Let them have sensitivity training!

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Spec is reporting that Matt Brown and Stephen Searles, of the homophobic and antisemitic graffiti, were slapped on their spray-painting wrists today at their court hearing (this time, they decided to show up). Bwog noticed a few things:

– Searles’ counselor, Simone Gordon, is a mitigation expert and sensitivity trainer at Yeshiva University, home to the Center for the Jewish Future. L’chaim, Stephen.

– In a deal reached outside of court, the duo recieved sensitivity training instead of jail. New York’s 2000 Hate Crimes Law contains penalties of up to 20 years in prison and no mention of sensitivity training. Bwog doesn’t really know what sensitivity training is, but suspects that it might take the jail time.

– You can’t really blame Searles for being bigoted. I mean, he’s from Montana.

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  1. duh

    Did anyone not see this coming?

  2. Eric  

    Why do we not trust the justice system? Maybe sensitivity training is a much better solution than 20 years in prison!

  3. sounds like we do need anti-oppression training

    "Steven said he selected Columbia University for its diverse student body, so he realized when he was there it would be a learning experience. I don't believe he is the only student on campus that lacks a real sensitivity in dealing with differences. It's probably pervasive in all universities," she said.

  4. Question

    What did Columbia itself do with the boys? Have they been expelled? Or otherwise punished academically?

  5. as far as i know

    They were suspended, but not expelled. Their names do not show up on the CU website. Columbia is considering further punishment.

  6. [email protected] agree/disagree query to the crowd

    Do you think the boys should be expelled? I say no, they should be punished greatly and rehabilitated and put on permanent probation for the rest of their time at Columbia, but my friend violently disagrees. He thinks Columbia, by not expelling them immediately, is basically endorsing/condoning their actions. I think hate crimes are foul and disgusting, but I'd rather see them given a second chance for a first non-physically-violent offense than have them tossed out without learning the real error of their ways. I guess I'm just curious to see whether other Columbians agree with my friend (expell the bastards) or me (punish but don't expell).

  7. Throw them out!  

    I totally agree with your friend, by giving them a slap on the wrist "suspension" would be a complete endorsement of their bigotry. They need to be made an example out of, expelled and have the crime placed on their permanent school records. Why give them a second chance? Do you really think that they are sorry? Hahaha, I doubt it. The ONLY appropriate thing to do would be to expel them.

  8. to both bwog and its readers

    BWOG --

    You should link to the NY Sun story (http://www.nysun.com/article/34234), where Searles' lawyer is quoted in the following:

    "Both young men were under the influence of alcohol," Mr. Weiswasser told The New York Sun. The graffiti, he said, was therefore "truly not indicative of a hate crime."

    By far, one of the most disgusting lines I've read in my entire life. A day after first finding the article, I'm still in shock. I suppose that legitimizes rapes and murders, just as long as they occur while under the influence of alcohol.

    • John


      Clearly they didn't know how to control their drinking any better than their self-expression. That would be sort of like using evidence of your drunkenness as a mitigating factor in your automotive manslaughter trial. Nice tactic for a mitigation expert, sensitivity trainer, and university man.

      This is all somewhat grim, in any case. So what I want to know is, did Kaavya Viswanathan get off the hook?

    • J Train  

      Ugh, some people will do anything for money. If somehow those two do come back to Columbia, hopefully everyone will shun them.

      Also, I'd think that if they could still spray legible shapes onto a wall, they wouldn't be too drunk to not realize what they were doing was disgusting...to do something that stupid, you have to be just about passed out.

  9. I'd argue that the alcohol was further evidence of hate  

    The alcohol as an excuse is about the lamest excuses in the world. I wonder how much they paid their lawyers, and how much their lawyers paid the district attorney or judge. Anyone knows that the words that come out of someone's mouth when they are drunk, might not meant to have been released to the public, but it isn't like alcohol is some evil spirit that possesses one to committ random acts of hate. Ultimately they are hateful people, the alcohol just made them drop their content filter for a moment. I saw someone starts a petition to have them expelled and seve it up to Prezbo. Hate should not be tolerated.

  10. Such vitriol!

    Alcohol is a pretty pathetic excuse. Of course the students knew what they were doing. But they still should not be expelled. Rehabilitation should be encouraged if possible: everything about this case indicates that it is -- and I think serious conversation will better deal with a basically intellectual misunderstanding than jail time. And once they rejoin the Columbia community, given their sincerest apologies, they should not be "shunned" and vilified, but embraced as proof that a diverse community serves a purpose beyond "diversity"'s sake: helping people to learn.

    • Yes  

      Thank you... a sane opinion is a rare thing. If everyone at Columbia got expelled whenever they got drunk and did something stupid, we'd have a much, much smaller student body. Are these guys jerks (probably racist jerks) -- yes. But we don't expel people for being racists, which is an opinion, as stupid as it may be.

      Also, 20 years plus? That's a lot for writing something... kind of misinterpreting that law, aren't we?

      Suspension wouldn't be inappropriate at all, on the other hand.

      • A.D.A. McCoy says...

        The 20 years comment is kind of misleading. What the law actually says is that if someone is convicted of a Class A violent felony (murder, rape, armed robbery) as a hate crime, they must get at least 20 years. Normally, the judge can assign a lower sentence if she sees fit (12 1/2 year minimum, I believe)

        Searles and Brown were charged with "criminal mischief," the catch-all law for maliciously breaking (or painting, or peeing on) anything that costs less than $250 to replace.

        That crime is a Class A misdemeanor, the likes of shoplifting, having a fake I.D., hitting someone because you went riding your bike drunk, squatting, having an unlicensed .38, or possesing under a gram of cocaine.

        Because of the cited hates crime law, their case was bumped to a Class E felony, which has a 4 year max jail sentence. They could have also been charged with an E felony for:

        *committing statutory rape,

        *assembling a meth lab,

        *menacing someone else with their .45,

        *driving without a license while speeding, *cashing in bad checks, *inciting "criminal anarchy" [yes, that's actually a crime],

        *hiring a hooker who was 16,

        *hacking a computer, or *possesing 'magic mushrooms'.

        See the difference?

        In any case, what's remarkable here (and the point Bwog was probably trying to make) is how easy they got off, regardless of what the possible sentence could have been. With a dismissal, this crime will NOT be in their records, they are not on probation, they don't have to do obligatory community service (the D.A.'s office didn't even ask for voluntary community service). This case never even got to the trial phase! In effect, they can write the NYPD in 12 months and have their fingerprint records destroyed.

        If these kids had done this in Westchester, they would have had to plead as youth offenders and probably gotten some mandatory community service. If they lived in East Harlem and not in McBain, this would have gone to trial. Period.

        **A question for Post 12: Do you truly believe that what Searles and Brown did was "a basically intellectual misunderstanding"? It's not like the Ruggles suite people invited them to draw on their walls and they mistook the suggested designs for swastikas.

        • Alex  

          I'm sorry, that statement was not particularly clear. I meant to suggest that this crime is taken so seriously because of its intellectual character as an act of racism, not of mere petty vandalism. As such, I think rehabilitation will be better accomplished by addressing the intellectual misconceptions that caused the crime -- "sensitivity counseling," perhaps -- than throwing the offenders behind bars.

          • happy medium

            Yeah, but there is a middle ground...I don't think many people are suggesting that jail time was really necessary, but probation, a fine, community service, something rather than letting them off scot free and having their records wiped clean.

        • i see

          why many believe they should have something on their permanent record--usually cases of particularly destructive vandalism do result in community service--but claiming the result of the plea bargain and the fact it didn't appear in court is somehow not the norm in these types of cases (and further implying some type of racism or class based difference) is really more of a projection of your own belief of how the system works.

          Most vandalism cases of this nature by members of the community who have previously been in good standing and committed the crime while under the influence of alcohol (not an excuse for outright dismissal of an action, but definitely a mitigating factor in this case) in the nyc area are usually handled by plea bargain and not brought to trial because a class A misdemeanor and in this case its hate crimes parallel isn't a significant enough crime to use trial time when an adaquate arrangement for a punishment can be agreed upon. I understand the bloodlust in this case as in many crimes by the community which was victimized here (and make no mistake, they both attacked the entire columbia community), but it seems the punishment is about right for the crime.

          As for the students themselves and forgiveness, while some students may turn their backs on them and advocate their expulsion as is their prerogative, its just as reasonable to try to affect some type of change in the two. Why else do we have rooted or the IRC? as for the belief that lawyers and defense councillers who believe in some type of faith can't defend these two individuals, first they were hired, and secondly this crime is not one which suggests that the students cannot be rehabilitated. While I understand the outcry over what they did, this was not something as destructive as murder or rape where there may be some more validity to questioning how they could be defended. In any event, I hope the two students actively engage with the columbia community and some of the diversity programs when they get back on campus. They might take quite a bit of heat for their crime, but its necessary for them to ensure the rest of the community and themselves that they've learned.

        • DHI

          It's pretty ridiculous that criminal mischief is a Class A misdemeanor in the first place, however. It should be a Class C, with a Class A version that has some sort of standard built in.

          There's a tendency to let the fact that these people and their ideology are not likeable overshadow the actual arguments in the case - is offensive graffiti as bad as, for example, the class E forms of sexual abuse, and is it a crime that warrants jail time? Flawed ideology aside, is it really so bad for them to give kids with no priors a break? Is it really comparable to the outright rape at Duke and Colorado?

          I'm just saying, it seems like these kids are becoming a scapegoat for the whole ideology of racism, and those ideas are projected onto them and that's what makes people want to punish them as hard as possible when looking at what was actually done it seems like the same conclusion might not always be reached. I'm not saying that this was necessarily the right punishment, but I am saying that 2 1/2 years seems inappropriate in this case. As for the university's actions, consider at least that expulsion makes an enormous impact on these kids' lives, as it will be hard for them to get into other colleges that may be reluctant to except people expelled in an ugly case. As much as these kids are probably douches, it might not be right to sacrifice them for the university's image. With cases like racists and sex offenders, lots of people like to write off the entire humanity of the perpetrator, which seems irrational to me.

          • A.D.A. McCoy replies

            Class C misdemeanor for graffitti? As in, making it a lesser crime than shoplifting or smoking a jay in the park? You have to be kidding.

            Maybe my first comment wasn't clear enough. Like was pointed out, almost no A.D.A. would bring this to trial. But this isn't about jail time.

            It's about the fact that most first time FELONY offenders that plead end up agreeing to some misdemeanor charge and doing some community service. In fact, most first time misdemeanor charges in Manhattan end up pleading an ACD, which at least lets the D.A. bring back the charges against you if you screw up within six months. Not here.

            Is 15 hours of cleaning other people's grafitti and picking up dog shit in Central Park, for example, too much to ask?

            As for the "drunk and from Montana" defense, that's probably more of a PR move by the lawyer than an actual defense.

            The intoxication statute in New York (http://www.nycourts.gov/cji/1-General/Defenses/CJI2d.Intoxication.pdf) specifically states the person has to be drunk enough as to be unable to form "intent or knowledge." Kind of hard to get around that given the confession.

            For the record: I'm not asking these kids to be strung from the Low Plaza flagpole. In fact, I personally don't think they should be expelled, but I am (once again) disappointed as hell in the justice system.

          • #17

            Well, they pretty much projected those ideas onto themselves when they did this. And yeah, punishing them is going to have an impact on their lives—isn’t that the point?

            And to #28, "us liberals" may be against the death penalty, but no one's talking about that here, and most of us aren't talking about jail time either. I don't know about you, but my brand of liberalism doesn't mean erasing the concept of personal responsibility. Having a mark on their record, having to find somewhere else less pretigious to finish their education ("deny" is a little extreme, they'd get in somewhere) would teach them their lesson and rehabilitate them better than any bullshit sensitivity training.

    • mb

      in vino veritas: in wine you will find truth.

      alcohol is clearly not an excuse in this case, and neither is the "montana defense." these people should not be let back into columbia, for the reason that it devalues my degree. i have also gotten drunk at times near the presence of markers and spraypaint, and had to endure a core curriculum that was clearly too pro western and pro white, which obviously poisoned my mind (right, shocc?). however, somehow, despite all that, i never vandalised anything with anti-semitic graffiti. weird, huh?

      what i would really be interested in is how much money was involved in this defense. and, i would be interested in knowing what is going on in the minds of the lawyers and defense councillors who are jewish (or at least it sounds like it from the name and job at yeshiva) yet defending these fuckers.

    • really?

      In response to comment #12: when did they apologize and to whom? Did they release an official statement apologizing to the people in the suite and then one apologizing to the Columbia community at large? Notice that the deal did not include an admission of guilt. So, are they really sorry?

  11. its summer time

    Columbia is famous for waiting until the summer so that by next fall everybody forgets what happened. that way they dont have (to deal with anything. take for exmaple the 04-05 MEALAC controversy.. the adhoc committee purposfuly waited until close to the end of the year so everybidy could complian for a week and then let it die... which it did)

    columbia, although appearing to take a tough stance on this issue, purposefully stated that they would not decide to take any action until after criminal proceedings finnished (i.e. during the summer). that way they can make their decision (which will be to do virtually nothing) while everybody is away and nobody will get upset about it.

    columbia needs to take a stand for what is right and make an example of them and not just pretend to take a stand and make an example of them.

  12. Lock 'em up and throw away the keys....  

    Nuff said.

  13. the irony

    these kids actually commit a hate crime and get off with "sensitivity training". we who have never considered a hate crime are targeted for "mandatory anti-oppression training". in other words, the system presumes innocence despite obvious guilt, and SHOCC presumes guilt despite obvious innocence.

    can someone please step in and make everyone just agree to let appropriate actions follow from truth?

  14. annoyed  

    Ok.. This situation is truely deplorable. I have a question to the people who cry leniancy for this boys...if they are so sorry why have they not apologized to the victims and the columbia community.. That would really be a great not to mention extremlt easy way to start... their inability to even do this simple gesture speak volumes for me. Also we all need to remeber that the Columbia University brand is at stakes...anytime something happens on a college campus which involves races...it can quickly take on a life on its own and keep a college PR office on defense 24/7. Afterall look at the Duke case... These mean nothing to columbia... they are no super scholars or achiever... what is all the desire to keep them.. they can pursue they academic endeavors elsewhere... there are over 1000 universities for them to chose from in the USA alone... oh and also this act involved defacing someone's LIVING SPACE, this is reason makes this case special and why they should be removed from the columbia.... All it takes it a couple of blog websites to get this going and next thing you know, people are looking at columbia through the side of their eyes....now we dont want that..

    • true

      I agree. Columbia's brand is at stake. I don't want to get a degree from a school with a tarnished name, image, reputation. If this slides, what will be next? Actual phyiscal harm? Is it not bad enough that ceiling, floor, and wall were defamed in people's LIVING SPACE?

  15. J Train  

    And having swastikas sprayed onto their wall didn't make a huge impact on the the people in Ruggles? I have no sympathy for these douchebags. Any other college they apply to should know what they'd be getting into by accepting these kids. There is no reason why they should be let off with a slap on the wrist.

    I'm not saying throw them in jail. That's too extreme. But letting them off this easily is another extreme that is just as bad.

    • e.k.  

      "And having swastikas sprayed onto their wall didn't make a huge impact on the the people in Ruggles?"

      I'm going to try and word this carefully because, anon or no, the thought I'm about to express will probably come out wrong and make me look like a tool, but anyway, here goes.

      Did it make an impact on the Ruggles residents? Probably. Huge? I hope not.

      I got picked on when I was younger, for reasons not pertaining to my race or religion, but things that were still every bit about me as a person and completely unchangeable (being too bookish, too smart, too ugly). It sucked, it hurt...and no one was really willing to do shite-all about it, because it wasn't considered a "hate crime," i.e. religion/sexuality/race-based.

      Now that I'm older, I find that people don't bug me as much anymore, most have grown up and grown past that. But I'm still on the receiving end of the occasional unkind comment. And it still hurts. But damn, man, I'm not gonna curl up in a ball and whimper miserably every time it happens, or I'd never get anything done. We live in an ugly, ugly world, and if you're gonna lose your shit every time someone picks on you for some dumbass reason, you'll go nuts.

      My point is, I hate that we live in an ugly world where people can discriminate against each other so easily and for such assinine reasons. I certainly do not suggest the problem would be BETTERED by letting idiots go free after doing stupid shit like the Ruggles jerks, of course not. But I also don't see the point in calling for these guys to be tarred and feathered when, let's face it, 99% of you would not have cared one iota had their swastikas been replaced with the words "ugly dog-faced whore" or the like. The Ruggles residents were not physically harmed, their personal property was not harmed. I'm very sorry that they were made to feel unsafe in their own homes, that definitely blows the big one, but I can't imagine anyone needing therapy after this unless they needed it before.

      I'm not saying their crime should be dismissed outright - they clearly need a lot of sensitivity training and punishing and growing up - but you know that old "to mistake is human, to forgive is divine" crap? Maybe we'd do better to not take the good ol' aren't-I-liberal? party line of "lock 'em up and throw away the key!" and instead give them a chance to redeem themselves.

  16. Everyone should....  

    Everyone write should flood President Bollinger's office with letters demanding their expulsion for these heinous crimes. As far as rehabilitation, that WILL be their rehabilitation. Having to start over somewhere else, if they can get in, will force them to actually think about what they've done. Letting them enjoy the privleges of an ivy league education is just ludicrious. It definitely devalues my degree and if Columbia's administration doesn't handle it properly, it speaks a world about the things that they value. I'd consider withdrawing and going somewhere else if they didn't do something severe about it. I'm not funneling my money into an institute that treats blatant racism with a slap on the wrist and then a pat on the back (by conferring them with a degree).

    • Columbia should

      Columbia should fill in where the justice system won't: give them a heap of community service, make sure their incident is listed prominently in their permanent record, and mandate other service and training, etc.

      They should be ostracized on campus until they make a prominent, extended apology to the community for their actions.

      Expulsion seems too much and unproductive.

    • DHI

      "a slap on the wrist and then a pat on the back" I agree, an appropriate action would be a smack in the face, perhaps even a kick in the nuts. An ejaculation in the eye is a bit too severe, as is a stomp in the ribs. But at least the university isn't letting them off with a point of a finger, or rewarding them with a massage of the dick. You have to put it into perspective here.

  17. ANd another thing  

    They should be forced to wear uncomfortable clothes which are stained with a large letter representing their crime... like S, or T or something.

    The last time I checked, us liberals were supposed to be the ones AGAINST the death penalty. How about rehabilitation and education as opposed to public humiliation and the denial of an education.

  18. all for middle ground

    I'm all for rehabilitation, and I personally don't really think expulsion is necessarily appropriate, but this has GOT to be on these kids' permanent records. Whatever else, future employers and educators of these two deserve to know what they did. It really bothers me that they could just wipe their records completely clean.

  19. J Train  

    Dude, you say it yourself in the last paragraph - this is a crime. There is a difference between the experience of childhood bullying and being the victim of a CRIME, and I believe what Douchebag 1 and Douchebag 2 did falls into the latter category. I got picked on a lot as a kid, too - verbally and physically for being smart. But that is not the same as what the law defines as a hate crime. Most people's reaction to being the victim of hateful graffitti would not be considered "losing their shit every time someone picks on them for some dumbass reason." A dumbass reason is if the insult is "hur hur hur you're ugly lolololol!" That's clearly not what happened here - this vandalism was clearly malicious. You're comparing apples and kitty litter.

    And you know what, to hold a grudge is human, too, especially when the crime is as disgusting as this. You are not obligated to forgive people if they haven't shown they are truly sorry. I could forgive someone who stole my stuff if they returned it and apologized, but I'm not going to forgive two idiots who vandalized my school and insulted my ethnic group, especially because they have done NOTHING to prove they are sorry. If we don't punish this action, we're condoning it.

    Yes, I am liberal. But I am also human and in favor of people acting accountable for their actions.

    • re: not proving they're sorry...  

      Not that this forgives things, but their lawyers probably told them in no uncertain terms that they were not to issue any kind of apologies to their victims/the university at large until after the trial. That's standard legal stuff.

  20. bullshit like this..

    is why I graduated a year early. Not the vandalism part. That sucks. But the endless whining and politically-correct kvetching about it.

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