lumanu announced on national television that Mr. Kabila was “determined” to get to the bottom of Mr. Chebeya's death. No cause of death has been released, and no charges have been filed, according to Human Rights Watch .
Suspicions about who ordered the death, and whether it was someone high in the government, persist. “He was quite a thorn in their side,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“People are angry about this, and touched,” said Jospin Tono Goda, a clergyman peering at the outdoor bulletin boards where newspapers are posted.
“We're in mourning,” said Claude Boilama, a civil servant, standing next to Mr. Tono. “He defended everybody. This was somebody of great courage.”
Nearly 1,000 mourners and diplomats attended a funeral service and burial for Mr. Chebeya on Saturday in Kinshasa. Dozens of riot police officers were on hand, but no violence was reported.
Human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents are routinely harassed or even killed in this strategic, mineral-rich country in the heart of Africa, but Mr. Chebeya was not an ordinary victim. He was the short, bespectacled, intense man who kept going, kept investigating, and kept speaking out, on the radio, in news conferences and at the head of demonstrations, year after year, in the face of constant threats and occasional beatings.
He pursued multiple investigations at the same time from his spartan, unmarked offices on a hillside here: the repression of political opposition, awful conditions in the prisons, the suspicious death of a young woman who had said she was Mr. Kabila's sister.
To the outside world he was the vital on-scene witness, through the carefully documented bulletin of the organization he led, La Voix des Sans Voix, or Voice of the Voiceless, to what Human Rights Watch called “the systemic nature of political repression under President Kabila.”
His experience of that repression was direct, and frequent. In March 2009 the Congo police raided a news conference he was giving, lifted him up, threw him down stairs, handcuffed him and jailed him. He did not give up, however.
With no answers coming from the government, speculation and questions about his death abound.
This time, did the police kill Mr. Chebeya? Was someone high up behind his killing? Why has the body of his driver not been found? Was it just a coincidence that the killing was shortly before a major celebration planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of independence on June 30, which Congo is using to try to prove that it has put civil war and instability behind it? (Indeed, the top hotel here is buzzing with Western businessmen pursuing mining deals with government officials.)
Against the government's narrative of normality Mr. Chebeya offered the opposite view.
“Individual and Collective Liberties Constantly Trampled” is the title of his Bulletin No. 58, February-April 2009. Inside he documented case after case: a political opponent tortured and beaten into unconsciousness by security agents, human rights activists beaten with rifles and forced to strip naked, peaceful demonstrators arbitrarily arrested. Small cases all — the routine accompaniment to unpunished mass killings and torture documented by Human Rights Watch in a stinging 2008 report on political repression in Congo, “We Will Crush You.”
“He was showing that the elections of 2006 did not lead to the rule of law,” said Jean-Claude Katende, president of the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights. Mr. Chebeya's death was a clear message from the authorities, Mr. Katende said: “Everybody should shut up.” The investigations now under way, he said, are “not credible.”
While emphasizing that the perpetrators remain unknown, Ms. Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch said, “Undoubtedly the government had a motive.”
Mr. Chebeya's widow, Annie Mangbenga Nzinga, has no doubt that her husband's trip to the police offices on June 1 led to his death. Speaking calmly, with controlled anger, in a bare room in their house she was occupying until his funeral, she recalled that he had mentioned the appointment that morning. He did not seem particularly concerned, she remembered.
“He's been under threat most of his life,” Ms. Nzinga said. “The security services did not accept the work that he did.” When she went to visit him in prison in March 2009, the police officers taunted her, she recalled. “We're going to kill him, and rape you,” she said they told her.
But there was never any question of giving up.
“He was a man who was faithful to his convictions, full of integrity, and not corrupted,” Mr. Katende said. “For Congo, where corruption is massive, this is very unusual. It's a shame we had to lose a man like that.”
Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray
By JAN HOFFMAN
The girl's parents, wild with outrage and fear, showed the principal the text messages : a dozen shocking, sexually explicit threats, sent to their daughter the previous Saturday night from the cellphone of a 12-year-old boy. Both children were sixth graders at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J.
Punish him, insisted the parents.
“I said, ‘This occurred out of school, on a weekend,' ” recalled the principal, Tony Orsini. “We can't discipline him.”
Had they contacted the boy's family, he asked.
Too awkward, they replied. The fathers coach sports together.
What about the police, Mr. Orsini asked.
A criminal investigation would be protracted, the parents had decided, its outcome uncertain. They wanted immediate action.
They pleaded: “Help us.”
Schools these days are confronted with complex questions on whether and how to deal with cyberbullying, an imprecise label for online activities ranging from barrages of teasing texts to sexually harassing group sites. The extent of the phenomenon is hard to quantify. But one 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center , an organization founded by two criminologists who defined bullying as "willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers, said one in five middle-school students had been affected.
Affronted by cyberspace's escalation of adolescent viciousness, many parents are looking to schools for justice, protection, even revenge. But many educators feel unprepared or unwilling to be prosecutors and judges.
Often, school district discipline codes say little about educators' authority over student cellphones, home computers and off-campus speech. Reluctant to assert an authority they are not sure they have, educators can appear indifferent to parents frantic with worry, alarmed by recent adolescent suicides linked to bullying.
Whether resolving such conflicts should be the responsibility of the family, the police or the schools remains an open question, evolving along with definitions of cyberbullying itself.
Nonetheless, administrators who decide they should help their cornered students often face daunting pragmatic and legal constraints.
“I have parents who thank me for getting involved,” said Mike Rafferty, the middle school principal in Old Saybrook, Conn., “and parents who say, ‘It didn't happen on school property, stay out of my life.' ”
According to the Anti-Defamation League , although 44 states have bullying statutes, fewer than half offer guidance about whether schools may intervene in bullying involving “electronic communication,” which almost always occurs outside of school and most severely on weekends, when children have more free time to socialize online.
A few states say that school conduct codes must explicitly prohibit off-campus cyberbullying; others imply it; still others explicitly exclude it. Some states say that local districts should develop cyberbullying prevention programs but the states did not address the question of discipline.
Judges are flummoxed, too, as they wrestle with new questions about protections on student speech and school searches. Can a student be suspended for posting a video on YouTube that cruelly demeans another student? Can a principal search a cellphone, much like a locker or a backpack?
It's unclear. These issues have begun their slow climb through state and federal courts, but so far, rulings have been contradictory, and much is still to be determined.
Benjamin Franklin Middle School conveys an earnest sweetness associated with an earlier era. Its 700 students attend classes in a low-slung building from the mid-'50s, complete with a bomb shelter and generous, shaded playing fields.
During cafeteria lunch duty, a guidance counselor runs a foosball tournament, attracting a throng of laughing, shouting boys. This year's school musical: “Guys and Dolls.”
For all its charms, Benjamin Franklin, a sixth-through-eighth-grade school in a wealthy New Jersey suburb, also lives bluntly in the present. A sixth-grade girl dashes to class, wearing a turquoise T-shirt with bold sequined letters: “Texting Is My Favorite Subject.” The seventh-grade guidance counselor says she can spend up to three-fourths of her time mediating conflicts that began online or through text messages.
In April, the burden of resolving these disputes had become so onerous that the principal, Mr. Orsini, sent an exasperated e-mail message to parents that made national news:
“There is absolutely NO reason for any middle school student to be part of a social networking site,” he wrote. If children were attacked through sites or texting, he added, “IMMEDIATELY GO TO THE POLICE!” That was not the response that the parents of the girl who had received the foul messages had wanted to hear.
Mr. Orsini sighed, relenting. After all, the texts were angry and obscene, the parents horrified, the girl badly rattled.
“We can certainly talk to the boy,” the principal said.
Investigating a complaint can be like stumbling into a sinkhole. Over the next few days, an assistant principal, Greg Wu; Mr. Orsini; a guidance counselor; a social worker and an elementary school principal were pulled into this one:
The sixth graders had “dated” for a week, before the girl broke it off. The texts she received that Saturday night were successively more sneering, graphic and intimidating.
But the exchanges shown to Mr. Orsini were incomplete. Before handing her phone to her parents, the girl erased her replies.
The boy claimed he was innocent, telling Mr. Wu he had lost his cellphone that Saturday. “Yeah, right,” said Mr. Wu.
The boy insisted he had dropped it while riding his bicycle that April afternoon with his brother and his brother's friend, both fifth graders.
By Wednesday, the girl's father called Mr. Orsini. “How is this boy still in school, near my daughter? Why can't you suspend him?”
The boy was a poor student in language arts classes, yet the text messages were reasonably grammatical. Mr. Wu dictated a basic sentence for the boy to write down. It was riddled with errors.
Next, an elementary school principal interviewed the fifth-grade boys separately.
By Thursday, Mr. Orsini telephoned the girl's parents with his unsettling conclusion:
The boy had never sent the texts. The lost phone had been found by someone else and used to send the messages. Who wrote them? A reference or two might suggest another sixth grader.
The identity would remain unknown.
Mr. Orsini told the girl's shaken parents that, aside from offering her counseling, the school, which had already devoted 10 hours to the episode, could do no more. “They were still in so much pain,” Mr. Orsini said. “They wanted us to keep investigating.”
Middle School Misery
Meredith Wearley, Benjamin Franklin's seventh-grade guidance counselor, was overwhelmed this spring by dramas created on the Web: The text spats that zapped new best friendships; secrets told in confidence, then broadcast on Facebook ; bullied girls and boys, retaliating online.
“In seventh grade, the girls are trying to figure out where they fit in,” Mrs. Wearley said. “They have found friends but they keep regrouping. And the technology makes it harder for them to understand what's a real friendship.”
Because students prefer to use their phones for texting rather than talking, Mrs. Wearley added, they often miss cues about tone of voice. Misunderstandings proliferate: a crass joke can read as a withering attack; did that text have a buried subtext?
The girls come into her office, depressed, weeping, astonished, betrayed.
“A girl will get mad because her friend was friends with another girl,” Mrs. Wearley said.
They show Mrs. Wearley reams of texts, the nastiness accelerating precipitously. “I've had to bring down five girls to my office to sort things out,” she said. “It's middle school.”
Recently, between classes, several eighth-grade girls from Benjamin Franklin reflected about their cyberdramas:
“We had so many fights in seventh grade,” one girl said. “None of them were face-to-face. We were too afraid. Besides, it's easier to say ‘sorry' over a text.”
Another concurred. “It's easier to fight online, because you feel more brave and in control,” she said. “On Facebook, you can be as mean as you want.”
Studies show that online harassment can begin in fourth grade. By high school, students inclined to be cruel in cyberspace are more technologically sophisticated, more capable of hiding their prints. But that is also when older students may be more resilient:
“By high school, youths are developing more self-confidence, engaged in extracurricular activities and focusing on the future,” said Sameer Hinduja, a professor at Florida Atlantic University and an author of “Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard.”
“Their identity and self-worth come from external things that don't revolve around social relationships.”
But during middle school, he said, “Peer perception largely dictates their self-worth.” With their erupting skin and morphing bodies, many seventh-grade students have a hard enough time just walking through the school doors. When dozens of kids vote online, which is not uncommon, about whether a student is fat or stupid or gay, the impact can be devastating.
While research shows that traditional at-school bullying is far more pervasive than cyberbullying, each type of hostility can now blur and bleed into the other. Jeff Taylor, principal of Frank Lloyd Wright Intermediate School in West Allis, Wis., wades into cyber-related conflicts at school several times each week.
Recently, a seventh-grade girl held a weekend birthday party and her jealous former friend showed up. By Tuesday night, the uninvited guest had insulted the birthday girl's dress on Facebook, calling it and the girl's mother cheap. The remarks were particularly wounding, because the birthday girl's family is not well-off.
By Wednesday, Mr. Taylor said, “There were rumblings about it in the cafeteria. When kids start posturing and switching lunch tables, you can tell.” He and an assistant tried to calm them.
But the posturing continued online. A confrontation at school was planned, and the details were texted. On Friday, during the four minutes between seventh-grade lunch and the next period, 20 girls showed up in a hallway and began shrieking.
At least four adults pulled the girls apart and talked them down.
“We must have spent five or six hours on this, throughout the week,” Mr. Taylor said. “We got to the bottom of that pain and rejection. I don't consider it a waste of time. But at 3:03 those buses were pulling out and you know that as soon as the girls got home, they'd be blasting away about it on Facebook.”
Though resolving cyberwars can be slippery and time-consuming, some schools would like students to report them at the outset, before they intensify. But experts on adolescence note that teenagers are loath to tell adults much of anything.
Some students think they can handle the ridicule themselves. Or are just too embarrassed to speak up. Others fear that parents will overreact.
If the child is texting at school or has a Facebook page without permission, “and now they're being bullied on it,” said Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org , “they can't admit it to parents. The parents will take away the technology and the kids are afraid of that. Or the parents will underreact. They'll say: ‘Why read it? Just turn it off!' ”
The most threatening impediment to coming forward can be the cyberbully's revenge. Graffiti on a cyberwall can't be blacked out with a Sharpie.
Mindful of risks to students who report bullies, some school districts have created anonymous tip sites. At Benjamin Franklin, the staff has many ways to give students cover.
“When girls ask their friends, ‘What were you doing in the guidance counselor's office?' ” Mrs. Wearley said, “I tell them, just say ‘Mrs. Wearley was fixing my schedule.' ”
The Legal Battles
Tony Orsini, the Ridgewood principal, learned about a devastating Facebook group last November, two months after it started.
“I had a 45-year-old father crying in my office,” Mr. Orsini said. “He kept asking, ‘Why would someone do this to my son?' ”
A Facebook page had sprung up about the man's son, who was new in town. The comments included ethnic slurs, snickers about his sexuality and an excruciating nickname. In short order, nearly 50 children piled on, many of them readily identifiable. “Kids deal with meanness all the time and many can handle it,” said Mr. Orsini, 38, a father of two children. “But it never lasts as long as it does now, online.”
The boy could not escape the nickname. At soccer and basketball games around town, opposing players he'd never met would hoot: “Oh, you're that kid.”
The boy began missing school. He became ill. After weeks, he reluctantly told his parents.
“We don't always get to address these problems until the damage is done,” Mr. Orsini said.
Because the comments had been made online and off-campus, Mr. Orsini believed that his ability to intervene was limited.
Rulings in a handful of related cases around the country give mixed signals.
A few families have successfully sued schools for failing to protect their children from bullies. But when the Beverly Vista School in Beverly Hills, Calif., disciplined Evan S. Cohen's eighth-grade daughter for cyberbullying, he took on the school district.
After school one day in May 2008, Mr. Cohen's daughter, known in court papers as J. C., videotaped friends at a cafe, egging them on as they laughed and made mean-spirited, sexual comments about another eighth-grade girl, C. C., calling her “ugly,” “spoiled,” a “brat” and a “slut.”
J. C. posted the video on YouTube. The next day, the school suspended her for two days.
“What incensed me,” said Mr. Cohen, a music industry lawyer in Los Angeles, “was that these people were going to suspend my daughter for something that happened outside of school.” On behalf of his daughter, he sued.
Last November, Judge Stephen V. Wilson of Federal District Court found that the off-campus video could be linked to the school: J. C. told perhaps 10 students about it; the humiliated C. C. and her mother showed it to school officials; educators watched it and investigated.
But the legal test, he wrote in his 57-page decision , was whether J. C.'s video had caused the school “substantial” disruption. Judge Wilson ruled in favor of the young videographer, because the disruption was only minimal: administrators dealt with the matter quietly and before lunch recess.
This legal test comes from a 1969 Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, in which a school suspended students for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.
The court overturned the suspension, but crafted a balance between a school's authority and a student's freedom of expression. When a student's speech interferes substantially with the school's educational mission, a school can impose discipline.
The district had to pay J. C.'s costs and lawyers' fees: $107,150.80.
Judge Wilson also threw in an aside that summarizes the conundrum that is adolescent development, acceptable civility and school authority.
The good intentions of the school notwithstanding, he wrote, it cannot discipline a student for speech, “simply because young persons are unpredictable or immature, or because, in general, teenagers are emotionally fragile and may often fight over hurtful comments.”
The lesson Mr. Cohen hopes his daughter learns from the case is about the limits on governmental intrusion. “A girl came to school who was upset by something she saw on the Internet,” Mr. Cohen said in a telephone interview, “and these people had in their mind that they were going to do something about it. The school doesn't have that kind of power. It's up to the parents to discipline their child.”
He did chastise his daughter, saying, “That wasn't a nice thing to do.”
He describes her video as “relentlessly juvenile,” but not an example of cyberbullying, which he said he did not condone. His daughter offered to remove it from YouTube. But Mr. Cohen keeps it posted, he said, “as a public service” so viewers can see “what kids get suspended for in Beverly Hills.”
The J. C. decision has ignited debate. Nancy Willard , an Oregon lawyer who consults with schools, said that the judge could have applied another, rarely cited prong of the Tinker standard: whether the student's hurtful speech collided with “the rights of other students to be secure.”
The Supreme Court has not yet addressed online student speech. Lower-court judges in some districts have sided with schools that have disciplined students for posting threatening videos about educators from their home computers.
In two recent cases, students were suspended for posting parodies of their principals. Each case reached the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. But one three-judge panel sided with a school for disciplining a student whose site suggested the principal was a pedophile; another panel sided with its case's student, whose site suggested the principal used steroids and smoked marijuana . To resolve the contradictory rulings, both cases were re-argued earlier this month before 14 judges on the Third Circuit, whose jurisdiction includes New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and the United States Virgin Islands.
Nationwide, principals have responded to students who demean others online in dramatically different ways.
In January, 28 Seattle middle school students who wrote noxious comments on Facebook about one student received suspensions. The school also held assemblies about digital citizenship.
But when the mother of a seventh-grade boy in Fairfax County, Va., who requested anonymity to protect her son's identity, sent his principal the savage e-mail messages and Facebook jeers that six boys posted about her son, the principal wrote back that although the material was unacceptable, “From a school perspective this is outside the scope of our authority and not something we can monitor or issue consequences for.”
Many principals hesitate to act because school discipline codes or state laws do not define cyberbullying. But Bernard James, an education law scholar at Pepperdine University , said that administrators interpreted statutes too narrowly:
“Educators are empowered to maintain safe schools,” Professor James said. “The timidity of educators in this context of emerging technology is working to the advantage of bullies.”
Whether suspension is appropriate is also under discussion. Elizabeth Englander, a psychology professor at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts and founder of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center , believes that automatic discipline for cyberbullies is wrong-headed.
“We tend to think that if there's no discipline, there's no reaction,” she said. “But discipline should never be the only thing we consider in these cases. There are many things we can do with children first to guide and teach them about behavior and expectations.”
Tony Orsini wanted to help his middle school student who was being teased mercilessly on Facebook. But he believed he had to catch the bullies at school.
He alerted teachers. At lunch, they spotted the three ringleaders as they forced the boy from their table.
“I called them into my office,” Mr. Orsini said, “and talked to them strongly about the lunchroom incident. Then I lied. I said I heard that the cops were looking at a Facebook group they had posted.
“It came down the next day.”
He rubbed his face in his hands. “All we are doing is reacting,” he said. “We can't seem to get ahead of the curve.”
Administrators who investigate students tangled in online disputes often resort to a deft juggle of artfulness, technology and law.
First challenge: getting students to come clean.
Mr. Wu, the assistant principal at Benjamin Franklin, is a former household handyman and English teacher with a fondness for scraps, gadgets and imagination. Hence his lie detector:
It's really an ancient tuner, connected to a helmet labeled “The Anti-Prevaricator” — the inner webbing from a football helmet refurbished by Mr. Wu, who glued on bells and a keypad from an old telephone.
When students balk or obfuscate, Mr. Wu may suggest they don the Anti-Prevaricator. They answer questions; sparks flash from the tuner.
When sixth graders realize the joke, Mr. Wu said, “they start laughing with relief and we talk about the importance of telling the truth.”
He continues his cyberinvestigations the old-fashioned way, with conversations, confrontations, cajoling and copious handwritten notes.
But the second challenge is gathering the evidence itself: looking at material typed on personal cellphones or online accounts.
School officials have both greater and lesser investigative authority than the police have over students. Certainly they cannot use lie detectors. But though police officers need probable cause and a warrant to search a student's locker or backpack, school administrators need only “reasonable suspicion” that a school rule has been violated.
The police also need probable cause and a warrant to search social networking sites and cellphones. School officials are uncertain what they need.
“I can't look into Facebook accounts,” said Jeff Taylor, the middle school principal from West Allis, Wis. If students or parents want him to see something online, “they have to show it to me or bring me a printout.”
But Deb Socia, the principal at Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester, Mass., takes a no-nonsense approach. The school gives each student a laptop to work on. But the students' expectation of privacy is greatly diminished.
“I regularly scan every computer in the building,” Ms. Socia said. “They know I'm watching. They're using the cameras on their laptops to check their hair and I send them a message and say: ‘You look great! Now go back to work.' It's a powerful way to teach kids: ‘I'm paying attention, you need to do what's right.' ”
Administrators are skittish about searching cellphones because of the increase in sexting, in which students have sent compromising photos of themselves. Principals fear being caught up in child pornography investigations. In these situations, they generally turn over cellphones to the police.
“The question of searching a cellphone is a gray area,” said Mary Ann McAdam, an assistant principal at Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights, N.J. “We only do it when a student says, ‘so-and-so sent threatening messages.' Even then, they look through their phones and find it for us. If I felt there might be something on a cellphone, I'd invite parents to go through it with me.”
Legal experts disagree on this issue. Professor James argues that cellphones are like backpacks: if the search's purpose is reasonably related to a school infraction, like cheating, the principal's search is legal. Others believe that cellphones belong in another category, protected by electronic communication privacy laws.
While a cellphone search may yield an incriminating text, it may not point to the author.
Last year, an eighth-grade girl at Benjamin Franklin vowed on Facebook that her boyfriend would beat up another eighth grader, a girl she had been bullying throughout middle school. Mr. Orsini called the police.
Mr. Orsini ordered the girls to have no contact at school. Nonetheless, the bullied girl received veiled texted threats at school, sent from a phone owned by a friend of the bully.
“Everyone knows who did it,” said Mr. Orsini, looking miserable. “But I couldn't prove who really sent them. So I had to punish the girl whose phone was used. The bully was a masterful manipulator. Her friend took the hit for her.”
By now, the targeted girl had become more self-confident. She was furious that the bully escaped punishment. When the bully began picking on a second, weaker girl, she grew further incensed.
One bristling morning, the two girls came to blows, which the bully sorely came to regret. Although teachers quickly broke up the fight, word of the outcome spread more swiftly:
“All the kids chanted the victim's name,” Mr. Orsini said, “in triumph in the lunchroom.”
What a difference a few years can make in the life of a tween.
Earlier this month, a proud posse of Benjamin Franklin eighth-grade girls strode into homerooms of sixth graders: inches taller than the 12-year-olds, skin calmer, they radiated a commanding exuberance as they tossed their long, glossy manes. They wanted to offer advice about social networking sites and cyberbullying.
“How many of you have discussed Mr. Orsini's letter with your parents?” asked Annie Thurston, one of the eighth graders, referring to his admonitions about online activity.
Slumped in their desks, at least a dozen students in one class glumly hoisted their hands.
In April, a parent alerted Mr. Orsini about Formspring, a site on which comments can be sent anonymously to mailboxes, and posted at the mailbox owner's discretion. Many adults seem confounded at why girls, in particular, would choose to post the leering, scabrous queries; some teenagers say they do so in order to toss back hard-shelled, tough-girl retorts.
The principal found the names of some Benjamin Franklin students on Formspring. As Mr. Orsini later recounted the experience, he couldn't bring himself to utter even a sanitized version of the obscene posts he had read. His face reddened, tears filling his eyes.
“How does a 13-year-old girl recover her sexual self-esteem after reading that garbage?” he whispered.
It prompted his e-mail message to parents, in which he wrote that no middle school student needed to be on social networking sites. Many parents agreed. But others said that schools and families should work harder to teach students digital responsibility.
These eighth-grade girls thought Mr. Orsini was right: younger students shouldn't be on Facebook.
They grilled the sixth graders, almost all of whom said they had cellphones.
Do your parents read your texts, they asked.
Only a smattering of palms.
“My mom keeps threatening to get software so she can monitor them,” one boy said, shrugging his shoulders. “But she never gets around to it.”
What impact did Mr. Orsini's letter have?
“I lied to my parents,” another boy said. “I told them I deactivated my Facebook page. But in two days, I started it again.”
The girls looked solemn.
“If you're under 13, you shouldn't even be on Facebook,” said Maeve Cannon, 14. “We think you guys can handle it but you're still really young. It's not that necessary, you know. We just want you to be safe.”
The sixth graders were rapt.
“The Internet is a scary place,” said Sabrina Spatz, an eighth grader. “It can really hurt you. Our parents didn't grow up with it so they don't really understand it that well.”
So if any of the sixth graders were cyberbullied, the older girls said, “Just come talk to us.”
Then they hesitated. They were, after all, about to graduate.
“You can tell Mr. Wu, he's awesome!” said Maeve, bubbling over. “Tell your guidance counselor or a teacher.” The other girls nodded eagerly.
“Yeah, go to the school,” Emily Cerrina chimed in.
“The school will make it stop,” she said, “immediately!”
A City Celebrates a Brand New Stadium, but Not After 9 P.M. in Some Quarters
By ERIK ECKHOLM
CHESTER, Pa. — Mayor Wendell N. Butler Jr. joined other dignitaries here on Sunday to inaugurate the new Major League Soccer stadium that officials hope will anchor a waterfront revival for this bedraggled city of 30,000.
What the mayor did not bring up, as he extolled “this historic day for Chester,” was the drastic step he had taken the previous weekend — declaring a state of emergency and putting the city's five most violent neighborhoods under a virtual lockdown at night.
Gunfire has long troubled Chester, a riverside city just south of Philadelphia that lost most of its industry decades ago and where large areas are now given to housing projects and crumbling row houses. Still, a spate of killings this month, including the death of a 2-year-old boy who was shot when a hooded gunman attacked his parents, has caused a wave of emotion.
“Four murders in eight days — it was all I could take,” Mr. Butler said in an interview just after the Sunday ceremony opening the Philadelphia Union soccer team's new stadium, which was built with state and county subsidies.
The mayor had the authority to impose a curfew for five days, cancel police vacations and require officers to work 12-hour days; the City Council then extended the emergency for 30 days.
The decree bars anyone from being outside in public in the designated zones, which cover less than half the city, between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless there is a legitimate reason. It also forbids outside gatherings of three or more people without a permit during those hours.
The State Police and sheriff's deputies have joined city officers on patrol, creating a heavy law enforcement presence that some residents said they found comforting and others said felt like a siege.
Some residents said that they had been stopped and questioned while trying to walk to convenience stores and that families barbecuing had been told to put out coals as 9 p.m. approached.
“Why do older people who aren't the troublemakers have to be inside after 9?” said Stanford Sarriget, 57, who lives near boarded-up houses on Third Street, in one of the target zones.
“I just hope it does some good over time,” he said of the curfew, adding, “We need more jobs.” Thirty-five percent of the population is below the federal poverty line.
Others welcomed the crackdown.
“It makes me feel a lot better, knowing the cops are patrolling the streets,” said Anjulae Walker, 22, a mother of two who lives within sight of the 9th Street doorway where the 2-year-old was shot in the head.
“You don't feel safe at night,” she said. “So why would you want to go out, anyway?”
In interviews on Sunday, many residents said they thought it was no coincidence that Mr. Butler announced the crackdown shortly before the stadium's opening day, when thousands of people from Philadelphia and elsewhere would be driving to Chester.
Mr. Butler adamantly denies that his decree was meant to reassure visitors to the stadium. The killings simply “weighed heavy on my heart, and I had to do something,” he said.
A group of men in their 20s, lounging under a tree on a scorching day, were among the most skeptical, both about the impact of the stadium on their lives and the curfew's effects on crime.
“We've got a casino, a prison and now a stadium,” said one of the men, Tajh Eshaad, 27. “But we don't have a recreation center or even a McDonald's in this city.”
The police have to start solving more killings to lower the murder rate, said the young men, who added that most of the violence was over drugs or conflicts between loose neighborhood gangs.
This week, city, county and state officials are meeting to develop an anticrime action plan for Chester, Mr. Butler said. But what will happen when the state of emergency ends next month is on everyone's minds.
“Unfortunately, I think that things will go back to normal,” Ms. Walker said. “Maybe the curfew needs to go on longer.”
From Parade Magazine
Judging the Value of Redemption
Richard Dyer, an ex-con and former drug addict, may be appointed to the bench in Massachusetts
by Linda Himelstein
Swirling through the halls of Boston's juvenile court, lawyer Rick Dyer, 58, glad-hands everyone from bailiffs to judges. With his trademark backpack flung casually over his crisp blue suit, he stops to huddle with a group that includes a probation officer and a social worker. They are discussing Dyer's client, a troubled 16-year-old from Somalia, who has just been brought into the courtroom handcuffed and in leg restraints, charged with assault and battery, among other offenses.
Dyer has won a promise that the boy will receive trauma therapy to help him overcome the effects of the Somali civil war, which may have contributed to his predicament. “He's always fighting for the kid,” says Kevin McClerklin, the probation officer.
It's no wonder. Nearly 50 years ago, Dyer was such a kid. At 10, he began sniffing model-airplane glue, then moved up to alcohol and heroin. His rap sheet details more than 10 years of felony convictions, from attempted breaking and entering to grand larceny. Yet today Dyer is a respected member of the bar in private practice in Boston. He has been sober for three decades.
The question of how important certain life experiences should be in the selection of judges has been raised regarding both Elena Kagan's and Justice Sonia Sotomayor's nominations to the Supreme Court. Now, a growing number of influential Bostonians are urging Deval Patrick, the Democratic governor of Massachusetts, to make Dyer a judge. They argue that appointing him to the bench would send a powerful message of hope, forgiveness, and redemption.
If appointed, Dyer would likely be the first judge in U.S. history to bring with him not only a record of drug abuse but also a personal understanding of what it's like to be homeless, on welfare, and behind bars. “There is a lot to be said for having people in the system who have lived the life and come out on the other side of it,” says former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who in 1983 granted Dyer a full pardon (clearing the way for him to become a member of the bar).
Three district-court judgeships and a juvenile judgeship are due to open in Massachusetts this year. If appointed to any of them, Dyer would have the chance to sentence defendants who engage in substance abuse—a group that makes up an estimated 65% of the U.S. prison population, according to a recent study.
At his lowest point, in the mid-1970s, Dyer stole cars to finance his 48 bag-a-day heroin habit. When not in jail, he bobbed from halfway houses to detox centers to basements where he slept next to boilers to keep warm. “I was hopeless, helpless, penniless, and crippled by drugs and alcohol,” says Dyer, who bears scars on his arms from years of needle use. “I was sick from despair and desperation.” He still mourns the loss of close friends who died from overdoses or shootings.
“It was his background that made me let down my guard,” says 23-year-old Jeremy Kean, who had multiple run-ins with the law but is now sober and employed. “I thought, ‘I can turn around if this guy turned around—and he did way worse things than I did.'”
For clients in need, Dyer is more than a lawyer; he's also a sounding board and even a chauffeur. As he did with Kean, he has openly shared the most humiliating details of his own struggles with addiction to help others overcome theirs. “What works for me is giving back what people gave to me.”
It was the encouragement of a few individuals he encountered in the legal system rather than a single dramatic event that made Dyer decide to transform his life. He particularly credits the late Charles “Chick” Artesani, a judge who never gave up on him. Though Artesani repeatedly sentenced Dyer to prison, he also recommended drug treatment or psychological assistance over jail whenever it was an option. He helped Dyer get into law school in 1980 and eventually win Dukakis' pardon. “He used to tell me I was never arrested—I was rescued,” Dyer recalls.
Dyer's qualifications will be reviewed in a closed process by a 21-member commission. If the governor then selects him, supporters as well as those opposing the prospect of an ex-con joining the state judiciary could come forward in a public hearing held by the Governor's Council—which would then approve or reject the nomination.
But Judge David Donnelly, a former state legislator, argues that Dyer's appointment should be beyond politics. “Rick demonstrates the workability of our system,” he says. “That is something we should applaud and embrace.”
Citizens Busted for Bad Words
In Pennsylvania, at least 750 people are arrested or summoned to court each year for cursing. In New Jersey, a woman was charged in January with being disorderly after allegedly swearing at the principal of her daughter's middle school. Why? “If someone who curses is arrested, it's most likely that he or she has also made threats of violence,” says David H. Martin, chair of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund. However, he notes that police officers are trained to handle difficult individuals without bringing them down to the station unless absolutely necessary.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Pennsylvania arrestees, arguing that swearing is free speech and thus protected by the First Amendment. Legal precedent seems to be on the side of the foul-mouthed. In 2001, a federal appeals court in California overturned the convictions of two men who used profane language in addressing Yosemite Park rangers, calling their behavior disrespectful but not criminal.
The ACLU's Mary Catherine Roper notes that the U.S. Supreme Court made a similar decision in 1971. The case, Cohen v. California, centered on a man arrested for walking through a courthouse wearing a jacket that bore an expletive expressing his feelings about the draft. The justices let him off, ruling that the free exchange of ideas—even those voiced crudely—was central to American democracy.
But shouldn't people who swear at our nation's law-enforcement personnel face some sort of penalty? No, says Roper. “Cursing at a police officer is tantamount to criticizing the government, and being able to do that without going to jail is one of the most important freedoms we have in this country.”