Sunday, December 25, 2016

Controversy and Censorship -- Meet the Flockers --Part Two


This is part two of a two part piece. To read part one, follow this link: http://peterhuston.blogspot.com/2016/12/controversy-and-censorship-meet.html

As detailed last week on this blog a hip hop rap called "Meet the Flockers" was released in March of 2014 as part of an album called "My Crazy Life." The song detailed how to rob a home and specifically advised people to target homes in Chinese neighborhoods as Chinese have traditionally kept larger amounts of cash and valuables around the home than many ethnic groups.



Not surprisingly the song offended many Chinese Americans. This controversy grew after, as detailed on last week's blog post, a Chinese woman in Georgia shot some African Americans who were attempting to rob her house.

In this blog, I will discuss the politics of the song, the response from the Chinese community in the USA, and the the response to the response. Then I will discuss the legalities and free speech issues surrounding the song.
Responses to the song included protests outside of YG's shows as well as a petition to the White House asking that the song be banned.

It said:
"The song "Meet the Flockers" by YG encourages violence and crimes to a specific ethnic group. As one of this group in North America, I feel seriously offended and threatened. Please ban the song from public media and investigate legal responsibilities of the writer." 

The petition was signed by over 100,000 people, and therefore under the rules of the "We the people" forum the White House was required to give a response.   


The response was as follows:
"Thanks for taking the time to sign this petition on the We the People platform.
The First Amendment protects the freedom of speech in the United States. The White House doesn't make decisions about whether particular songs are available publicly. Individual platforms determine their choice of content and the rules of participation and conduct for their sites.
We encourage you to use the We the People platform to petition the Administration to take action on the policy issues you care about, and appreciate your interest in using the platform to make your voices heard.
-- We the People Team" 

In other words, a form response, citing first amendment and freedom of speech concerns and a lack of authority by the White House to ban such a song.

At what point does a song, film, book, or other piece of media that discusses methods of committing crimes cross the line and lose its first amendment protection? This is an issue I've discussed before when I wrote about the Paladin Press "Hitman" book and its lawsuit for "Gauntlet" magazine's 13th issue.


   

[NOTE: I  am not a lawyer., I am a freelance journalist. Please do not take the following as legal advice.]

Discussing the commission of crimes in generally, including the best ways to commit crimes, is considered protected speech under the first amendment. This includes general discussions of how a criminal could or should target victims and which sorts of people make the best victims for specific categories of crimes. Such discussions can be legally made but only in a general sense. 

The rapper says the best way to rob a house is to find one where the people who live there do not use bank accounts. This is a general statement. To prohibit it might lead to accidental restrictions on advising people not to keep large sums of money in their house. 

However, if you were to specify a specific target such as me or you by name then it would cross the line from free speech into advocacy of a crime. In other words if you say "It is best to rob Chinese people" that is legal protected speech, as offensive as it may be, as "Chinese people" is a large category and type of people and you are speaking in general terms. It could perhaps even be argued that by making such a statement, the speaker might be better enabling the targetted group, in this case "Chinese people" to protect themselves from such crimes. 

If, however, you advocate a specific individual as someone who should be targetted for a crime then you have slipped over an important legal line and are now advocating the commission of a crime.  

In other words, if you state, for example, that Mr, John Chang of 123 First Street, in Anytown USA is a good person to rob because his house contains many valuables and suggest that people do so, then you have just crossed an important line and advocated the commission of a specific crime with a specific victim. This is illegal and not protected under the first amendment. The first amendment does not cover any right to advocate the commission of specific crimes.   

Therefore the US government does not have a right to ban songs that offend people except in certain carefully defined circumstances. But you can write a song in response. 

In fact, this has been done. (The song even references the shooting in Atlanta, among other things.)




Then again, some would say it's best to argue these things. It's tought to day. Freedom of speech is not always pretty or safe but it's an important part of the American system. And, yes, I did look up the song and it is offensive to Chinese people.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Controversy and Censorship: Meet the Flockers, Part One

Greetings. Some time ago, I decided to blog more. Alas! The last few weeks other life obligations have gotten in the way, but here's another try.

Recently on facebook, one of my Chinese friends posted an angry post concerning a controversial hip-hop song called "Meet the Flockers," outrage over the song among the Chinese American community, and  a petition to the White House to ban the son, as well as the official White House response to the petition, a response that led to further frustration among many of those who had signed the petition as the White House, citing the first amendment's freedom of speech provisions, declined to ban the song. Hear I give the background to the controversy and the song. Next time I shall describe the response.

Having a background in censorship issues and being a former contributor to the 1990s publication, Gauntlet, a publication that dealt with censorship issues in a balanced and interesting way, such issues fascinate me. Let's begin with some of the issues surrounding this controversy a bit first.

If you'd like more information on the controversy, sources include this NBC news story -  





The song, "Meet the Flockers," discusses how to break into a house and rob it, setting out a plan in detail in the first verse. Here's the lyrics. 

First, you find a house and scope it out
Find a Chinese neighborhood, cause they don't believe in bank accounts
Second, you find a crew and a driver, someone ring the doorbell
And someone that ain't scared to do what it do
Third, you pull up at the spotPark, watch, ring the doorbell and knock
Four, make sure nobody is home
They gone, okay it's on
Don't be scared, nigga, you're in now
If the police come you gonna find out who your friends now
That ain't them talking, that's your mind playing tricks on you
You're conscious cause you know you got nines with two clips on you
But fuck that, motherfuck that plasma
And fuck that laptop, go and get that jewelry box
You tryna get paid?
Go take that jewelry box to the Slauson they'll give you cash back

It's easy to see how such a song could cause a controversy. But of particular controversy was the line "Find a Chinese neighborhood, cause they don't believe in bank accounts." Although there actually is some truth to the idea that many Asians keep larger quantities of cash and valuables in their house than some other ethnic groups, the specific targeting of Chinese and Chinese Americans did provoke outrage among those groups, at least once they became aware of the song two years after it was released. ( For those interested, in my book, Tongs, Gangs, and Triads --Chinese Crime Groups in North America I do discuss this briefly. Although not all Chinese do this it is particularly common among groups that come from countries where the banks are not as insured as here, or among those with refugee experiences who had to grab their valuables and flee such as many of the Chinese of southeast Asia. )

The controversy around the song was made worse following a shooting in Gwinnet County Georgia USA when a 36 year old woman named Chen Fengzhu shot three African-Americans in her residence after they had entered with the intent of robbing them. Chen and her husband had closed circuit cameras inside their house and the incident was filmed. After authorities in Georgia made the film public in the hopes of catching the surviving intruders it went viral and became quite popular viewing in China apparently.



Not surprisingly the incident got media coverage, both in the USA and China.



For one source of information on the shooting and controversy,  see http://shanghaiist.com/2016/09/27/chinese_american_shopkeeper_shoots_intruder.php 
Next time, the reaction to the song from the Chinese-American community, the response from the US government, and a discussions of legalities and the first amendment issues surrounding the song


This is part one of Two.



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Judging the refugee center


Note: this was originally written over seven years ago. I took it down for a while but decided to put it back up. The refugee center in Albany is much better run now and it appears that the director, Jill Peckinpaugh, was chosen because she has management skills. By contrast when this was written the director was chosen because she was a skilled photographer with good public relations skills. (???)

----


Within this blog I have made some pretty harsh condemnations of USCRI-Albany, the local refugee center, and the way it operates. Quite frankly, I don't really enjoy writing these things, then again in the last two weeks I've run into a couple people who know the center. They agree that the place is extremely disorganized and just rolled their eyes when it was mentioned. And interestingly enough, these were both people who had no idea how I felt about the center or that I had any real connection with it or even had a connection with refugees. (I spend a lot of time at events and activities that involve other cultures and so do many people who are interested in refugee concerns.)

Surely some who read this disagree or want to check for themselves.

Here's some thoughts on how to do that.

1) Check the newspaper or read blogs. Do google searches on the name of the organization. See what people are saying about it.

2) Check the rate of turn over among employees and volunteers. One way to do this is by noting the rate at which they seek volunteers. This is done through several sources, one is idealist.org , a website and e-mail service that advertises volunteer and paid positions for organizations that strive to make the world a better place. Just last week someone, a third person, noted that based on its postings in idealist.org the organization seemed to be searching constantly for volunteers of all kinds and often for the same positions. They saw this as a sign of a problem and, quite frankly, it is. Volunteers tend to burn out quickly due to the confusion within the organization. Others find they can do the same things they enjoyed doing at the center but with less hassles without the center getting in the way. (I started out teaching English there. If I understand correctly, they have gone through three different volunteer directors of their English program in the last year.)

3) Check with the agencies it works with and their volunteers. Ask for instance, their landlord, the people who rent them property and house the refugees, AAA Used Furniture, the local health clinics, the churches they work with, and the local literacy volunteer program. Ask them what they think of USCRI-Albany. Who knows? They might say something good.

4) Check with the government agencies that do business with it. These are easy enough to find. Just google "USCRI-Albany." What should soon stick out is that many of these agencies have both the address of USCRI-Albany and the name of the director wrong on their referral lists. I have toyed with the idea of making such a list of misdirected referals but it's just not something I wish to do.

5) Ask former refugees and immigrants from the ethnic groups whose members are served by the local refugee center. When I do this, even casually, it's not uncommon for people to start screaming.

6) Check with the Better Business Bureau. If you'd like their report is here. You'll note that the CEO of the national organization makes approximately $200,000 a year, which was equal to two thirds of their Albany office budget in 2006. Not very encouraging, I'm afraid. Why, I wonder, does the CEO make so much when the director of the local office has no management credentials and whose primary background with refugees prior to assuming office was to take pictures of them?

Again, don't listen to me. Please don't listen to former interns. Just do your own homework. Then make your own conclusions.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Adventures in Slum Living Episode 9: Wayne Whitney's Wondrous Yard


Alas! Although I'd planned to write an intelligent, well thought out piece on freedom of expression, the first amendment, censorship, and Chinese-American rage over a controversial rap song called "Meet the Flockers" I became distracted this week, while still trying to sort out past issues that came back to haunt me.

Therefore I churn out another photo heavy piece on that disgusting but always worth a look piece-of-shit Wayne Whitney, a man in Albany who does not like being called "a slumlord."

If you get the chance to explore the hallways of 16 Benson Street, you will find this amazing letter. You will notice a few things quickly. First, Wayne Whitney does not have a good command of the written English language or the rules of English grammar. Oh well, like I said, he is a moron, so what you do you expect?

Second, you will notice that he wishes to keep the yard to himself. It is his treasure for his use only. He is lord and master of this yard and it is not for the use of his tenants who are beneath him. I mentioned previously that a friend, a friend who has since apologized, recommended I rent this place. He recently said "But Wayne means well. He has a good heart." I said, "No, he doesn't. He is a bully who wishes to lord it over other people. The only reason he is nice to you is that he looks up to you." (And Wayne Whitney is not just a bully, he's also stupid and dishonest.)

Third, yes, that is his real phone number. The place is for rent now as far as I know. You can call him if it interests you. And, no, he's not paying me for this great advertising, and, yes, he does assure me "There is nothing wrong with this apartment." --so how can he possible object if I send potential tenants to him this way?


Alas, if one has the experience of living at 16 Benson Street what you will soon see is that Wayne often exhibits the unthinking and unhesitating selfishness of a small child or rodent. He not only keeps the yard to himself, but also keeps the entire basement and attic to himself. Most apartments come with some sort of storage space for the tenants to use. Not 16 Benson Street. Wayne is hogging it all for himself. 

So let's look at this awesome yard. For better or worse, these are photos of the place on a good day. It had recently been cleaned. 
The yard is partially blacktopped, and the blacktop poorly maintained.
Well, i don't know about you, but when I see something like this my first thought is
let's get some kids, and a blanket, and some fried chicken and potato salad and have a picnic.
Nothing I'd rather do than picnic on uneven black top. 



The backyard tree.
Now I know you wish to sit under this tree next to the broken garbage cans and take a second picnic, but, HA! --you can't. They are Wayne's -Wayne B. Whitney's and for his use only.
They are, in his mind, too good for people like you and me.  


Wayne's garbage cans. Like everything in this place, damaged and in disrepair. I mean what is the purpose of a garbage can lid anyway if it has a six inch diameter hole in it? 





It's such a shame I cannot go and play in this yard. 
It makes me so sad that Wayne Whitney, a man who does not like when he is referred to as a "slumlord," would not let me because I was merely a tenant who paid him rent. 



The walkway to the street 


Another view of the walkway to the street.