When All Are Guilty

I’m talking about the gas chamber, and you haven’t even asked me what this is about. You’ve got a big “Guilty” sign around your neck. — Ed Exley, in L.A. Confidential

A couple of weeks back, in the midst of our first full staff meeting of the new calendar year, I sat and listened to our school’s principal sharing out about her stint on jury duty the previous week.  She shared some trifling details about her experience, about the justice system, etc.  I have to admit to not really paying all that much attention.  It struck me as small talk, after all.  Nevertheless, from one of the other tables, I overheard this comment:  “They’re always guilty…”

One thing our principal did not mention, or at least I didn’t hear it, was the crime that had gone to trial.

But they’re always guilty?

Where all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing. — Hannah Arendt

When the story about Miramonte School breaks all over the local press and television, I get advice from my principal about how to keep myself, as a male teacher, covered with respect to avoiding any potential compromising situation with students.  I understand the part about reputation.  I get it.  Harking back to my colleague’s comment from the other table however, I am worried about this view that due process is meaningless if there’s a presumption of guilt from the start.  This view, in no way, tries to absolve the two knuckleheads who precipitated the mess at Miramonte School.  Instead, I’m far more concerned with L.A. Unified’s reaction to the discovery of an additional molester among the staff:  replace the entire staff.  Overreacting?  Perhaps:

At Miramonte, a school in an urban community that is overwhelmingly Hispanic and where many residents do not speak English, parents gathered to protest Superintendent John Deasy’s decision to replace the entire staff.

Waldman said 45 new teachers would be at the school when it reopens today. They are all teachers who had been laid off in budget cuts.

New teachers began arriving Wednesday, walking by parents initially upset about the alleged victimization of children and now angry at what they said was an overreaction in removing all of the teachers.

“This is not the solution,” Miriam Ruiz, 27, said in Spanish. Her 5-year-old attends the school. “My daughter wants her teacher.”

Maria Guadalupe Garcia, 40, held a sign that read in Spanish: “we don’t want new teachers.”

When all are guilty, no one is…

Today, at lunch with our boss while here at 6th grade camp, the topic of E.O. Green Middle School comes up.  Reflecting upon the tragedy in our conversation, it comes back to the idea that both boys had a role to play that can easily, in my opinion anyway, point the guilt to both sides.  While Brandon McInerney pleaded guilty to second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter in the murder of Larry King, his gay classmate, King himself had been aggressively pursuing McInerney, prior to his murder, opening trying to flirt with a kid who was clearly not interested, and doing so in such a way that could easily be described as bullying.  Worse, the school and the school district did neither boy any favors by choosing not to intervene, and the death of King plays out as a predetermined event simply because it became more complicated to take the steps to avoid confrontation than it was to simply close their eyes and hope it just went away on its own.  As the school discovered, children are far more complicated than it wanted to believe.

When all are guilty, no one is.

As a culture, we seem to seek easy answers and a black-and-white outlook in a world that truly is painted in shades of grey.  The Miramonte school staff deserved scrutiny, for sure, but not complete blame for the actions of a few.  For two Oxnard middle schoolers, one boy was overly scrutinized while the pleas of the other were simply ignored.  Yet one boy is now dead for his lack of impulse control, while the other goes away until he is 39 years old.    But just like in the case of Miramonte School, where a few staff members tarnish the reputation of the rest, the true blame over at an Oxnard Middle School, lies in the simple failure of an administration to pay attention.  In that, I can’t blame my boss for wanting to talk to me.

Because no one wants to be guilty because then all would be.

Duke: The lights are growing dim Otto. I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am.
Otto: That’s ********. You’re a white suburban punk just like me.
Duke: Yeah, but it still hurts.

— Repo Man


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