Identity, Justice

Zig Coyotes!

Calabasas High SchoolA Swastika was found carved into a Calabasas High School student’s car this Monday, reports The LA Times Blog “L.A. NOW.” I am a proud alum of this fine, extremely Jewish, suburban, public high school. I played football, was in school theater productions (they were hurting for guys who could dance), participated in clubs and got into my fair share of trouble. There were lots of Jews, Asians and White kids and not so many Latino or African American kids but for the most part we all just got a long.
I suppose times have changed. The owner of the car (a 2009 BMW) is a 17-year old Jewish student who isn’t named in the article. He said that he has found Swastikas drawn in dust on his car twice over the last month. He thinks it is religiously motivated. Unsurprisingly the authorities don’t have suspects.
But the real story here is how CHS (GO COYOTES!) will deal with the situation. Will they start a witch hunt or just let the Sheriff’s Department take charge? Clearly there will be some sort of forced teachable moment where the school shuffles into the gym complete with affected teens rolling their eyes through…my guess is the 2010 version of me will get up call the administration out for being complacent.
It is hard to see how this ends well.
It is important to note that a vast majority of the students at CHS are well off financially. There is a small population of folks who come from working- and middle-class families. But overall, most of the students live in neighborhoods where the median home price has fallen over the past few years but still is well above the million dollar line. It isn’t uncommon for a 17-year old to “own” a brand new BMW. I unfortunately suspect that this was not just religiously motivated but economically motivated as well. The comments on the L.A. NOW post seem to echo this particular sentiment (along with the usual nut bag Internet commentary).
This event saddens me and, while I hope I am wrong, don’t think it will stop here. Of course we all have dealt with this kind of hatred at one level or another, but school should be a safe place for kids to grow up. This attack on property and state of mind violates that protective bubble.
As a victim of a few hate crimes in my day, I can say the feeling inside doesn’t change over time. In college I received death threats for bringing Jewish and Muslim students together to talk about the Middle East, for being Jewish and for whatever else people didn’t like about my public persona. I feel like I can do nothing about this attack and that is the part that stays the same.
The hate that people feel is so strange to me. Why hate people you don’t know? I totally don’t understand it. But the feeling of helplessness in the face of meaningless hatred isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather of humanity. I suppose that is why, even though I have trouble with hate crime laws being selectively applied, I support hate crime enhancements. There is a difference when a kid scratches another’s car with a key calling him a little shit and when the vandalism attacks a group. I wouldn’t have cared if the 17-year old’s car was defaced with a four letter word.
Moving forward is going to be difficult for the kids involved in this situation. The car will be fixed and most likely driven back to the student parking lot in the next few days. He will shrug it off and pretend it doesn’t bother him. But his human rights were violated. His safe space was encroached upon and really so was the space of all the Calabasas High School students, past, present and future.

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