Monday, November 27, 2006

From the "It-Happened-in-Queens" department:

Tragically, New York police officers shot one unarmed man to death and seriously wounded two others last Saturday morning. Two of the three were black and the third was Hispanic.

Clearly, this is a case of police error. According to Andy Robinson's story in La Vanguardia, police were summoned to a dodgy nightclub in Queens--the club had been under police surveillance for months due to prostitution and drug dealing--at four in the morning. The cops saw a fight between several nightclub patrons, including Sean Bell, the man who was killed, outside the bar. They called for backup, saying "Things are getting hot on Liverpool Street. I think he's got a gun," as the altercation continued. Then Bell's car crashed into a police van and the cops opened fire, putting 31 shots into the car. They made a mistake, because Bell and his two companions were unarmed. There was no gun. Bell was to have been married the next day.

More than anything else, this reminds me of the case where the cops shot the unarmed Brazilian on the London underground, though it's also reminiscent of the Amadou Diallo case in 1999, when New York police shot an innocent, unarmed Guinean immigrant while on an emergency rape call.

Naturally, Andy Robinson has to accuse the NYPD of racism: "Though Mayor Bloomberg has moderated Giuliani's most-criticized measures of harassment of the black communities, zero tolerance police tactics are still used aggressively in African-American neighborhoods, like Queens and Brooklyn." Seems to me that according to Robinson's own story, the cops thought they were in danger, and they screwed up and shot three unarmed men. Racism charges are out of line unless somebody's got some proof, and if there were any you can bet Robinson would have mentioned it.

Of course, this story was all over TV news all weekend over here in Spain, and it makes page 11 of La Vanguardia's international section, above the fold, with a photo, while the violently racist Paris lynch mob made page 57 in the sports section. Wonder why?

Meanwhile, La Vanguardia's Washington correspondent, Eusebio Val, had another extremely reasonable article in Sunday's paper. School violence has become a cause for concern in Spain, and the Vangua ran a collection of briefs from its foreign correspondents on the subject. Mr Val's piece said:

USA--reputation worse than reality

The public perception, both within and outside the country, of violence in the schools of the United States is worse than reality. News like the massacre at Columbine, Colorado, in 1994, or the recent attack against a school in the Amish community in Pennsylvania, contribute to the bad press. But the truth is, according to statistics, that violent incidents have decreased notably since the mid-nineties. In 1994 there were 13 cases for every 1000 students. In 2003 it had declined to 6 cases in every 1000. The decline is mostly due to the citizens' awareness and the measures taken, among them the metal detectors at the front door of urban high schools. Still, robbery, aggression, drug use, and the presence of students with weapons are a reason for concern. Bullying has increased, though it is possible that it is reported more often now that it is officially recognized as a problem.

Aggression among students is much more common than students' attacks on teachers. Even less frequent are parents' attacks on teachers. Nevertheless, figures from between 1998 and 2002 indicate that there were some 90,000 violent incidents involving teachers and 144,000 robberies. These statistics are relativized if one keeps in mind that in the US there are almost 100,000 public schools, some 60 million students from kindergarten to high school, and 3 million teachers.

The schools depend on municipal or county authorities, and so policies regarding punishment for violent students may vary according to the area. If the aggression is serious, the police and the justice system become involved. Disciplinary sanctions inside the school system are taken rapidly, in a question of days or weeks.

Below there is a photograph, a movie still, with the caption "Movies about problematic students like "Dangerous Minds" have given an excessively worrying perspective of American public schools."

If Mr. Val continues being so fair and balanced, Josep Maria Casasus will accuse him of being in the pay of the CIA, too.

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