It's not all bad news in Philly daily journalism.
Big ups to Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman of the People Paper for winning one of two Pulitzer Prizes for investigative reporting "for their resourceful reporting that exposed a rogue police narcotics squad, resulting in an FBI probe and the review of hundreds of criminal cases tainted by the scandal."
Read the "Tainted Justice" series in its entirety here.
So I'm reading one of the most horrifying stories to come out of New Jersey/anywhere in a while, posted on Phawker (via the Associated Press), about a 7-year-old girl who was gang-raped by as many as seven men, after being sold to these men by her 15-year-old stepsister.
Sad, sad, sad world, right?
And then I look to the image (see above) that Phawker ed Jonathan Valania posted to accompany the story. Wait, what? is he likening this 15-year-old who sold her own sister away to become a sex slave as someone who should go and brush her shoulders off???
Now look, we could get into a long discussion here about how Jay-Z and every other rapper since the beginning of time has glorified pimps, and how that's not cool. But the fact is, in the context of Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," "pimp" is a metaphor and the phrase "ladies is pimps, too" is an empowering statement, one of solidarity. No one who commits such a heinous crime as that mentioned above should be compared to a woman who deserves to brush her shoulders off.
Which is long way of saying that, essentially, Phawker's post creeped me the fuck out. Worse yet, it isn't the first time.
We need jobs, dammit.
Jobs, I say, not . . . those creamers that don't require refrigeration but taste kind of funny. Jobs not . . . public radio fundraisers! Jobs, not . . . slightly more expensive pickled green tomatoes at the Reading Terminal Market! Jobs, not another season of The Office!
Jobs, not . . . hmm . . . oh! Jobs, not the soda tax!
There. Having vaguely equated things I don't like with massive job losses, I will now go ahead and join "Save Philly Jobs. Not Taxes," the recently-formed coalition that's been a vocal opponent of the mayor's proposed sugary beverage tax.
"Philly Jobs. Not Taxes." It has a nice, caveman-ish ring to it, don't you think?
I just hope none of "Philly Jobs. Not taxes" members don't mind if nothing they say makes any sense. 'Cause I'm not sure it does.
The only remotely plausible job loss scenario Big Beverage has been able to muster in its efforts to destroy the soda tax is that Philadelphia residents working at the local Coke bottling plant could lose their livelihoods if we pass the soda tax.
Dutifully reported the Inquirer recently:
Area retailers, Teamsters, and beverage companies recently created a Web site, www.savephillyjobs.com, to press their slogan, "Philly Jobs. Not Taxes."
"If the mayor was successful in passing this new bill, I believe we will lose about 50 percent of our members in soda today, because less sales equals less volume, and less volume means loss of jobs," said Danny Grace, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 830.
About 1,500 of his members work distributing soda, he said, including those at the Coca-Cola bottling plant at 725 E. Erie Ave, the Pepsi plant on Roosevelt Boulevard, and at Canada Dry Delaware Valley in Pennsauken.
Fifty percent, huh?
No one, so far, has bothered to point out that the coke plant in question is a giant regional supplier and that you'd probably have to have a tax covering the entire northeastern United States to make much of a difference there.
(I'm not, by the way, sold on the soda tax yet myself. The science linking higher beverage prices with less consumption is sound, but the tax, as its written now, doesn't force retailers to increase the price of their sugary beverages. If they wind up distributing the cost to all of their products, it doesn't work, I think.)
But come on: if the media's going to quote such claims, let's check whether there's a shred of truth behind them.
Joe the Coke Bottler is probably a long way from having to worry about this tax. It's King Sugar (not to mention the ambitious Prince Corn Syrup) who fears it and who bellows from atop his pile of gold: "Philly Jobs! Not Taxes!"
|Lawrence Kesterson, Philly.com online gallery|
Yes, Philly finally made the front page of the New York Times did we even get that for Phillies' WFCship? and it's for ... flash mobs.
The Times covered this as a national story, using Philly's recent incidents as an example of the way the flash mob has mutated from its pillow-fighting, silent iPod dance party origins.
The article was pretty bland, consisting largely of canned quotes from various public officials and youth advocates: the former blaming kids and parents; the latter blaming the public officials.
But there was, I think, a buried lead:
The flash mobs have raised questions about race and class.
Most of the teenagers who have taken part in them are black and from poor neighborhoods. Most of the areas hit have been predominantly white business districts.
It's true: and it's a point the mainstream has stayed away from so far with the exception of the Daily News' Stu Bykofsky, who brought up the topic in his column yesterday.
"Flash mobs" was the topic on "Tell Me More," NPR's newest attempt at having a non-white-people-focused show (I think their word is "multi-cultural," but it totally replaced "News and Notes"), and it was introduced with a tag line something like "Some see racism in the response" to the flash mobs.
I think that race and class, and systemic poverty and the various Big Issues that plague our city do matter in this discussion.
A particularly uncomfortable experience is viewing Philly.com's online gallery of the South Street incident, which juxtaposes scenes of bedlam full of black faces with scenes of white business owners and one (white) bruised worker.
I'm posting this in the hope (remote it may be) that I don't inadvertently invite a slew of racist comments. A discussion about these incidents is immature if we don't admit that race and class figure in somewhere. But, obviously, it's a starting point - not a destination.
I see two lines of predictable response shaping up.
There's the hard-line answer, as expressed by Mayor Nutter and Police Chief Ramsey, which goes like this: This isn't about race, class, opportunity, government, it's about bad parenting. And if you can't keep 'em home, we'll lock 'em up:
Said Nutter to the NYT: "There is no racial component to stupid behavior, and parents should not be looking to the government to provide entertainment for their children."
Said Ramsey at a press conference: "It's not the government's responsibility to raise your child. It's your responsibility. When we get involved as police, it's too late for the tears."
It strikes me as wishfully simplistic: all bark and no bite. If there's one thing the city can't enforce, it's good parenting. Nutter and Ramsey can wipe their hands of this all they want but they'll still have to answer to residents after the next incident. And unless something drastic happens, there will be another incident.
Which brings me to the second line of response: liberal denial.
This line of rhetoric emphasizes that these are just teenagers trying to have a good time, that the response has been overblown and the allegations of violence exaggerated.You want to point fingers? Point them at reduced library and pool hours, insufficient after-school programs, cuts in anti-violence programs.
I don't buy that, either. First of all, these are teenagers - not little kids. They don't want to go to a library, they want to party and be obnoxious (like a lot of us did and were). That's fine it's the violence that changes everything.
Because, despite what I hear from a surprising number of progressive-types, these incidents have been violent disturbingly, sickeningly violent. Last May, a 54-year-old man was pulled from his bicycle and critically beaten; a cab driver was assaulted. On Market Street a month ago, youths knocked over pedestrians. At least a few people seem to have been beaten in last weekend's incident on South Street. Sorry: but victims come first.
I don't think this is just about a lack of things do to: there's something deeper and much scarier at work here. I think that you have to connect these incidents to the attack at South Philadelphia High and to Greek Picnic, and to a disturbing number of cases of kids committing violence en masse.
Frankly, I suspect something terrible is building. I don't like to say it. But, on the eve of another hot Philadelphia summer we'd better be ready for it.
How? I dunno. But here's my two cents:
Have a couple police dedicated to monitoring social networking sites to look out for this stuff.
- Do what we do for adult white drunk weekend people: We know where they gather, and we post a ton of cops. Philly teens gather at predictable locations, if not at predictable times, right? How hard can it be?
- Consider closing off South Street and 40th street for a few blocks on weekends. You can hardly get through anyway, there's no parking, and the congestion of cars only makes it harder for cops to keep track of anything (especially bike cops, who are pretty effective on South Street).
- Give a serious and un-cowardly look at City Controller Alan Butkovitz' suggestion to curb students' use of city-issued SEPTA trans-passes. His suggestions are intelligent, reasonable, and unlike yelling at parents or espousing social theories immediately practical.
- Enlist SEPTA workers (insanely busy as we all know they are not giving change) to alert police to high numbers of teens getting on the system.
- Consider posting city-employed non-police security officers (a la University City) at a few corners along South Street to alert cops to developing problems. If the city won't pay, maybe South Street businesses can chip in enough to hire a couple of guards.
Enough: What do you think?
Yesterday, my colleagues at Philebrity posted a Tweet, presumably from some Philly teenager, declaring that the spot this weekend wouldn't be South Street a la this past weekend's "flash mob" but 40th street.
Which reminded me of an article I wrote last summer, about a few incidents of teenage "mobs" gathering along 40th street in West Philly.
Here's what I wrote then:
So why is this happening?
Ask the high-schoolers who come out to 40th on weekends, and the answers are straightforward enough:
"Girls," says Ockbar Suvan, 17, who's been coming to the intersection since last year. "It's getting better," he added.
"It's the chill spot," affirms a friend sitting next to Suvan. "If this isn't crowded, South Street's crowded."
|Photo | Isaiah Thompson|
|Luu's grandmother asked the District to clear the student's name|
The Inquirer reports this morning that the School District has cleared the name of Hao Luu, the student implicated by District officials in having played a role in provoking the Dec. 3 attacks on Asian students at South Philadelphia High School, and whose story City Paper broke Wednesday (in our cover story, Luu is referred to as "Guy").
The District had suspended and then attempted to transfer out Luu, citing a single report taken from individuals who Luu says had confronted him, and not vice-versa. Later, officials accused Luu of being in a gang.
Reports the Inquirer:
City school district officials formally acknowledged yesterday that 17-year-old Hao Luu was not connected to a street gang - an allegation that was used to ban him from South Philadelphia High.
Evelyn Sample-Oates, the district's vice president for communications, said a letter had been placed in Luu's file to acknowledge his innocence and clear his name of the charge.
"If there's any wrongdoing on the school district's part," she said, promising a full review, "we certainly will apologize to him and his family."
The district, at the request of the School Reform Commission, will examine the actions and decisions that led to Luu's suspension and ban from the school, which was convulsed by racial violence Dec. 3.
Good news to Luu and his family, no doubt and, frankly, to us here at City Paper, as well.
But ... did I just read that the District's handling of this is being examined by ... the District?
Grandmother tesifies that School District officials unfairly painted Hao Luu as an aggressor - when he was in fact a victim.
|Suong Nguyen wants Hao's name cleared.|
At Wednesday's School Reform Commission meeting, Suong Nguyen, the grandmother of Hao Luu or "Guy," as you might know him from this week's cover story testified before the Commission that her grandson had been unfairly accused of being a gang member and aggressor in the events culminating in the Dec. 3 attacks on Asian students, and was pushed out of the school after complaining that he himself was attacked the day before.
You can read the details of Hao Luu's case in this week's cover storty, "It's Your Fault." In a nutshell: Shortly after the Dec 3 attacks on more than twenty Asian student by mostly black students, District officials began casting the whole thing as "retaliation" for a prior incident, in which a disabled black student was allegedly beaten up by an Asian student. They also announced that four Asian students had been suspended, giving further credence to the idea of a two-way conflict. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman also said that gang influences may have been involved.
But the bulk of this alternative version of events rests on the disciplinary action taken against one Vietnamese student, Hao Luu, who reported that he himself was attacked after school, by mostly black students, the day before. The day his grandmother reported the attack to school officials, Luu was suspended on the basis of an incident report based, in turn, on the testimony of two students who were detained by police after, Luu says, confronting him in the hallway earlier that day.
When his suspension ended, the school attempted to transfer Luu to a disciplinary school - on the same charges. When Luu's family appeared for a transfer hearing, District officials did not, and the transfer was overturned - only to be replaced by another transfer request, which the school later dropped. Hao's family finally enrolled him in a private school.
Nguyen asked the board yesterday that "Hao's reputation be restored."
Interestingly, the accusation that Hao Luu might be involved with gangs seems to have come (based on my own reporting) primarily from one school official, Community Coordinator Wali Smith, who also advised District officials that Luu would not be "safe" at SPHS.
Smith declined to talk to me at the SRC meeting a week ago, but gave the Daily News an interesting quote yesterday:
"[Luu] is playing this part that he's an innocent guy," he said.
"Everybody knows if he went in there tomorrow, they would go after him."
But what does that mean? In one sentence, he seems to question Luu's "innocence" even though no evidence has been produced linking Luu to any attack, let alone the alleged attack on a "disabled" black student (Several SPHS kids told me outside the school that the attack had occured, but that it had taken place on the subway platform. There are no accounts of Hao Luu's having anything to do with any incident in the subway).
In the next sentence, though, he suggests that "they," black students? "would go after him."
Maybe it's just one of those funny quotes, but it almost seems as if Smith is saying, "Maybe he's guilty, or maybe he's a walking target, but either way, he doesn't belong at SPHS."
An odd way of looking at things for a school community liason, no?
|Asian-American Community Advocates comfort a tearful Suong Nguyen|
Will Philly Mag's new blog, The Philly Post, just die a slow death like its old one did? Hard to tell so far, but the new blog is pretty (in a conventional, white-picket-fence kinda way which I guess is perfect), and it is hilarious that Larry Mendte will be writing twice-weekly columns for it.
One question, though: What's with the vague, bro-y "Yeah. That's What We're Talking About" motto?
Old Foxwoods' new man, Steve Wynn, *thrilled* at proximity of Jews, Italians, and Vietnamese to his casino
Philadelphia, meet Steve Wynn, the new prospective financier of the former, flailing Foxwoods casino.
He's charming; he's funny; he's unnaturally tan; and he's just absolutely, totally thrilled at how close his new casino venture is to "every conceivable stripe of ethnic group that likes to shoot craps and gamble," notably: Jews, Italians, and Vietnamese.
So he remarked in a conference call yesterday, in which he assured stockholders and financial experts that his casino will make money. Wynn seemed to place special emphasis on the proximity (four blocks!) of his casino to a Vietnamese neighborhood.
That might not sit so well with activists for Philadelphia's Asian-American communities, who have highlighted problem and pathological gambling as a particularly serious problem, and who accuse the gambling industry of engaging in the predatory luring of gamblers, especially gamblers of Asian descent.
But hey as a Jew myself, I say it's nice to be in the spotlight or is cross-hairs a better word?
"On the other side of the bridge is Cherry Hill, New Jersey, all full of good ol' ... my old friends Italians and Jews and every conceivable stripe of ethnic group that love to shoot crap and gamble. And they're ten minutes away in their cars or in a bus from my casino on the Delaware river. I love the proximity to these people. I love the proximity to the Vietnamese neighborhood. And I'm gonna put in a beautiful Vietnamese restaurant for them. I'm going to build a very pretty place ... that is perfectly responsive to that market."
In addition to crowning Meal Ticket's Felicia D'Ambrosio the brainiest beer drinker in Philly, Philadelphia Weekly gave a shout-out to three of City Paper's contributors in their "Better Than Best" issue: Brian James Kirk, Christopher Wink and Sean Blanda, aka the dudes behind Technically Philly. Sez PW, which named them the "Best Self-Promoters on the New Media Scene" (a euphemism, perhaps, for "Biggest Twitter Sluts"):
The guysSean Blanda, Brian James Kirk and Chris Winkare certainly good at getting their names out there: The trio appeared last spring at BarCamp Philly, a gathering of veteran journalists, to explain the virtues of their approach. And if that approach appears to be a combination of web links, brief stories and occasional interviews that skim the surface of the local scenewell, whos to say that isnt the future of media?
Technically Philly, coincidentally, is celebrating its first b-day at 7:30 p.m. tonight, at the University of the Arts (211 S. Broad St., Terra Building, Room 1107). It's free, but you need to RSVP.
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