« A cappella series at the Kennedy Center | Main | Brave New World for Beatboxing »

March 15, 2007

Cooking the Baker's Dozen

San Francisco Chronicle
By Caille Millner

A few words of wisdom for the kids involved in the Yale New Year's Eve confrontation: Man up.

Seriously -- it's time for these kids, and their parents, to suck it up. Stop whining to the press. Stop siccing lawyers on everything that moves. Stop complaining that the San Francisco Police Department didn't move fast enough to catch the perpetrators of a street brawl between the precious children of the privileged class.

That's all this was, right? A street fight among a bunch of wealthy kids who'd been drinking. In a more modest time, these kids would have taken their licks and shut their mouths. Their parents would have taught them how to handle themselves in a fight, on the expectation that kids don't always get along -- or, at the very least, they would have taught them not to behave as if they were in a street gang ("We're the 415!" "Yeah, well, I got 20 of my boys coming!") unless they were prepared to fight.

But we've reached an era when people demonstrate a complete and utter lack of personal responsibility, which means the ancient codes underpinning our legal system will have to guide the way to the obvious: the obvious being that felony convictions are unlikely, and this case should never have been prosecuted.

Legal experts have already mentioned how difficult it's going to be to prove who did what to whom, thanks to the general level of drunkenness and confusion in this contretemps. These kids will probably be looking at community service -- which they clearly need to do more of -- and probation. Big deal. Next time these kids are in a fight -- and with such sniveling, poor-me attitudes, who wouldn't want to fight them? -- they should keep it in the streets, not drag it into our courtrooms, distracting our judges from important matters.

From the outcry that's erupted over this, you'd think it was the first time anyone had ever been in a fistfight. You'd think it was the worst thing in the world that a couple of Yale singers got hit in the face. You'd think that human beings have evolved to the point where violence isn't a day-to-day part of our existence. You'd think that kids weren't getting killed in the Bay Area every day over such minor infractions as the sort of taunting that preceded this fight -- or maybe you would think that, because the stories of those kids -- usually poor, usually Latino or African American -- often are on the inside pages of this paper.

I can't speak for Sean Hannity and Fox News, or some of the other media outlets that have hopped all over this story, but I will be the first one to blame this paper for giving it far more life than it deserves. Since the story broke during the first week of January, we've had three front-page stories about it -- making it more important than the landslide on Telegraph Hill (one front-page story), say, or the scandals at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (one front-page story).

The over-coverage here has been matched by the over-investigation of the police department. Originally, SFPD smartly treated this fight like a third-tier priority (the squalling parents who faulted them must have thought that the police didn't have enough to worry about during the first week of January).

Once the kids got lawyered up, however, and Fox News started yammering the (untrue) accusation that the kids had been beaten for singing the "Star-Spangled Banner'' and offering a $10,000 reward, the police department suddenly had nothing better to do than fly around the country, desperately seeking evidence. How can they explain their actions to the two children whose parents were shot in front of them in Mission Terrace on Jan. 13? Or the families of the two men who lost their lives in the Sunnydale neighborhood on Jan. 1?

The real loser in all of this, as usual, is the public, specifically those members of the public who don't have family connections in important places and can't afford expensive lawyers to grease the wheels of justice. These people harbor no illusions about the fate awaiting them, should they be the victim of a crime in this town -- their case would languish, probably unsolved, certainly uncared for -- because this Yale singers' case has shown them exactly where the attentions of their media, their district attorney's office and their police department lie. That's the real lesson to take from this case, and it's the only thing that's even remotely outrageous about it.

These spoiled kids from Yale and San Francisco? Those kids are learning the wrong lessons. They're learning that when you get in a fight, you need to run to Mommy and Daddy, then to Mommy and Daddy's lawyers. They're learning that if you get hurt in a fight, you don't need to study your own behavior -- you need to demand monetary compensation and the head of the police chief, the Marine Corps and anyone else within shouting range. Worst of all, they're learning that their little fistfight is more important than the lives of poor children in Richmond, in Newark, in San Francisco and anywhere else they may roam.

They won't learn otherwise during the course of their education at Yale -- this used to be the sort of thing that kids learned in the real world. Alas, this time the real world has failed both them and the rest of us.

There are now felony charges against two individuals and today one of the Yale singers filed a civil suit.

Posted by acapnews at March 15, 2007 12:02 AM