By Stephen Tuttle | May 22, 2021
At least two local school districts find themselves trying to find a punishment or resolution or intervention that is a fitting response to what has been reported as a sickeningly racist and misogynistic online chat among students at three local high schools.
The desire to enslave minority students, including some mentioned by name, was among the most heinous comments. They did not, however, intend for their targets to ever see the exchanges nor did they intend to act on their words; this wasn't a case of social media or online bullying. That does not excuse the ugliness of their thinking or the emotional distress they've caused now that their exchanges have been exposed. But it helped mitigate the worst potential consequences.
Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg declined to prosecute because she could find nothing criminal. The First Amendment protects even the most offensive speech if it is not directly threatening. The 1969 Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines held that “ ... students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
The courts have also acknowledged minors do not enjoy the same rights as adults and have indicated a school cannot have the same permissive approach to free speech as a public location that can serve as a soapbox for expression. That's why they've made exceptions for “disruptive” speech in a necessarily controlled environment like a classroom. Dealing with offensive speech gets even trickier when it involves students outside the schoolhouse gate, as was the case here.
The solution is not so simple, and the instinctive reflex demanding punishment might not help. Suspension or expulsion are closer to a surrender than a productive resolution. Sending the students elsewhere eliminates even the possibility of any kind of useful intervention by the school.
There are important and necessary privacy rules in place here and we might never know what, if any punishment, local school districts have meted out to their involved students, all of whom are minors.
If not, somebody might start by trying to find out where and how these teens developed their racial and gender animus. They might force the offenders to sit down face-to-face with the kids they targeted and other minority students who were targeted by association. Or maybe they should be forced to read Walter Johnson's “Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market.” They might then understand their behavior was neither harmless nor the least bit amusing.
Speaking of things that aren't really amusing, our Republican friends in Arizona are busily solidifying their reputation as the most delusional of the political outliers, a significant accomplishment considering the current GOP landscape.
Republicans in their state senate are currently orchestrating what may be the least credible recount in history. They are convinced, absent much of even a hint of evidence, there were shenanigans aplenty in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, during the 2020 presidential election. So they've decided they will recount the 2.1 million ballots, a significant sampling of which have already been recounted and audited.
Enter their hired experts, a company calling itself Cyber Ninjas. Never mind that Cyber Ninjas have zero experience with elections, or election recounts, or election voting machines. And never mind they surrendered any pretense of objectivity when many of the workers they hired showed up wearing the red MAGA hats. Never mind that the courts, GOP election officials, and the Republican-controlled Maricopa County board of supervisors have all verified the legitimacy of the vote tally.
Among the recounters’ requests was ultra-violet scanning they believed would detect Chinese watermarks. Why would they want to detect bamboo? Well, to prove the ballots fraudulently came from China because, as we all know, all things coming from China contain traces of bamboo. (While it's true that bamboo is sometimes used to make paper, it's unlikely the Chinese involved in a voting conspiracy in the U.S. would be foolish enough to use it to counterfeit our ballots.)
The recount, which has now been droning on for three weeks, has been temporarily halted because its location, the Arizona Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, is needed for a series of high school graduation ceremonies. So, the ballots have been put in boxes, loaded into semis, and moved to what was allegedly a secure location in what was allegedly a secure operation, which will be repeated in reverse when the graduations are over.
With little oversight and even less understanding of Arizona elections, the recount partisans continue on in near secrecy, searching for electoral silver bullets they will have to create themselves.
Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, who has been involved in Arizona politics for four decades, said, “I've never seen anything like it.” Probably because there's never been anything like it.