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Letters to the Editor Issue 3


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These letters were sent to highlights, the official newsmagazine of Coral Gables Senior High School, in response to the article Black Lives Matter: A Movement Misdirected published in Issue 2. Readers can also find the letters in print in Issue 3, however they can be found in their entirety here.

Letter #1

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, how to approach the people of highlights, well a person in highlights, without offending him, but I just can’t find a way not to. When that article was written and published, feelings were disregarded and replaced by statistics.

I’m just going to say this: when I first read the article I was actually in shock at the things that were said; they just weren’t clicking for me, and then I noticed the disconnect between the topic of the article and the person who wrote it.

He is basing his article on pure statistics. He doesn’t understand the struggle of being an African-American in this day and age where it seems like just the color of your skin will reflect how you will be treated, especially with police officers.

He is not considering one major fact in these situations: that the officers were wrong as they are trained to handle situations in a different manner, not to just shoot first and ask questions later.

How does an officer feel threatened by a man with his hands up?

How does someone calling for help about his car get killed?

How is a man getting shot in front of his girlfriend and child something that you can defend?

How?

The author states that black on black crime does happen, but of course black on black crime will occur because who in their right mind would travel to a new neighborhood just to kill someone?

Statistics were cited from previous years, when in fact we are talking about now. More than 194 blacks have been killed this year and we are still counting since there are many cases that aren’t publicized. Publishing this article was like forcing that racist mentality into kid’s minds. It’s 2016, and with the Black Lives Matter movement we are taking a stand and no longer being silent, expressing our opinions just as freely as he is able to express his.

It wasn’t his place to write the article and it was definitely wrong for him to speak as if he knew everything about the movement, when he has it all wrong. He’s the one misdirected.

Sincerely,

Trenise Francis

Letter #2 

Several generations of highlights writers and editors were profoundly disappointed in the editorial entitled “Black Lives Matter: A movement misdirected” that ran in the latest issue and is available online. The editorial decision to run a counterfactual, blatantly racist piece undermines the standard of journalistic ethics we have worked to uphold for our publication. Instead of offering a well-researched analysis of the Black Lives Matter movement, the editorial devolves into anachronistic, glib claims about Blackness, relying heavily on racist tropes about Black Americans and ignoring what is inconvenient for the author’s argument – facts that support the existence of systemic racism.

It is tempting – and easily possible – to challenge each of the author’s arguments, line by line, but for the sake of brevity, only a few can be addressed. Most egregious is the author’s fundamental misunderstanding of how structural racism works. His treatment of “black-on- black crime” ignores the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and lasting institutional injustice like discriminatory housing law and wealth inequality that have resulted in segregated neighborhoods. The biggest predictors of violence are socioeconomic status and physical location, so it follows that almost all victims of crime are victimized by someone they know.

On the topic of police shootings, the author cites data that shows that as of September 2016, 697 people have been shot and killed by the police and only 14 of those individuals have been unarmed black men. What the editorial fails to address is the issue of disproportionality – while those numbers may stand, only 14 percent of the American population is Black, and yet Black folks account for 41 percent of police killings. Also, the author argues that because all officers involved in the death of Freddie Grey walked without consequence, structural racism does not exist. Not only does this assume that the justice system functions perfectly and only catches those worthy of punishment, but it ignores the reality that the U.S. Department of Justice has investigated the Baltimore Police Department, along with other chapters nationwide, and found concrete evidence of implicit bias in policing.

To bolster the claim that structural racism does not exist, the author calls on tropes about “Black culture” — a transparent stand-in for claims about Blackness. The author cites single-parent homes and children born out of wedlock as a source of violence in the Black community, which completely distracts from the conversation about both police brutality and Black Lives Matter. Moreover, it ignores the reality of the disproportionate incarceration of Black men for non-violent crimes. Mandatory minimum sentencing and ‘war on drugs’-era policy has forced Black people convicted for small amounts of marijuana or cocaine, which white people use at similar or higher rates, into long stretches of jail time away from their families. The editorial’s holding of absent Black fathers responsible for what the author calls “severe negative consequences” for “society as a whole” seems to imply that Black people are dragging this country down.

And that is our fundamental problem with this column. In an editorial that purports to discredit Black Lives Matter as a movement, the author relies on arguments against Black people to explain why their voices do not matter. Taken as a whole, the editorial argues that because Black  “culture” is inherently criminal and violent, Black men who are killed in the street on suspicion of minor crimes — without a trial, jury, or conviction of guilt — somehow have it coming. Of course, it would trouble any person of conscience that Black people are disproportionately killed by police for things like selling cigarettes and CDs. But if you believe that these people belong to a Black “culture” whose absent fathers and hatred of police is driving the racial strife that tears this country apart, then it becomes much easier to believe that their lives, and deaths, don’t actually matter that much after all. And then it becomes much easier to argue that Black Lives Matter is “a movement misdirected.”

The Opinion section exists as an open public forum for students to voice their opinions about things which concern them. It’s what makes highlights great. What we expect of this section are columns and editorials that take facts, interpret them, and dole out a think piece that asks questions, talks nuance, and presents issues (especially race-related ones) as the multi-faceted, complex, history-laden questions they are. Years of highlights staffers have worked hard to create a platform for tolerance, ideas, reason, informed discussion, and debate, not a pulpit for writers to present arguments like these and go unchallenged. The word “Opinion” at the top of the page does not give a writer a license to make extravagant claims based on half-truths and slanted figures.

Distributing this kind of misinformation disguised as a researched opinion piece isn’t what we do in the Opinion section. It discredits the reputation of the paper, the legacy we’ve left behind, and the hours of work every other editorial columnist does in making sure their positions are well- researched. Publishing this does more than obfuscate, dismiss and deny the racial injustices of America – it does highlights a disservice by allowing it to become a spigot for hateful, ignorant ideas that are not supported by history. More than doing highlights a disservice, this editorial does the community a disservice by elevating and providing a platform for misinformed ignorance.The paper has a duty to make sure that it isn’t lending legitimacy to harmful, untrue ideas.

The fact that this piece appeared where it did, in its raw, unpolished, manipulative form with no accompanying piece to counter it, suggests a far-too lenient editorial process and oversight on the part of the writer, the section editor, and the Editor-in- Chief. It’s okay to publish opinions based on facts. It’s unethical to publish un-checked lies.

Let us be clear: the writers and editors represented in this response are not looking to censor or gag a writer who does not share our support for Black Lives Matter or our views more broadly. It is not a matter of political opinion – it is about the ethics of making a bad attempt to scientifically rationalize an inherently racist idea, that Black “culture” is somehow innately violent, and then printing it in a place that readers trust contains sound ideas.

Signed,

Ali Stack, highlights EIC ‘12, ‘13

Maggie Rivers, highlights Managing Editor ‘14, ‘15

Deanna Breiter, highlights Insight Editor ‘13

Brooke Donner, highlights EIC ‘15

Alexandra Martinez, highlights EIC ‘10

Stephan Chamberlin, highlights EIC ‘16

Jordan Payne, highlights Sports Editor ‘16

Nicolas Rivero, highlights EIC ‘14, Opinion Editor ‘12, ‘13

Sophia Aitken, highlights Managing Editor ‘12

Daniel Delgado, highlights Opinion Editor ‘16

Laura Acosta, highlights The Scene Editor ‘14, ‘15

Letter #3

I was recently made aware of a recent Op-Ed that was published in Highlights,  “BLM: A Movement Misdirected.” I read the first page of the article because that what was included in the photograph (attached below), so if on the second page the article takes an extreme 180 degree turn (which I doubt), I wanted to address my concerns with you.

I understand freedom of the press and freedom of speech. It allows this writer (Nicolas Burniske) to write what he wants. I think that’s fine, and that he’s 100% entitled to his opinion. However, this article is factually misleading to the readers in a way that I feel should have been corrected before it was allowed to be published.

This article perpetuates the idea that police brutality is somehow connected to Black on Black crime instead of them being two separate, serious societal concerns. It attempts to discredit the racist implications of said police brutality by saying that a higher number of unarmed White people are killed than unarmed Black ones. When you look at the numbers, he’s not wrong. However, the writer never once adjusts these figures to make them proportional to the US population, instead implying that the Black Lives Matter movement has no foundation for its protests. Instead, he claims that the actual issue is Black on Black violence and rates of violent crime in the Black community.

The writer states that we live in a post-racial America– which, contrary to his belief, is not the case, according to statistical evidence of institutional racism– and seeks to blame the loss of life of members of the Black community on Black people themselves. According to the Washington Post, I am 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than my White counterpart when the adjustments for population are made, and there is no correlation between violent crime and who’s killed by police officers (at least, I haven’t found any studies that say so). This student says, blatantly, that “the real threat to Black lives are other Black people,” in his article. That is dangerous rhetoric to spread, especially in a high school setting, and even more so when it is supported by misleading facts and figures. Even more so when it’s an article that’s so relevant to such socially, politically, and even emotionally charged current events. I’m surprised it was published without someone checking to see if this person was making a credible argument.

The writer claims the Black Lives Matter movement is a byproduct of biased media coverage of events. That’s not true. The BLM movement is there because I am seen as inferior to my White counterpart. My acceptance to New York University was seen by some as a product of affirmative action, and not a result of my dedication and intelligence. When I graduate from NYU in 2019 and attempt to go into the workforce, I will be less likely to attain a job than my White counterpart. If I do manage to get a job, I am going to be paid less than my white counterpart. If I decide to smoke marijuana WITH my White counterpart right now, it is more than likely that I will be incarcerated, while they get off with a warning or a fine. The Black Lives Matter movement is there as a result of me being designated as socially and biologically inferior, and by many (almost all) institutions treating me according to that designation. The Black Lives Matter movement is not just present to protest my death if I were to be murdered by the police. It is there because someone needs to be there to advocate for the idea that I am not inferior because of the melanin in my skin. I can’t stand for an article that tries to make this movement less critically important than it truly is.

I don’t know if I’m overreacting (personally, I don’t think so), but I do think any attempt to discredit a movement that aims for racial and social equality shouldn’t be treated so lightly and published so irresponsibly. It’s implying to students at Gables, especially Black students at Gables, that it is their own fault that they– and people like them– are being murdered, whether they are being violent and belligerent, or unarmed and compliant. I think this is unacceptable and perpetuates negative ideas about African Americans in the minds of others.

As an alumna of Gables, I always valued how open minded the school tried to be. It is in the hope that CGHS continues to try and foster that open-mindedness that I am voicing my concerns to you.

Sincerely,

Aliyah Symes

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Letters to the Editor Issue 3