On the Gunn graffiti case

I posted this to the Weekly website, under the article from May 30 by Chris Kenrick.

I hope to get the chance to dig a bit more into the case and that what I find does not make me want to take back my message here.

I question the legitimacy of this story, by Chris Kenrick, and of the case itself.

I compared this to the version in the student newspaper, The Gunn Oracle, plus did a bit of legwork myself.

That one or more of our young people did a misdeed, there is little doubt, and they or their parents should be held accountable. I am questioning the characterization, by Perron, that this is a possible hate crime.

That, as reported in The Oracle, one of the messages started “Thank God…” makes me wonder if the utterance is a type of prayer, a religious utterance.

That it references the fact that Principal Katya Villalobos was re-assigned, from Gunn High to the Palo Alto Adult School, makes me think that the message in part was a political commentary.

That, as I confirmed walking the campus, the message was on the new Math Building, ironically labeled The N Building, — and I have a strong suspicion that the alleged perpetrator was himself a person of color — makes me wonder if this act, incomprehensible as it seems to many — is a statement about Measure A the 2010 “Strong Schools” bond. Maybe this person wonders what part of the $14 million expenditure benefitted he or people like him, from his neighborhood, or with his interests. I too sometimes wonder about our expenditures.

I don’t believe that being a member of a historically persecuted group would give one the right to, in turn, harm, harass or belittle others, or other persecuted groups, clearly. But I wonder why the Weekly plays up this angle, or what gives Lt. Perron the authority to characterize or judge the message or group of messages.

Also we have the unfortunate context that in 2008 people from certain parts of Palo Alto, near Gunn, and I am only guessing that the person here was from that neighborhood, families said that their sons were systematically harassed and profiled by the police here. This precipitated the replacement of Chief Lynne Johnson with Chief Dennis Burns. My understanding is that Dennis has done a good job, and there is less, maybe much less racial profiling – -of blacks and Latinos – -here.

But I’ve also seen photos or one photo of youngsters– our youngsters, local kids — on the front page of the local press, in handcuffs, if memory serves, and displayed as trophies with the tools of their allegedly illicit trade: spray cans, stickers, stencils. This is before trial, or before the right to defense. As in being tried in the press.

And also contextually to this Gunn “hate crime” incident we have a justice system that, especially in some parts of the U.S. does not guarantee Equal Protection, and that Gideon is not actually enforced, even 40 years later.

So I wonder if mitigating what this article or Lt. Perron state about this case that some of what was done was a not-well-educated person doing a poor job of communicating ideas of political or religious nature, that are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

I’d like to know the exact content of these messages, and hear from the person what he was thinking.
And I’d like to know that he is able to mount a defense to charges that the State (which is still We the People) may bring.

And further, I am not sure I’d be so pleased with the cultural vigilante nature of the other math teachers releasing their students from the study of math per se to amend or destroy or react to what they saw, no matter if they found it offensive. Nor am I so proud of school administration asking parents to snitch on each other, as a means to hold someone accountable for the damages, via mass emails.

I think the Weekly could do a better job on this story and not arguably doing a disservice with shoddy reporting and fanning the flames of conflict.

What is done wrong by educated people, the powerful, or We The People — in my name, in our name — to me is a lot worse than what a young person, on his worst day, might do.

Here is the link to the Weekly story.

Here is the link to the Gunn Oracle. I have a hard copy I picked up last week, on campus. Or to a cache, at least — the site says “under construction”.

Jason Green of the Mercury also writes a version of this and I hope will amend if necessary. Their headline says “Juvenile cited for racist graffiti at high school”. Actually the Mercury News twitter feed, with nearly 40,000 followers, used the term “racist” in broadcasting this story, on May 30, whereas a similar feed labeled Daily News does not.

“Palo Alto: Juvenile cited for racist graffiti at Gunn High”.

Lt. Zach Perron, who I believe I have met, is the Public Information officer for the department, and for example, is responsible for PAPD twitter feed, which has about 7,00o followers (compared to 500 each for PA Utilities and City Manager Jim Keane).  Perron is notably a Palo Alto native and Stanford grad.

I should really read-up on the statutes regarding “hate crimes”, I admit.

edit to add:

Bright and Sanneh, in The Nation, on “shameful” non-enforcement of Gideon fifty years later. I’m also influence by having seen Bryan Stevenson interviewed by Bill Moyers, about EJI, Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama — worth reading about further.

This doesn’t quite belong here but I actually had quoted the first stanza on another Palo Alto Weekly page, a column by Steven Levy about how great it is that we keep passing bond measures and “invest in our schools” — in bricks at least — and he not only deleted the lyrics — about St. Paul, and the poor — but deleted the fact that I had even posted! This is “Plantation Town” by Corey Harris, a Genius fellow, who studied to be a teacher before shucking that for being a blues and reggae singer:

There’s also a song by Michelle Shocked called “Graffiti Limbo” that is more on-point. “Plastic Alto” is a music blog, that bleeds into policy, so to speak, so you should expect a musical outro that obliquely fits. I did study Constitutional Law at Dartmouth College, an undergrad course with a man named Professor Vincent Starzinger, his famous Govy 60, although many others gleaned more from it than I did.

more edita: I started scrolling thru a search of the terms “graffiti hate crime” and found this nuanced take on the subjects, by Jeff Jacoby of Boston Globe.  One fairly obvious, to me at least, categorical is the distinction between incidents at a school and at a private residence. I would think targeting someone’s home is more potentially harmful than a message targeting a more diffuse recipient like at a school.


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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