Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jordan Miles: Honor Student Beaten by Police Because They Thought He was a Drug Dealer

by Dr. Boyce WatkinsScholarship in Action 

Jordan Miles is a black teenager in the city of Pittsburgh. Miles also attends one of the city's most prestigious performing arts schools. On a cold winter night earlier this year, Miles claims he was assaulted by three plain clothes police officers. According to the lawsuit Miles' attorneys have filed against the city, the officers assumed that Miles was a drug dealer and conspired to file false charges against him to create a story to cover up their actions.
Miles says that he was walking to his grandmother's house when officers Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing approached him. Miles claims that the officers proceeded to chase him, kick him and beat his face into the ground. The damage to Miles' face was extensive, and the officers allegedly pulled one of his dreadlocks from his head.


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Monday, August 30, 2010

Should Ebonics Be Taught in School?

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse UniversityScholarship in Action 

I wrote recently about how the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is now seeking to hire Ebonics translators to help them to apprehend drug dealers. The group seems to believe that by learning the underpinnings of urban language, it can find a way to bring down "Pookie nem" on the corner. The website Newsy.com covered the article that I wrote, with a few other scholars providing their own insights into how and why this decision might be implemented. While I am certainly listening to the discussion, I am not sure what it would mean to establish Ebonics as it's own language or to try to teach it in school.

Does the teaching of Ebonics mean that we treat urban dialect as a class? If the kids and teachers acknowledge the language structure of Ebonics, do we continue to reinforce the use of what some might consider broken English? If the language is acknowledged in school, does that mean Employers and universities will accept graduates who speak and write in Ebonics? If not, is there any sense in solidifying a student's desire to speak in a way that doesn't match the rest of us? I'm not so sure.


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African American Athletes and All Their Children


by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse UniversityScholarship in Action 

I recently read a very interesting story about how so many black athletes are being hammered by the financial devastation of child support.  Their paychecks are getting zapped to nothing, only to buy Coach purses and hair weaves for the women who’ve had their children.  Perhaps the sex was good enough to justify the misery, but I’ve never had sex that good.

New York Jets running back Antonio Cromartie is one famous case of “I’m Bound to be Broke-itis.”  Cromartie, who is 26-years old, has eight children with six women in five different states.  In fact, the Jets had to front Cromartie $500,000 to settle his paternity situation before he even started playing for the team.  There are quite a few other cases worth mentioning, but I won’t waste time laying out the issues.

What I will lay out is an added perspective that might help brothers realize  the utter stupidity of putting themselves in situations that will keep their pockets empty, kill their ability to support a family down the road and possibly lead to incarceration.  Getting caught under the neck of the merciless child support system is an absolutely horrible feeling.  Children are a beautiful gift from God, and we can all appreciate a pretty woman, but if you let this stuff get the best of you, you’re begging for a life of misery.

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Fantasia Was Set for Drama from the Jump

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University, Scholarship in Action 

One of the most magnificent voices in all of music is owned by Fantasia Barrino, the singer out of North Carolina. Most of us know that Fantasia attempted suicide recently. Of course the suicide attempt led to instant national media attention, and she was all over the news telling her story. Her management team, understanding the value the incident could have for her brand, pushed out the Vh-1 special before you could say the words "publicity stunt."
Now, I'm not here to say that I know what happened to Fantasia or whether the suicide attempt was genuine. But one thing that remains fundamentally true is that she'd been highly upset over the decline of her career. Also, we know that the television specials and additional PR from the incident have put Fantasia in the limelight in a way that far exceeds what she had access to last month. The final thing we know is that Fantasia is working furiously in the studio to get an album out in order to profit from the re-establishment of her celebrity status. Unfortunately, her team may be looking to replicate the experience of Jennifer Hudson after her difficult experience last year.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Computer Program Now Used to Predict Who Will Commit Crimes

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Scholarship in Action 

It is being reported that law enforcement officials in Washington DC plan to use a new computer program that claims to be able to predict which citizens are most likely to commit crime. The concept conjures up images of the Tom Cruise film, "Minority Report," in which agents were able to predict "pre-crime": Crime that hasn't happened yet, and is set to occur. But far from science fiction, this program is based on reality.
The program was developed by Richard Berk, a professor at The University of Pennsylvania. The first version of the program was used to predict future murders among parolees, but it is being argued that the software can be used for all kinds of crime.
"When a person goes on probation or parole they are supervised by an officer. The question that officer has to answer is 'what level of supervision do you provide?'" Berk told ABC News.
The program could have real implications, including determining the amount of a person's bail or how long they are to remain in a halfway house upon their release from prison. The program works by using a large database of crimes and other factors, including geographic location, age, prior offenses and the criminal record of the person being considered.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

The DEA Hiring Ebonics Experts to Understand Drug Dealers

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Scholarship in ActionSyracuse University 

The Associated Press is reporting that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is considering hiring translators to help agents understand the language of drug dealers. Apparently, the agents are having trouble interpreting the words and sentences being used by suspects during wiretaps. The agency reached out to some translation services companies to find someone to help them with the problem. No, this is not a joke.
"They saw a need for this in a couple of their investigations," Special Agent Michael Sanders said. "And when you see a need - it may not be needed now - but we want the contractors to provide us with nine people just in case."
Yes, this story is making me laugh as much as you are. When I heard that the DEA was considering such a move, I could almost appreciate their intentions, but I think they might be a bit misguided. The first thought that came to mind was whether or not they are presuming that drug dealers speak a dialect of English which matches that of the rest of urban black America? Sure, there are going to be similarities, but most of my urban friends don't understand drug dealers either. Dealers don't just sound like rappers, but actually structure a variation of language and sophisticated codes that nearly anyone would have trouble translating. Rather than hiring an ebonics expert to understand the lingo of drug dealers, they'd be better off hiring a former drug dealer.

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