Whose hate?

When I wrote about hate crime penalty enhancers a little over a week ago, a friend sent me an article about a recent case in Long Beach, Calif. This past Halloween, three young white women were severely beaten by strangers they encountered at a block party in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood. Bixby Knolls is a popular Halloween destination because the houses are elaborately decorated and the residents are generous to trick-or-treaters.

Long Beach, a city about 20 miles south of Los Angeles, has long prided itself on its ethnic and racial diversity. The 2000 U.S. Census found Long Beach to be the most ethnically diverse large city in the nation. On Halloween night, however, the three victims and some witnesses allege that the attackers were motivated by racial hatred. Solid facts about the attack -- and the attackers -- seem scarce, but one reality is not subject to debate: the three women were profoundly injured by an African-American crowd wielding a skateboard and tree branches, as well as fists and feet. One of the women is still struggling to retain her eye, which was almost knocked from its cracked socket. Her face was fractured in 12 places. The other two women also suffered serious injuries, including concussions, cuts and bruises. Some who were there reported that the attackers were shouting, "I hate white people," while others indicated that the white women provoked the attacks with racial taunts against blacks.

There were many problems with the resulting arrests and prosecution of 10 juvenile suspects, raising questions about whether the authorities nabbed the right people and whether the prosecutors' evidence was adequate. In this week's judicial proceedings, a judge acquitted the youngest girl (California juvenile courts don't use juries.) but ruled that seven other children are guilty of felonies, including hate crimes. Two boys will be tried at a later date.

The right-wing blogosphere is all atwitter with joy at black children being convicted o…


Oath of offense

I'm a good progressive. I believe in universal healthcare, family-supporting wages, affirmative action policies, investment in public services like education and libraries, all that good stuff. When I've filled out the candidate questionnaires of interest groups like the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights League, I've always gotten high marks, so you know where I stand.

Still, I'm a touch too civil libertarian for some of my allies. Take hate crime penalty enhancers, for example. Although crimes against minority groups hit their victims with full weight of decades or centuries of bias, I don't think that the immediate perpetrators of those crimes should pay for the sins of the ages. I also worry about the First Amendment implications of penalty enhancers. If we are truly free to think and say what we want, why should we punish people for the thoughts they had in their heads when they planned their crimes?

I'm not overlooking the hideousness of hate crimes, believe me. A few years ago, my nephew, the son of my Orthodox Jewish-convert sister, almost bled to death after being shot by a white supremacist on an interstate rampage against blacks, Jews and Asian immigrants. And I can read the paper any morning and find evidence that bigoted, angry people are still hurting those they view as different. Just a couple weeks ago, three women were intentionally struck by a car as they were leaving a gay bar on Milwaukee's South Side. The women stated that the driver was shouting anti-gay slurs as he drove into them.

I know we can find ways to say "No" to discrimination without messing with the Constitution. So I wasn't too happy to hear this week that the Madison city council voted to allow elected and appointed officials to amend their oaths of office with a statement that they will uphold the constitution of the State of Wisconsin except for the part about denying same-sex couples the right to marry.

Anyone who's read my blog knows how strong…


Ready for takeoff

Ole King George announced this week that he was adding 21,000 more troops to the blender that is Iraq. Since there's no draft, he'll have to increase tour length and reduce leave for current soldiers, and call up more National Guard and Reserves units.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported today that more than 80 percent of Wisconsin's National Guard members have already been deployed since September 2001, and the president's plan means that even those who have served a year or more on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan may be redeployed soon.

Have you seen those billboards hanging on the backs of Milwaukee County buses in recent weeks, the ones that say, "Make every day count"? Theoretically, they're recruiting posters for the Wisconsin National Guard, but I find them a bit ironic. Given Bush's pronouncements this week about the troop surge, the ads just beg us to fill in the blanks:

"Make every day count because you never know when Bush will send you back to dodge IEDs in Iraq," or,

"Make every day count because the Defense Department has stopped counting how many days of active service you've already given us, so why not give us 365 more?"

The recruiters are working on all sorts of ideas to boost the number of available soldiers. There was even a proposal last week to eliminate the ban on gays in the military. That's just like straight people, isn't it? When you're desperate, call on a gay person. Can't dance? Call on a gay person. Hair and clothes a mess? Call on a gay person. Can't match your drapes with your furniture? Call a gay person. Can't find any more able-bodied, patriotic kids to risk life and limb in the Iraqi desert? Call a gay person.

Klinger, a character on the old TV show "MASH," tried for years to get ejected from the army by wearing a dress every day, back when homosexuality and male cross-dressing were considered synonymous. Putting a dress on didn't work for Klinger, but news this week indicates that you can get out by t…


Our lights are on

Being a board member for a large urban school district means I don't get to brag too much. Our public school district faces seemingly endless challenges, and in spite of the hard work of our staff and parents, some of our schools still fail too many children. This job definitely keeps me humble.

Actually, I'm proud of the district for many achievements, as well as for the difficult self-review that we've been doing recently about our failings, and the deep rethinking and reorganization we've been wrestling with over the past few years. The district is changing for the better.

One thing about the Milwaukee Public Schools that I'm especially proud of is the incomparable range of school options we offer to families. When I talk with teachers or school board members from other districts around the state and nation, they are always amazed that MPS provides so many program choices. They're stunned to hear that we offer several Montessori options -- including a Spanish-English bilingual elementary Montessori program (at Kosciuszko) and an International Baccalaureate Montessori high school program (at Marshall campus) -- when most school districts offer none.

We are also fortunate to have a public high school (Alliance High School) that offers a safe learning environment specifically for students who have been bullied. Alliance has become a haven for 120 students who were harassed in other schools for being different, particularly for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, and these students are now thriving academically and socially. In the nation, only New York City has a comparable program.

MPS challenges students to explore career and higher education goals through the dozens of other specialty schools we offer. We have a high school devoted to aviation careers (Milwaukee Academy of Aviation, Science, and Technology) and business. We have elementary, middle, and high schools focused on the arts. We have numerous schools at all levels offering bilingual edu…