Teach-in confronts Compton's incident

Posted by Alex Brehm

At 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 24 more than 200 students and faculty members attended a teach-in organized to address the Dec. 2010 assault at Compton's restaurant and it's aftermath.

The event was held in the Spa and was organized by professor Winston Grady-Willis of the American studies department.

Several members of the college community spoke at the teach-in and presented various perspectives on the incident at Compton's Restaurant.

In late December, four students were arrested and charged with varying counts of assault after an incident at Compton's Restaurant in Saratoga Springs.

One student was charged with a hate crime, which was later dropped after the county District Attorney found the charge to be without substance.

Speakers discussed the history of racism in the U.S., presenting the idea that the hate crime charge in the Compton's incident was an example of racial prejudice and misunderstanding.

Janet Casey, a professor in the English department, began the teach-in with a description of anonymous blog posts and comments on the Internet, and the vitriolic nature they have taken. She noted specific comments on Food for Thought posters and Skidmore Unofficial.

Casey said that though students and professors might conclude that they cannot control other people's words, students could take responsibility for their own speech and ensure that it is part of a respectable dialogue.

Director of Student Diversity Programs Mariel Martin spoke about many issues that make students feel marginalized on campus, including issues of culture, language and accessibility. She also spoke about the challenges of navigating dominant and non-dominant groups on campus.

Mason Stokes, chair of the English department, spoke about the dilemma of acting without sufficient facts and information. In cases where facts must be withheld, he said, it is necessary to wait for better information, though such waiting can lead to a lack of community action.

Stokes said he could safely assume that police reports were not always true, and that young men of color and low socio-economic status cannot always be assured the same access to representation in the justice system as white, wealthier defendants.

The issue of ‘white flight' and ethnicity in urban areas was addressed next. Professor Jon Zibbell of the anthropology department said that unequal access to mortgages in the 1950s led racial minorities to be forced to live in high-density urban areas.

"What, do black folks just like cement? And white folks just like picket fences and single-family homes? No." Zibbell said.

Police treat people of different races differently when at the scene of a criminal investigation, Zibbell said, and the development of the suburbs, as well as behavior of police, could lead consumers of the media to be immediately skeptical of accounts of such events as the Compton's incident.

Guest speaker Gaspar Castillo, a defense attorney from Albany, spoke about the prejudices he witnesses when he works with defendants of different races.

Castillo said that when defending an African America man for a murder charge he first pointed the jury's attention to his client's race and urged them not to try him solely on the color of his skin. Castillo also spoke about his experiences growing up as a Latino man.

Castillo asked the audience some basic civil rights questions, leading to a tense moment when students in attendance were unable to describe the 1857 landmarks Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sandford that determined slaves were not citizens.

Theater lecturer Lisa Grady-Willis closed the teach-in. "What does it take to be visible, to be respected, to have a presence?" she asked.

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