Posted by Danny Pforte
On Saturday, Dec. 18, the police charged a Skidmore College sophomore with a felony hate crime following an assault at Compton's Restaurant. Proceedings on the case are not scheduled to begin until early to mid-January, and possibly later. The Saratogian and the New York Daily News — as well as many other media outlets — have reported on the arrest. It is reported that the crime took place at 5:30 a.m. and that the students involved may have been drinking underage. These are important community concerns that make the situation complicated. However, most coverage of the case overshadows these concerns by improperly framing the story. I write today because I am concerned that the media coverage is inaccurate and biased.
According to the Saratogian "the four men charged with assault are all black or Hispanic." They mention the hometown of each student involved (three of whom are from New York City), emphasizing that these men are "outsiders." By identifying the accused solely by their urban background and as minorities (whose actual race was left vague), the Saratogian set the stage for the backlash that came from the Saratoga community in the form of racist comments on their website:
brianjconway wrote on Dec. 21, 2010 6:21 a.m.:
"I wonder what program they are attending Skidmore under? The RAP, the BAP, the ZAP? No difference, they are all publicly funded. Trying to educate people like that is like a hen trying to hatch a rock. 10,000 years, and it won't happen."
forafact wrote on Dec. 20, 2010 8:40 p.m.:
"Can you say EOP?"
Furthermore, the Associated Press identifies the perpetrator as black, though he is Hispanic. Clearly, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the incident and this false reporting isn't helping. Another take on the story by News10 of Albany shows how complicated the case really is. A minority student from Skidmore explains her opinion on the situation: that the "black people" from Skidmore who were involved are ridiculous for acting as they did, since they are given the opportunity to disprove racial stereotypes in the setting of a prestigious college. Her comments suggest the additional pressure faced by minority students at Skidmore when faced with ethical dilemmas (getting into a fight, drinking underage, etc.). Being a minority at Skidmore can be unsettling because of the primarily white student body. Minority students feel as if they have more to prove and thus face larger consequences if they happen to make a mistake. It is the white students at Skidmore who must challenge the stereotypes portrayed in unfair media coverage. We must acknowledge the pressures on minority students and ensure that we do our part in ensuring that they are portrayed fairly and equally.
The Missing Pieces
After reading and listening to the media coverage on the case, everyone should remember that these students have only been charged, not convicted, and that the accused have not given their perspectives and are unlikely to do so before they go to court. They are innocent until proven guilty. Skidmore students should not let what the police, those pressing charges and the media say stir up the same racially charged sentiments that the Saratoga community has already expressed in response to the Saratogian article.
Of course, I am not condoning the actions that may or may not have happened that morning at Compton's. I am simply concerned that prejudices against Hispanics and African-Americans seem to be prevalent in this community, and I hope that Skidmore students will rise above such misguided judgments. I hope that those interested in promoting social justice will meet together to discuss the many issues surrounding this case to clear up the confusion. We have an opportunity to challenge racial stereotypes and recollect ourselves as an open-minded liberal community. Let this case be a calling.
Danny Pforte is a sophmore from Cambridge, Mass. who studies social work. He is inspired by Malcolm X, Jay-Z and Bernie Sanders.