The ghost of Compton's past

Posted by Alex Hodor-Lee

On April 12, senior Justin Tavarez, was arrested on theft of service charges, after failing to pay $23.80 for his cab ride, following a late night of drinking downtown.

Tavarez, who took a cab home with a "white female" student (according to the driver's sworn statement), fled the cab with a bag left behind by the last passenger. Tavarez relinquished the bag shortly after fleeing the cab, and following a stubborn night of rain, its contents-valued at $1150-were irreparably waterlogged. Thus, Tavarez was charged with grand larceny the following Tuesday.

Tavarez called the owner. "I didn't mean to steal your stuff, I'm going to graduate this year, the charge is serious and I could do jail time, I want to meet you to show you I am a good guy." states a police document.

Two days after the call, Tavarez, 22, was arrested at Burgess Caf?? on an added charge of witness tampering in the fourth degree, and forced to walk across campus in handcuffs, despite the dean of student's plea to have him arrested outside the public setting.

Tavarez was at the center of another investigation in 2010, when a late night brawl broke out between four Skidmore students of color, and several local diners-now infamously referred to as "The Compton's Incident."

Tavarez, who took a plea deal so as to escape college expulsion, contends that local diners initiated the brawl. "This guy got in my face and pushed me-it was just pushes, that's all. I never broke a plate over his head, but plates were broken and food was everywhere. They might as well have said I hit him in the head with a pancake."

"I'll never forget, ever," said Tavarez, "we were all leaving the courthouse the next day and some guy in an SUV drove up next to us, rolled down his window and raised his fist and screamed 'white power!' We all just looked at him like, 'what?'"

Saratoga Springs is very much a tale of two towns.

The first is an affluent, sunny, halcyon summer destination characterized by the white mansions and white linen suits-something out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

The other town is much less glamorous: economically depressed, with a local newspaper sensationalizing headlines to attract readers, hoping to avoid filing for bankruptcy for a fourth time. This town doesn't welcome Skidmore students. Its police-suppressed witness' statements at Compton's two years ago and they trumped up charges for "a hispanik" (as the cab driver's police statement reads).

But this story is also about two Skidmores.

It's about a large faction of students who quickly convicted Justin for his involvement in the "Compton's incident" and a small minority of students, who were there, and really know what happened.

It's about a pernicious schism between opportunity program students, who immediately stand out in contrast to those who are privileged enough to indulge in the Vineyard, the Hamptons and equestrian culture.

It's about one set of tours that visit Skidmore one week, segregated from another set of Discovery tours that visit the next.

It's about limousine liberalism and armchair progressivism, and professors who observe, "The best way to keep incidence of drinking down on campus is to raise your minority population. College means a lot more to them."

It's about concerted efforts at cultural awareness negated by a student crudely scribbling, "I love being white" on a dorm fa??ade.

Though Justin's experiences may not mirror your own, it doesn't make them any less real. We shouldn't depreciate the value of someone's harsh experiences or feelings of marginalization in this town or this school, simply because you haven't felt them.

In this country, suspects are innocent until proven guilty. However, through misreporting and sensationalism and without a trial by jury, two men in Boston have already been convicted in the court of public opinion. What's more damaging is that because of their ethnicity, some commentators suggest their actions may preclude progressive immigration reform-proof that the evil of few sculpts the face of many.

In some instances-such as the Steubenville rape case-we go as far as socially indicting the victim. Many called that young female victim a "slut", with little understanding or knowledge of the case-proof that we need to practice media literacy and skepticism, not because it's easy, but because it is hard.

Next time you hear a story, question it. Next time you look in the mirror, ask yourself: would I be paraded, in handcuffs, across the campus green or convicted before my trial had even begun?

Justin Tavarez is no saint. I know because he's my housemate. While I had heard legends of the "Compton's Incident", it wasn't until a few weeks ago, I found out that he was the student in question. I never would have expected it from a young man who keeps us up at night-singing Adele songs in the shower or keeping the lights on so he can read books about social history and Bobby Kennedy.

Like me, Tavarez has a unique affection for RFK, and, like me, he's from New York City. Like me, he exhibits a New Yorker's cynicism. Sometimes, it feels like the only difference is the color of our skin. Now I consider him one of my closest allies. What's sad: but for a housing snafu, we may have never even met. Like you, he would have remained crystallized in my mind as "that Compton's kid."

For many us, the only thing we truly know about the "Compton's Incident", is that we truly know nothing about the Compton's incident at all. I welcome your disagreement to what I've said; we're all entitled to our own opinions. We are not however, entitled to our own facts-especially when we have none.

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