Sasha Fleischman
November 10, 2013 9:46 AM   Subscribe

Last week, high school student Sasha Fleischman was set on fire while riding a city bus, most probably related to their gender presentation. Sasha identifies as agender and was wearing a skirt on the bus. A couple of lights in this appalling and sobering story are the solidarity rally held by Sasha's classmates, and the moving and compassionate letter from Sasha's father.
posted by latkes (142 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
The bizarreness of small age differences: the newspaper headline is "16-year-old boy suspected of setting man on fire on Oakland bus", but the "man" in question is 18 years old and a senior in high school.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:49 AM on November 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


First of all, what the hell. Also, in the letter from Sasha's father, Dad makes it clear that Sasha is agender and uses the pronouns "they", "them" etc. It continues to piss me off when media outlets misgender people.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:53 AM on November 10, 2013 [30 favorites]


As a Bay Area queer, I've been following this story from Berkeley and do want to say that initial reports seemed to follow Sasha's mother's lead in using male pronouns. They need to stop misgendering Sasha ASAP, but there was some initial confusion that seemed legitimate.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 9:55 AM on November 10, 2013


It's been interesting to watch the local tv coverage of this. The newscasters seem to be doing a decent job of using non-gendered pronouns (though it ends up with them using Sasha's name a lot), but they've been identifying them as "Luke 'Sasha' Fleischman," rather than just "Sasha Fleischman." They seem to be doing a decent job of not sensationalizing Sasha's gender presentation, though -- they actually interviewed the parent of a female student who wore a skirt in support of Sasha, which I thought was interesting to point out (rather than just assuming that female students in skirts were being 'normal' that day) -- and they seem to be holding blame on the perpetrator and emphasizing that it was a hate crime, rather than doing any victim-blaming that I've seen.
posted by jaguar at 9:56 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Roomthreeseventeen, one of the articles quotes the teen,
"My preferred pronouns are the singular they (they/them/their/theirs)," Sasha Fleischman wrote in an online posting about the gender decision. "If you find that weird, you can use whatever pronouns you want for me, but I prefer those ones."
Since Fleischman gave explicit permission to use other pronouns, and since they/them/their/theirs is generally plural, I think the newspaper gets a pass on this one in the interest of clarity. Although dispensing with pronouns altogether, as in the other article, might be a bit clunky but really increases clarity.
posted by notsnot at 9:58 AM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I will say it's pretty goddamn awesome to see all the male students wearing skirts and dresses to support Sasha. I wouldn't have had the balls been brave enough to do that back then.
posted by notsnot at 10:00 AM on November 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


Getting back to the original story, I don't understand in what world people need to teach their children not to light another child's skirt on fire. Jesus.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:05 AM on November 10, 2013 [26 favorites]


This paragraph:

Family members say that very personal decision [to identify as agender] helped the teen blossom. But police believe it also led another teenager to light Fleischman's skirt on fire as the student slept on a local bus, causing severe injuries that could take months to heal.

is not the way I would have worded it (emphasis added).
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:09 AM on November 10, 2013 [63 favorites]


Yeah, someone's gender presentation isn't what causes acts of bigoted violence. It's the fact that the fire-setting shitbag is a bigoted sociopath.
posted by elizardbits at 10:12 AM on November 10, 2013 [78 favorites]


Also, Berkley High School seems like a pretty rad school if this is the response from the student body. They all look so cool in those photos, too. Where were all these cool people when I was in high school? Our coolest set were the ones who drove.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:13 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


So much love to Sasha and their family.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:16 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


NPR: Young People Push Back Against Gender Categories, July 16, 2013.
posted by cenoxo at 10:18 AM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


The man accused is charged as an adult, so why do the papers refer to him as a boy or student, not as a man? He's a student at a public school in Oakland, and Maybeck, where the victim goes, is a private school. There's a bunch of class-related stuff entwined in this incident and the reporting of it.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:29 AM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I really wish Sasha a speedy recovery, and I'm glad they're getting so much support. It's beyond comprehension how setting a person on fire could ever be a choice someone makes. Some people are calling it a prank? WTF.
posted by billiebee at 10:31 AM on November 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


There's a bunch of class-related stuff entwined in this incident and the reporting of it.

Sorry, what? Apart from them going to two different schools - one public and one private - where is the rest of this "bunch of class-related stuff" entwined with either the attack or the coverage?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:37 AM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The man accused is charged as an adult, so why do the papers refer to him as a boy or student, not as a man? He's a student at a public school in Oakland, and Maybeck, where the victim goes, is a private school. There's a bunch of class-related stuff entwined in this incident and the reporting of it.

Is he being charged as an adult? I didn't see a mention. Meanwhile when the story got reposted on Towleroad, the ages of the victim and attacker got swapped. (Man attacks student, not student attacks man.)
posted by Going To Maine at 10:39 AM on November 10, 2013


The man accused is charged as an adult, so why do the papers refer to him as a boy or student, not as a man?

Even if he were being charged as an adult, that one act doesn't suddenly make someone not-a-minor. I doubt he could go buy cigarettes legally now, for instance, or that he's required to register for the draft.
posted by jaguar at 10:44 AM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


This wire story carried on sfgate reports Thomas is being charged as an adult.
posted by rtha at 10:56 AM on November 10, 2013


If the suspect is being charged as an adult it's most likely not a class issue but the fact that he set someone on fire.
posted by pibeandres at 10:58 AM on November 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


It is a class and likely race issue, and this case exemplifies why I, as a non-gender conforming queer and Jew, don't support hate crimes legislation.

What this kid is accused of doing is unequivocally wrong and hate filled, there is no denying that and I wouldn't ever argue otherwise. However, this is a kid, and the fact that hate crimes legislation could be used to punish this child, a child who I think I'd be safe conjecturing, given the race and class demographics of the average teenage AC transit rider, is likely a poor kid of color, as an adult, is highly problematic, if the point of hate crimes legislation is to address systemic inequalities in our culture.

There are many Oaklands and many Bay Areas, and they often overlap poorly - with misunderstanding or violence. Sasha goes to Maybeck, a rich, primarily white private school in Berkeley. He was traveling home to Oakland, a city that, despite changing demographics, is still a poorer and more racially mixed city.

Being poor and of color doesn't explain or excuse a hateful violent act, of course! But there are a lot of kids in Oakland who come from really struggling families, who go to totally dysfunctional and inadequate schools, who live in extremely violent, dangerous neighborhoods, who have lost multiple family members to violence, who have few options and who have been raised in a reality where life is short and dangerous and compassion does not pay.

Sasha's dad, a teacher at a public school in Oakland who I imagine is fairly aware of the complex racial and class dynamics in this city, exemplifies the type of compassion and complex thinking I hope we all can have here when he asks us to keep an open mind toward the perpetrator, even as he expresses realism about the perpetrator's likely motivation.
posted by latkes at 11:12 AM on November 10, 2013 [31 favorites]


Definitely a terrible act, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was just a dumb kid who didn't know the consequences, didn't understand what was going to happen. On TV having your clothes lit on fire almost never sends the person to the hospital. Sure that's no excuse but that's the whole reason we treat children differently from adults in these matters.

And while the story is terrible it is nice to hear that Sasha's school and family are so supportive. I could see the whole "Skirts for Sasha" thing getting shut down in some other parts of the country.
posted by bleep at 11:17 AM on November 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Definitely a terrible act, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was just a dumb kid who didn't know the consequences, didn't understand what was going to happen.

"Oh, I'm just going to light this kid's skirt on fire, it'll just be harmless fun! It's totally not because I hate their skirt or think their gender preferences are bullshit! No malice intended at all, yup!"

Why would you light someone's clothes on fire if not to hurt them?
posted by chrominance at 11:20 AM on November 10, 2013 [35 favorites]


latkes, I agree that a 16-year-old is not an adult, but to me, that means that the possibility of charging kids as adults is the problem, not the idea of hate crime legislation itself.
posted by jaguar at 11:21 AM on November 10, 2013 [33 favorites]


Problem: The person sitting next to me on the bus does not dress the way I prefer.

Solution: Set them on fire.

Humans, man. I really don't understand them sometimes.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 11:24 AM on November 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


Why would you light someone's clothes on fire if not to hurt them?

I just think the possibility exists that the intention was more like "I have hate in my heart and I don't think you should be wearing that so I'm going to damage it" rather than "I have hate in my heart and I want you to possibly die or be disabled." Of course there's probably no way of knowing now which one it originally was.
posted by bleep at 11:25 AM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


"Oh, I'm just going to light this kid's skirt on fire, it'll just be harmless fun! It's totally not because I hate their skirt or think their gender preferences are bullshit! No malice intended at all, yup!"

Why would you light someone's clothes on fire if not to hurt them?


When I was 14 I set a creek on fire. I had no clue that it would actually burn (thanks gasoline!) and no idea that it would light the dry brush on both banks on fire for about 500 yards. It was a very exciting half hour of fire stomping and a good story now but it was unequivocally dumb in so many ways.

Just like kids.

I'd guess that this kid didn't know how flammable the skirt would turn out to be. There was definitely malice but it was probably prank/harass level malice that ended up getting way out of hand.
posted by srboisvert at 11:27 AM on November 10, 2013 [16 favorites]


I don't think a lack of hate crimes laws would prevent Martin being charged as an adult.

I don't have a problem with hate crimes laws; I do have a problem with charging minors as adults.
posted by rtha at 11:27 AM on November 10, 2013 [30 favorites]


I now this sounds insane, but yes, there seem to be actually quite a few people in this world that are so dumb as to think setting somebody on fire will do no harm, but just be utterly hilarious, like smearing them with marker while they sleep, or something. I've read up on more than one case of setting other folks hair(!) or clothes on fire and the (mostly juvenile) perpetrator(s) being utterly puzzled afterwards that this led to major injury. Nobody can be that good of an actor.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 11:37 AM on November 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


It was a very exciting half hour of fire stomping and a good story now but it was unequivocally dumb in so many ways.

The difference here is that (presumably) there was no person swimming inside that creek when you lit it on fire, nor did you (apparently) light it on fire because it was different from other creeks.
posted by elizardbits at 11:38 AM on November 10, 2013 [26 favorites]


There can never be an excuse for this type of behaviour.
posted by manoffewwords at 11:39 AM on November 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


Yeah, the problem with charging kids as adults is that they're not adults. Teenagers are still perfectly capable of hate crimes, though, and what, we don't treat it as a hate crime when a 40-year-old does it because it might lead to punishments too harsh for a 16-year-old? I think this is also why judicial discretion is generally a good idea, although I sometimes temper that optimism when I remember that a large part of why I left law school was working with actual judges.

I want the book thrown at this kid, but I want it to be a book of an age-appropriate size, I guess is what I'm saying here, and I'd rather err on the size of it being a book that's slightly too large than treat it like it's harmless when it is so very much not.

In completely other thoughts, I wonder how much different my identity would be right now if I'd realized that there were such a thing as identifying as agendered when I was a teenager. Honestly, I am all about the embracing every kind of spectrum thing and it had never occurred to me, but at this point I suppose I'm too fond of the lesbian bit to ditch the female bit, even if it still feels strange and awkward to me. I don't know. I... have stuff I have to think about now.
posted by Sequence at 11:40 AM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think it might be great to wait and see what the attacker says about what they did and why. But I'm loathe to go out of my way to make excuses for them. Likewise, the class thing seems pretty tenuously connected at best, and I don't know if the skin color of the attacker was even mentioned, so I don't know how that ended up in this conversation.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:42 AM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


An excuse is something that excuses. An intention is something that explains. Not everything that explains the intention is automatically trying to excuse.
posted by bleep at 11:43 AM on November 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


The charging minors as adults thing is really something peculiar American, I think. Here in Germany we're doing the exact opposite, we usually charge young adults (up to 21) as juveniles.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 11:44 AM on November 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


When I was in tenth or eleventh grade, the kid sitting behind me in drafting class reached out with his lighter and set the back of my flannel on fire. I didn't notice until the fire had seriously caught, but I was fortunate in that I was able to get my flannel off without being burned myself. The teacher was understandably furious, but he never did figure out which of the three boys sitting behind me had done it, and no one (including me) was willing to tell him.

In my case, I really do think that the kid who lit my flannel on fire didn't mean any serious harm by it. He was bored and I was there, and like a lot of bored teens, he probably just decided to do something in order to see what would happen without really thinking through the consequences. He apologized to me after class, and although we didn't really socialize with one another either before or after the incident, I never felt like I was in any way bullied by him.

I'm not saying this to claim that the horrific act of assault being discussed in this thread isn't a hatred-fuelled act of malice, but I also think that we don't lose anything by waiting to hear more of the story before we assign motives to this kid. I suspect that more coverage of the event will be forthcoming, and I don't think that supporting the victim necessitates that we rush to judge the motives of the attacker. Sometimes people do really horrible things for reasons more mundane and less ideologically driven than first glance suggests.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:45 AM on November 10, 2013 [31 favorites]


An excuse is something that excuses. An intention is something that explains. Not everything that explains the intention is automatically trying to excuse.

Thanks, I know these distinctions, but regardless: I don't think trying to come up with excuses, explanations, or projections of intent are really helpful before the attacker has even said anything. Though it's odd how many people seem to be rushing to do so.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:46 AM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm in Oakland, and I watched all the initial reports use pronouns and language that appeared to be inappropriate for an agender/genderqueer person.

I'm almost positive, based on personal acquaintances with a number of East Bay reporters, that a fair amount of that was because of ignorance. Some of the local print reporters who cover crime, for instance, have habitually used inappropriate language to refer to sex workers. One of these guys is also ancient and quite conservative.

What was very encouraging, however, was to watch the massive response to this, and the relatively quick correction, at least in the print media. Online commenters flat out told the writers to consult the GLAAD style manual, and my understanding is that's exactly what happened afterwards.

That said, one would hope that some of these media outlets would publish editorials acknowledging and explaining their mistakes, and also educating the general public about the entire issue.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:47 AM on November 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm glad Sasha's going to be okay. It does seem possible that there is class stuff going on here, but damn, I can understand wanting to send an agender kid to a private school if this is the kind of response that school gives to this kind of incident. I wish every non-gender-conforming kid-- hell, every non-conforming kid of any stripe-- had a supportive community like this to draw from. My partner is queer and is employed at a company with officially supportive policies about gender identity; he was able to identify as genderfluid on official paperwork. Having an institution that has your back can really improve your life, and I think he's a lot safer exploring that identity and thinking about where he wants to be (or already is) on the gender spectrum than he would be otherwise.

I'm sure there are public schools out there that could do well with an agender student, but they have less incentive to do so. I hope that someday we can expect this kind of community support everywhere.
posted by NoraReed at 11:48 AM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think trying to come up with excuses, explanations, or projections of intent are really helpful before the attacker has even said anything.

According to the police, though, the attacker has said it was due to homophobia. From the second link:

The Oakland High student was charged Wednesday with two felonies and two hate crime enhancements and could face life in prison if convicted. Relatives have said he's sorry and it was a prank, but the suspect told the police investigator that he did it because he "was homophobic."

I'm happy to stay open to the idea that what the police are reporting may not match exactly what the suspect said -- and I think that's where class and race may also play into this -- but according to the official record, the suspect has declared his intent.
posted by jaguar at 12:03 PM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


According to news reports, the cops say Martin said he did it because he's homophobic. Maybe he doesn't know what that means, maybe the cops made it up, maybe a lot of other things, but that is a thing that's been reported and so the speculation here is not without basis or context.
posted by rtha at 12:05 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the suspect's motivation is on the record. In the criminal complaint, on the declaration on the last page, we find a clear-cut "Susp stated he did it because he was homophobic."

Anyway, this is especially close-to-home-hitting as Sasha was a fellow conlanger, though I didn't manage to meet them while I was living in Berkeley. My best wishes for the recovery to Sasha & family.

I first saw this at SFGate: the author of that article seemed in the unenviable position of wanting to respect Sasha's wishes regarding pronouns but their style guide not allowing it. So no pronouns at all. A whole lot of repetitions of "Fleischman", and noun phrases, instead.
posted by finka at 12:08 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although the minors-charged-as-adults thing is problematic at times, I have a hard time getting upset about this use of it. If you can't contain your urges to set other people on fire, you belong in a cage.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:26 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Belong in a cage for how long? For doing a terrible thing when you are 16, should you be in a cage for the rest of your life? That's what being charged as an adult means.
posted by rtha at 12:32 PM on November 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


My partner is queer and is employed at a company with officially supportive policies about gender identity; he was able to identify as genderfluid on official paperwork.

The one positive which might come out of this horrific attack is that of bringing the concept of gender fluidity and the right to identify as agender to a wider audience. The quote above was amazing to me, since I live in a place where I'd imagine the vast majority of the population has never even heard of these concepts. I'm sorry that there always has to be someone who suffers to advance the rights of others, but maybe it be will of some comfort to them and their family to know that what they went through raised awareness - maybe gave other kids a choice they didn't even know they had - and so wasn't for nothing.
posted by billiebee at 12:34 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm really glad this is being reported. This is a terrible crime, the perpetrator should be punished. The outpouring of support for Sasha is really heartwarming.

But do we really want to say that this sixteen year old should spend his life in prison? Life? Are we interested in keeping this kind of terrible crime from being committed again, by this kid or others, or are we interested in making a moral point out of this teenager? I'm OK with all sorts of mandatory counseling, juvenile detention, prison for several years. But life--life! starting at sixteen!--in prison is just beyond me.

It wasn't premeditated, right? His goal wasn't to kill? This teenager did a horrendous crime, he deserves to be put to justice, but let's not pretend that his cruel idiocy is the same as cold-blooded murder. I don't think I'm being an apologist by saying that we shouldn't put him in prison for life, just like I don't think I would be an apologist if I were arguing against him being tortured or executed.
posted by daveliepmann at 12:40 PM on November 10, 2013 [26 favorites]


As an aside, when did Sasha become a name by itself? I thought it was a diminutive for Alexander.
posted by Justinian at 1:38 PM on November 10, 2013


This teenager did a horrendous crime, he deserves to be put to justice, but let's not pretend that his cruel idiocy is the same as cold-blooded murder. I don't think I'm being an apologist by saying that we shouldn't put him in prison for life

The problem is of course that too often people have seen perpetuators of hate crimes are treated leniently with the victims not getting the justice they deserve, so any attempt to explain why somebody would've set Sasha Fleischman on fire just because they wear a dress is treated with understandable suspicion.

On the other hand though, when I read the post here I was preparing myself for a much more horrible crime than turned out had happened. I'd feared something more like a lynching, rather than what from what's been reported looked like a spur of the moment attack, something that seems a lot like the classic bully playing a "prank" that went out of hand.

From what I've read so far it seems Sasha in general has been relatively well accepted for presenting as agender, with this attack as a one off. Seeing the response at their school to the attack has been impressive. It does seem we've moved on a lot in these matters even compared to even ten years ago.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:40 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


As an aside, when did Sasha become a name by itself? I thought it was a diminutive for Alexander.

It's long been a girl's name here in the Netherlands, with the connection to Alexander less than clear..
posted by MartinWisse at 1:40 PM on November 10, 2013


I want the book thrown at this kid, but I want it to be a book of an age-appropriate size, I guess is what I'm saying here, and I'd rather err on the size of it being a book that's slightly too large than treat it like it's harmless when it is so very much not.

As they say, a liberal is a conservative who's never been mugged.
posted by gertzedek at 1:43 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, someone's gender presentation isn't what causes acts of bigoted violence. It's the fact that the fire-setting shitbag is a bigoted sociopath.

I mean possibly he's a sociopath, but one violent crime is not that much evidence. Perfectly sane people do this stuff.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 1:47 PM on November 10, 2013


Sasha has been a gender-neutral name on it's own as long as I've been around, similar to Kelly or Shannon. It's a perfect choice of name for an agendered person.

I do hope they recover quickly and well, and that the perpetrator gets the help he needs just as quickly and well.
posted by goo at 1:54 PM on November 10, 2013


As an aside, when did Sasha become a name by itself? I thought it was a diminutive for Alexander.

It's also a diminutive for Alexandra.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:56 PM on November 10, 2013


I'm glad Sasha is expected to recover and I'm thrilled by the outpouring of support. It looks like Sasha has a good support network and I wish them all the best.

I also wish our penal system was based on rehabilitation. Seems like life in prison is a bit much. I hope that dumb little shit that attacked Sasha is able to find decent representation - they have a tough row to hoe in a system that give not a damn about your human-ness.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:02 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


As they say, a liberal is a conservative who's never been mugged.

Oh, screw that simplified bullshit. Got anything of substance to bring to the discussion, or do we all have to start pulling out our crime victim credentials?
posted by rtha at 2:43 PM on November 10, 2013 [44 favorites]


I've never been mugged and I want the trash thrown out in order to keep it that way. We don't need to roll the dice on the small chance of reform of a 16 year old who thinks it makes sense to light a kid on fire for the offense of being a weird white kid on AC Transit.
posted by MattD at 2:55 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


...the possibility of charging kids as adults is the problem, not the idea of hate crime legislation itself.

For me, the problem is harsher, longer, crueler punishments for the people who are already disproportionately imprisoned, in the name if increasing justice and fairness.

While the idea of hate crimes legislation is one I feel sympathy for, the reality of our criminal justice system means that young men of color get harder, longer sentences. If you can look at justice in some kind of net aggregate, hate crimes legislation does not increase justice.

If your goal is just to reduce actual hate crimes, there's no actual research-based evidence that harsher sentences for hate crimes makes those hate crimes less frequent or less likely.

I'm fairly sure most teenagers know that setting someone on fire is illegal and morally wrong, but this kid chose to do it anyway. Prison is, apparently, not an effective deterrent against crime, period, but especially when you are dealing with extremely limited choices, systemic poverty, likely childhood trauma, and the hormones of young manhood.

The idea of hate crimes legislation makes us feel good. But I'd much rather resources went into education, both around gender issues and also just increased educational opportunities and alternatives in terms of activities and social support for all kids, than to more prison time.
posted by latkes at 3:00 PM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Human beings are not trash. Or animals to be caged.
posted by kmz at 3:01 PM on November 10, 2013 [21 favorites]


Bet you money that the 16-year-old has a lot of experience being considered trash who should be thrown out. I'm sure that continuing to consider him and others like him as garbage that should be thrown away as quickly and permanently as possible will solve all our crime problems.
posted by rtha at 3:01 PM on November 10, 2013 [25 favorites]


Also, in an earlier comment I referred to Sasha as "he". I apologize to Sasha and to anyone who felt misgendered by reading that.
posted by latkes at 3:04 PM on November 10, 2013


As I wrote above, none of us can know the mind of the kid who lit a flame to Sasha’s skirt. But I have a feeling that if he had seen Sasha’s skirt as an expression of another kid’s unique, beautiful self, and had smiled and thought, “I hella love Oakland,” I wouldn’t be writing this now.

And you base this on... what? The color of his skin or his family's economic status? That's being just as racist and classist as assuming he's a bad person because of those factors.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:05 PM on November 10, 2013


While the idea of hate crimes legislation is one I feel sympathy for, the reality of our criminal justice system means that young men of color get harder, longer sentences. If you can look at justice in some kind of net aggregate, hate crimes legislation does not increase justice.

While the injustice of our justice system overall towards people of color is well documented, is there evidence that hate crimes laws specifically are also applied thus?
posted by kmz at 3:09 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Saying that 16-year-olds should never, ever be subject to life sentences for anything because they can't possibly be that bad is also simplified.

I am willing to believe that a lot of people currently serving time would have been helped by better social services, education, opportunities. But at some point, if you are the sort of person who does something like that to someone based on their gender identity? Yeah, you're trash--you might be redeemable trash, but right now, you're trash. I believe our criminal justice system needs to be more humane to maintain our humanity, not because absolutely every last person who goes through it deserves it. People like Scott Roeder, the killers of Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard--they are not good people who just need a second chance. Being poor does not turn you into the sort of person who lights other people on fire just for being different.

(That said, I don't know where this life in prison is coming from--Californa's rules are a bit complicated, so maybe someone else knows better, but as far as I can tell that would only be the case if he already had two strikes? In which case we're talking about a kid with two previous violent felonies? Or else we're not really talking about life. Or else there's something big that I'm missing here about why this would result in way harsher sentencing than the offenses would ordinarily call for even with the hate crime enhancements.)
posted by Sequence at 3:13 PM on November 10, 2013


He didn't kill Sasha and so far at least it seems he didn't intend to kill him. If we're willing to put a 16-year-old away for the rest of his life for not killing someone, where do we go from there? What step up are we left with for a minor tried as an adult for worse acts?
posted by rtha at 3:20 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is horrible, I hope Sasha makes a full and speedy recovery and their family continues to enjoy the support of the community.
As for the kid who attacked them, he should get an appropriate sentence for an horrific attack. Not making any guesses about his motives or the environment that drove him to do it, that's mostly conjecture at this point.
posted by arcticseal at 3:20 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


We don't need to roll the dice on the small chance of reform of a 16 year old

As abhorrent as I think the crime is, I'd rather roll that dice than to "throw away" another human. Maybe it's an example of where restorative justice comes in. What if the perpetrator had to meet and apologise to the victim and their family (if they or their family want that) and instead of rotting in a cell was sentenced to X amount of hours/years volunteering for community groups which advocate around gender issues? Maybe it would turn their life around, maybe their eyes would be opened to the real consequences of attitudes and actions such as they have displayed. Maybe they could actually do some good in the community and something positive could come out of an awful situation?
posted by billiebee at 3:22 PM on November 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


Nobody is talking about a life sentence for this kid, are they? But he shouldn't go scot-free, either.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:23 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen, there does seem to have been a life sentence reference in the second link, which is where I think things are getting a bit strange; either there are details being left out of that story or someone is grossly overestimating. Pretty sure if it's even on the table it's because of Three Strikes, which I think is overall pretty ghastly, but it's ghastly for people of every age.

billiebee, my heart would very much like such things to work, but I cannot imagine someone homo/transphobic being legally forced to volunteer for pro-LGBT causes as resulting in anything other than stewing resentment and future problems in the vast majority of cases. You can't make someone like someone they hate just by forcing them to hang out together. Not to mention, how would anybody be safe around this person during the time before the magical moment of realization? This is the sort of thing that I think it's reaasonable to say that someone might come around from more exposure if they were just throwing slurs, but once they're actually assaulting people it's really past that level of intervention.
posted by Sequence at 3:33 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, from the second link: The Oakland High student was charged Wednesday with two felonies and two hate crime enhancements and could face life in prison if convicted.

He could face life because he's being charged as an adult. By law, juveniles charged as juveniles cannot be held past their 21st birthday, although I gather there are ways around that.

Also, I realize I referred to him as Martin earlier; no idea where I got that. Sorry for any confusion.
posted by rtha at 3:39 PM on November 10, 2013


Things:
1) One day in high school while waiting for class, I smelled burning hair and quickly realized it was my own. Spun around and saw the idiot behind me grinning. "Sup FLAMER!" I went berserk and jumped on him, we got pulled apart and dragged to the office. He was let off without any discipline, because I guess my having punched him in the throat after being SET ON FUCKING FIRE meant we were even. No harm, no foul! This was in the 90s; we'd probably both be sent to Gitmo if it happened today.

2) My wife is genderqueer and wears men's clothing and, bless her heart, is too aloof to notice or care when she gets The Look, The Attitude, The Raised Eyebrow, etc. This kind of story is a highly unpleasant reminder that those reactions are a symptom of serious ugliness lurking barely under the surface. No matter how much progress is made in society at large, all it takes is a single jackass to ruin (or severely complicate) your entire existence. I'm acutely aware that a couple hundred years ago, she would have been burned at the stake as a witch, and I would have had to drink hemlock because I like touching other dudes' dicks.

3) Conservative talk radio covered this today. Their talking point was "awww it was just harmless fun, kids prank each other all the time! Making this all about gender and HATE CRIMES is just part of the godless liberal agenda to make cross-dressing a thing we are forced by OBAMA to endorse"
Why do I do this to myself (a good reason: I am most productive when filled with rage and spite)

I'm not here to be an internet judge/jury/executioner, but I want us to reach a point where people can go about their daily business without having to worry about BEING FUCKING LITERALLY SET ON FIRE. Or stoned. Or dragged behind a truck. Or beaten up in a bathroom. It is insane that this still happens, and that people still tacitly or explicitly accept it, or try to explain it away.
posted by jake at 3:41 PM on November 10, 2013 [41 favorites]


when i was in the 8th grade my family moved to a small town 15 minutes away from where i spent most of my life. my extended family had long roots in the town, my cousin was an all around sports star, my uncle was a beloved coach. but, for reasons that were beyond me at the time i was marked as other, as an outsider. my queerness wasn't pronounced then, so i don't think that was it - but there was just something about me that drew the bullies - not something new for me, my family moved every year almost and everywhere we went i had trouble fitting in. but this was different, more pronounced. it felt dangerous every day going to school.

one morning as i was leaving the packed auditorium where we had to stay until 15 minutes before 1st period, crushed in a mass of teenage bodies, my head was yanked back and before i felt it, i smelled my burning hair. i yelled out. no one helped me. i was lucky that i was able to pat it out before i lost too much hair and i was able to hide it until my next haircut. the teachers acted like they hadn't noticed the smell or the smoke. the other kids laughed. for months afterwards when walking through the halls, i'd hear kids making "fwoosh" sounds directed at me. to this day i have no idea who did it - but i do know if that person had been caught and they'd been asked why they did it they'd say that it was just a silly prank, that they just wanted to see what would happen, that they didn't think it was a big deal. but i know the truth, it was done because i was different, because they wanted to make sure i knew that, and because they knew no one come to my aid.

i'm glad sasha is getting support and maybe even justice.
posted by nadawi at 3:44 PM on November 10, 2013 [39 favorites]


Whoa, nadawi, set-on-fire-by-asshole-kid jinx, high-five. I'm glad you made it through that without significant injury. And you survived all the teasing to become a super fine human being, from what I can tell. Hopefully Sasha will grow up to be similarly kind-hearted and compassionate, despite this trauma. Just judging from their father's character, that seems likelier than not.
posted by jake at 3:57 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


once they're actually assaulting people it's really past that level of intervention

I know it's a difficult, and maybe "not enough" measure to accept Sequence, and I get that. But here in Northern Ireland and also in South Africa, for example, restorative justice has been very effective in many instances, and we're talking about the aftermaths of murders. For me it's because the victim/victim's family is included and not forgotten while the State exacts its pound of flesh.
posted by billiebee at 4:16 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's the fact that the fire-setting shitbag is a bigoted sociopath.

Not necessarily; the shitbag could have been an ordinary sociopath.

Its just that the sociopath did what is expected of him, whats bothersome is that some bigoted individuals around the scene allowed it to get that far. It was ok for them to not intervene for X amount of time. It was ok that this sociopath be allowed to light this human on fire, but not some other ones. This is the effect of doing nothing because you don't consider that person's worth to be as great as yours. Being bigoted isn't a personal choice discussion, its one about public health.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:17 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, Berkley High School seems like a pretty rad school if this is the response from the student body. They all look so cool in those photos, too.

To be clear Berkeley High School is a rad school, but these students (including Sasha Fleischman) are enrolled at Maybeck High School, a small private 9-12 school in Berkeley; indeed it too is a rad place with students who tend to be very smart, artsy and open. The school tag line is "Open Doors, Open Minds".
posted by gubenuj at 4:24 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


let's not pretend that his cruel idiocy is the same as cold-blooded murder

It's weird... the act is what dictates the punishment, but it's not the underlying cause. The underlying cause in fact IS the same as cold-blooded murder; hate, AKA lack of concern for the well being of others. But oddly enough, everybody seems to agree that we can't punish for that sort of thing.

Which is why no matter what "name" we throw at it; being sentenced as an adult, or homophobia, or class-ism, or whatever... none of it is going to sound right. We're just treating the symptoms and not the cause.
posted by Blue_Villain at 4:25 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


However, this is a kid, and the fact that hate crimes legislation could be used to punish this child, a child who I think I'd be safe conjecturing, given the race and class demographics of the average teenage AC transit rider, is likely a poor kid of color, as an adult, is highly problematic, if the point of hate crimes legislation is to address systemic inequalities in our culture.

I'm going to disagree that the point of hate crime legislation is to address systematic inequalities in our culture. Affirmative action is, workplace protection is.

But hate crimes legislation is to amplify the punishment when the motive of the crime is the victim's race, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. A poor black kid setting an agender middle class white kid on fire is as much of a hate crime as any other, the fact that the perpetrator is of a disadvantaged class is irrelevant to whether his act was a hate crime or not.
posted by chimaera at 4:31 PM on November 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


More information on the possible sentencing from this article in the San Jose Mercury News:

[The suspect] was charged with aggravated mayhem and assault with means likely to produce great bodily injury, both felonies that include two hate crime enhancements....

Felony aggravated assault carries a maximum prison sentence of life with the possibility of parole, the sentence for the assault charge is a maximum of eight years in prison, and each of the two hate crime enhancements carries one year each in prison, a spokeswoman for the Alameda County district attorney said Thursday.

posted by jaguar at 4:52 PM on November 10, 2013


In other trans California news, it looks like opponents of a law specifically to protect trans students have enough signatures to qualify for a ballot fight.
posted by klangklangston at 4:52 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm still struggling to come up with a response to this other than sheer amazement at how far we've come in such a short span of time. 10-15 years ago, I wouldn't have expected anything but victim-blaming and a slap on the wrist for the assailant; the fact that Sasha's peers, parents and (some of) the media are actually treating their gender expression with understanding and respect is seriously mindblowing (and wonderful). I hope they're able to return to school soon, and that this helps raise some awareness about gender/trans* issues in less tolerant parts of the country than the Bay Area.
posted by Merzbau at 4:53 PM on November 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


And this FBI report Hate Crime Statistics 2011 shows that for hate crime offenders:

By race

In 2011, the races of the 5,731 known hate crime offenders were as follows:

59.0 percent were white.
20.9 percent were black.
7.1 percent were groups made up of individuals of various races (multiple races, group).
1.4 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander.
0.8 percent were American Indian/Alaskan Native.
10.8 percent were unknown. (Based on Table 9.)


I suspect that various hate crimes legislation does more to hold white people and wealthy people accountable for their actions against marginalized people, than vice versa.
posted by jaguar at 4:58 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


The US is 72% white and only 12% African American. Your FBI statistic shows African Americans disproportionately prosecuted for hate crimes.
posted by latkes at 5:16 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also one should note that the purpose for hate crimes receiving special penalties is because they're acts of terrorism-- that is, they're done to scare people out of expressing their gender/sexual identity, going out in public as a woman/POC/etc, expressing religious beliefs, etc. It is up for debate whether they successfully do that.
posted by NoraReed at 5:18 PM on November 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


According to the NAACP, "African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population." Racial minority defendants are getting charged with hate crimes at a much lower rate than white defendants are in the U.S.

Also, the FBI statistics are based on whether the race of the perpetrator was known, not whether they were charged or convicted.
posted by jaguar at 5:19 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And I absolutely positively agree that the criminal justice system in the US is a racist shithole. I just don't think hate crimes legislation makes it worse; I think it actually makes it better.)
posted by jaguar at 5:21 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The US is 72% white and only 12% African American.

Not to belabor the point, but the US Census estimate for 2012 is that the US is 63% White, non-Hispanic and 13% African American.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:22 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ideally, the young criminal would be sent to a somewhat mythic facility like in Scandinavia, and educated in such a manner in order to help their becoming a useful member of society. This is not going to happen.
posted by ovvl at 5:26 PM on November 10, 2013


One of my high school bullies finally ended up in juvie after attempting to set some kid on fire on the bus, following years of tormenting me because I didn't follow either male or female fashion trends, so I find it very believable that this kid could have intended physical harm. I'm learning to sympathize with the perspectives on the types of backgrounds that turn kids into cruel, bigoted bullies, and it's hard, but I don't think the perpetrator deserves either a life sentence or a slap on the wrist. (A "prank" that went from "silly to stupid"? Some of this framing is either dumb or outright wrong.)

How do you reform bigotry from within the prison system, of all places?

On the other hand, the support from those high school students helped to restore my faith in humanity, as did the verbal displays of compassion and acceptance from Sasha's parents. Sasha is really brave. When I was in high school I knew only two people who were openly genderqueer, and both were online friends.

I hope phrases like agender and nonbinary become more commonly used and accepted. Gender identity isn't always exclusively "male" or "female".
posted by quiet earth at 5:47 PM on November 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


Also one should note that the purpose for hate crimes receiving special penalties is because they're acts of terrorism-- that is, they're done to scare people out of expressing their gender/sexual identity, going out in public as a woman/POC/etc, expressing religious beliefs, etc. It is up for debate whether they successfully do that.

Good point and totally agreed that this is what we should focus on about hate crimes legislation. That is the actual intent, although as is evident even in this thread, that intent quickly becomes distorted into a simple desire to punish as much as possible. I do agree that the problem created by hate crimes should be addressed separately than the same crime perpetrated for reasons not related to bigotry.
posted by latkes at 5:51 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aha, got it. It's the way things were phrased--it's not the assault that carries the potential life sentence, it's the "mayhem", which evidently is actually more like a charge of aggravated torture and disfigurement. I initially found the non-aggravated guidelines for that and the jump to a life sentence is rather shocking, although the nature of it seems to rather outstrip what happened here. I guess we'll see how it works out. That law reads more as a "throwing acid in your ex-wife's face" kind of thing. Which seems like more thought than likely went into this. Don't know.

billiebee, it's not that I'm not for the notion of some restorative justice in general, it's just that what you're proposing is taking a person who just tried to harm someone solely for being X, and then forcing them to volunteer with a bunch of people who are X. Contact and whatnot to help deal with the aftermath of a murder, I get, but this seems to place the burden on exactly the same minority communities that are terrorized by these hate crimes in the first place. Like, you're not talking about someone who's just abstractly violent, but someone who violently targets people like you for no other reason than that, and now you're supposed to welcome them in as a volunteer to teach them the value of tolerance? I'd be petrified, anyway.
posted by Sequence at 5:54 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


On a separate note, a disturbing thing I've learned from this thread is how common assault by fire is. ):
posted by latkes at 5:56 PM on November 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


As unfortunate the reason for this discussion, I'm glad we finally have a thread going about the nonbinary aspects of being transgender. Is the fate of the attacker really the buried lede here?
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:17 PM on November 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not here to be an internet judge/jury/executioner, but I want us to reach a point where people can go about their daily business without having to worry about BEING FUCKING LITERALLY SET ON FIRE. Or stoned. Or dragged behind a truck. Or beaten up in a bathroom. It is insane that this still happens, and that people still tacitly or explicitly accept it, or try to explain it away.

Oh my god this forever for fuck's sake. Seriously.
posted by odinsdream at 8:09 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


So if anyone is still wondering how stuff like Three Strikes or Tough On Crime happen? Notice how many people at this here generally tolerant, liberal site react to this crime with visceral rage and disgust, want the maximum possible penalty enforced on this person, immediately assume that the person who committed the crime is best removed from society? That is how a lot of people feel about *most crime*. Apply what you are feeling now to other people's feelings, and you'll understand how America ended up with the justice system we've got.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:28 PM on November 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


You know that people here are upset because someone set fire to a sleeping teenager on public transport, right? A lot of crime that's prosecuted and results in prison time - is "victimless" - that is, it results from an illegal act which entails only consenting adults and lacks a complaining participant. Depending on whether you count selling sex (which is tricky because consent gets problematic), the estimate is as high as 80% of the imprisoned.

I don't know what's up with this case - I'm not viscerally anything - but I think you're setting up one hell of a false comparison there.
posted by gingerest at 10:59 PM on November 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, someone's gender presentation isn't what causes acts of bigoted violence. It's the fact that the fire-setting shitbag is a bigoted sociopath.
posted by elizardbits at 19:12 on November 10 [56 favorites +] [!]

Oh, yes. Can we please dehumanize as many people as possible? It always sounds so enlightened, and it does so much to promote peace and acceptance of differences. And I'm always happy to see the liberal chorus of Metafilter stamping their staunch approval of the dehumanizing of those they hate.
posted by Goofyy at 11:22 PM on November 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I thought that "hie" or "zie" was the usual agender pronoun. Am I misinformed or is this out of style?
posted by IndigoRain at 11:23 PM on November 10, 2013


"I thought that 'hie' or 'zie' was the usual agender pronoun. Am I misinformed or is this out of style?"

There isn't really a "usual" agender pronoun. And even if there were, it wouldn't behoove Sasha to use it.
posted by jiawen at 11:43 PM on November 10, 2013


My understanding is that the pronouns zie/hir, as well as other gender neutral pronouns, tend not to be widespread in usage and also tend to draw a lot of negative attention, so not all people with non-binary gender identities will choose to use these pronouns.

In my spheres, most people tend to default to "they", but I also have unique arrangements depending on the person. Some people prefer me to substitute their name in every iteration I would use a pronoun, with "they" as a last-resort if I stumble over a weird sentence. With other people (especially those who are questioning or genderfluid), I have an "unlimited corrections at any time" policy where they can ask me to change the pronoun that I use for them freely at any time whether subtly ("I'm the type of guy who...") or directly ("I feel like a she today"). Still others tell me that they have no real preference for what pronoun I use and allow me to interchange he/she/they freely. The last type of request is also important to take at face value as well, because there is often an implicit pigeon-holing assumption that all people with non-binary gender identities will hold their pronouns to be crux to their gender identity and have some kind of social trauma stemming from misgendering when in reality that isn't the experience of all people - which isn't to say that correct pronoun use isn't important, but that we need to remember that individual people will have different experiences and preferences, and not extrapolate too far in our assumptions from pronoun use/preference.

So in a nutshell there are no standard practices and it will vary from person to person and best practice is really to ask them how they'd like to identify - in the end, it does a lot to demonstrate basic respect, and ultimately it's no harder than remembering someone's name anyway.
posted by Conspire at 11:56 PM on November 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


Conspire: I agree with that and would like to add that "what's your pronoun" is as useful a first question as "what's your name" and miles more important than "what do you do".

You can ask anyone the question and get a million absolutely awesome answers.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:22 AM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Annika, that's wildly not the case outside of the trans/genderqueer/lgbtq-activist community. Even in extremely leftist, progressive, gay circles, asking a new acquaintance their preferred pronoun is a 7 on the Weirdness Richter Scale at best, and conversation-stoppingly insulting at worst. I'm not making a moral judgment on this fact, I'm simply stating it. I understand how this state of affairs is hurtful to some people.
posted by daveliepmann at 2:24 AM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


ZeroAmbition: "The charging minors as adults thing is really something peculiar American, I think."
I think it's a function of common vs civil law. James Bulger's killers were 10 years old and tried as adults.
posted by brokkr at 2:30 AM on November 11, 2013


"Apply what you are feeling now to other people's feelings, and you'll understand how America ended up with the justice system we've got."

That's a fair point, though I'd imagine most people participating here would point out that these are emotional, often hyperbolic, statements, not articulations of how they'd like the justice system to work.

I'll also point out that "outrage over trans kid being torched by bigoted peer" is pretty far down the list in terms of "things people get upset about that have a real impact on our justice system."

I mean, I realize I often want to kill people with my mind when I'm driving, but I'm also mature enough to recognize that if I did use my psychic death rays, it would actually make traffic worse, you know?
posted by klangklangston at 3:06 AM on November 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I am really conflicted on this case. It made me initially respond with" oh, fuck humanity." But at the same time, when I was in the Army, deployed, everyone used to set each other's clothing on fire a lot. However, everyone also had mostly fireproof clothing, so it never really got very far.

I lean, though, towards the" fuck humanity" aspect.
posted by corb at 3:39 AM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Be careful not to express anger and disgust over a kid being set on fire or you'll be what's wrong with America.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:08 AM on November 11, 2013 [13 favorites]


i feel like we can just roundly ignore all the chicken littles who are coming into make this about how "metafilter" wants to see the criminal locked away forever. there's a variety of opinions here and if anyone has come away with the impression that we're agreed on what sort of punishment we find appropriate then they're reading comprehension is bad or they're grinding an axe. either way, they're not really worth the discussion.
posted by nadawi at 5:42 AM on November 11, 2013 [7 favorites]


daveliepmann is correct, it *is* weird, I'm not suggesting people go out and start doing that!
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:38 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


yeah, weird to do it to everyone (though maybe one day it won't be!) but it seems easy enough to navigate - if i'm unsure about which pronouns are appropriate, i either avoid pronouns or i ask the person. if i think i know which pronoun to use, and i'm wrong, when i'm corrected i say "oh! sorry!" and then don't fuck it up in the future.
posted by nadawi at 6:44 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand how anyone could perceive this as an accident.
posted by stormpooper at 6:56 AM on November 11, 2013


So honest question, those that are agender, would they consider their sexuality bi?
posted by stormpooper at 6:56 AM on November 11, 2013


i'm not agender, but i do align with genderqueer. i am also pansexual (which i refer to as "queer"). bisexual doesn't really work for me because it presupposes the gender binary. i would imagine that the number of agender people who identify as bisexual would be very small for similar reasons. i've personally known agender people who are pansexual, straight, gay, and asexual. sexuality and gender are distinct things and just knowing someone is agender isn't enough to know what their sexuality is.
posted by nadawi at 7:07 AM on November 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


So honest question, those that are agender, would they consider their sexuality bi?

My understanding is that who you are and who you (want to) fuck are different parts of a person's identity, and knowing one does not necessarily tell you a lot about the other.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:56 AM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


It does pose a difficulty about assigning "straight" or "gay" which assume "interested in a member of the same or opposite gender" when you get outside that binary. We really don't have the right language for this sort of thing yet. "Queer" ends up being a catchall for all sorts of things, but I guess it serves pretty well as a signifier for "if you have some reason to want to know more detail about my preferences, ask."
posted by Sequence at 8:01 AM on November 11, 2013


stormpooper: "So honest question, those that are agender, would they consider their sexuality bi?"

Two totally separate things, just like they are for you or me or anyone. a) What is your own gender? b) To what gender of people are you sexually attracted?

Just because someone doesn't consider themselves to be either male or female doesn't mean that they won't recognize -- or couldn't have their own preferences/levels of attraction to -- people who are either definitively female or male.

However, it highlights how the terminology of gay, straight, bisexual can be a bit of a mess since it's all predicated on binary constructs of gender. If you're agender and your boyfriend is a straight man, is he in a heterosexual relationship with you? Well, maybe...people use the labels that feel right to them, but it may not be very useful for general assumptions.
posted by desuetude at 8:04 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not about criticizing, it's about understanding. Normally, when there's a crime story on the blue, even a story about violent crime, we all spend a lot of time wishing the country would think more about the root causes and inequalities that lead to crime. But in this discussion, because we're talking about a crime that seems to strike at some basic values, exactly one user has noted the pretty substantial racial and class dvisions at work here, while most people are either referring to a 16-year-old as "trash" or a "sociopath," or simply concluding "fuck humanity".

If you understand that this is how most of the country feels about most violent crime stories, you will understand exactly why the desire to talk about root causes or culture feels so angering, even insulting, to most people.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:56 AM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


By most people I guess you mean only three people cause that's how mnay people you quoted. The usual disingenuous bullshit, then.
posted by elizardbits at 9:20 AM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


most people are either referring to a 16-year-old as "trash" or a "sociopath," or simply concluding "fuck humanity"

I strongly disagree that most people are saying those things. A couple of people have made those remarks, and other people have come in to counter them.
posted by billiebee at 9:21 AM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I, too, am not seeing "most" people here doing that thing you say is being done by them.
posted by rtha at 9:48 AM on November 11, 2013


"Look who's wearing ideological blinders now" is a bad look for one positively flaunting his own.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:09 AM on November 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Prison is, apparently, not an effective deterrent against crime, period, but especially when you are dealing with extremely limited choices, systemic poverty, likely childhood trauma, and the hormones of young manhood.

Many years ago I was in favor of the death penalty, based on the deterrent argument. I changed my position once someone pointed out the flaw in that argument, which is that no one who commits murder actually thinks they're going to get caught.

This guy probably knows that it's against the law to set people on fire. I think the hurdle we need to clear is the one that made him think, "I can set this person on fire because no one will really care."
posted by Room 641-A at 12:02 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'll make this clear and then I'm out: I'm not accusing anyone of hypocrisy, or of wearing ideological blinders. I'm not accusing anyone of being wrong about anything. I'm simply saying that the disinterest in understanding the perpetrator here, the assuming the worst about his background and motivation, and the rage at anything that suggests sympathy for him, is how most discussion of crime (especially terrorism) goes down at dinner tables, offices, and Facebook pages across the country. And understanding that---paying attention to how people here are feeling and applying that to other criminal cases which don't involve a victim with whom you may strongly identify---explains a lot about America's justice system.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:16 PM on November 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


and we're saying that many people in this thread are still thinking about his background, trying to understand the culture that informs this act, and trying to find a way to show mercy while still serving justice.

i personally, a victim of flame based bullying, would be horrified if the 16 year old attacker was locked up for life and my read of the thread makes me think i'm in the majority here.
posted by nadawi at 12:22 PM on November 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


Did the Mirror Universe version of the thread phase in again?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:28 PM on November 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yup.
posted by rtha at 1:08 PM on November 11, 2013


The perpetrator himself said that he committed this violent attack out of homophobia. That's not even a question at this point. Thomas' actions are horrifyingly violent and shocking. People in Oakland are very upset.

As an Oaklander, people regularly refer to residents of my town (and therefore my neighbors) as "trash" and "thugs". In the same vein, there have been comments on this story on the local sites saying that Oakland High School* "prepares students for a life in San Quentin" and that we should expect more of this kind of thing in "Obama's America of entitlement". This is the norm for any story about Oakland, violent crime or otherwise. I read it every day, and it's infuriating and horrible, and the comments aren't even referring to me.

Generally speaking, Oakland has some of the most demographically mixed, open minded neighborhoods in the US- I don't think I've ever not had had black neighbors, and I don't think I've ever not had LGBT neighbors. However there's a wide swath of poor, non-white communities here, and they are reminded every day how worthless they are and how they should all be locked up on general principles. Quite honestly I don't know how one manages to grow up to be a productive member of society under those conditions, yet the vast majority of very poor, marginalized community members do. I don't consider being poor and marginalized any sort of excuse for homophobic thought or violence. However, I do expect members of Metafilter to think twice before they use terms favored by bigoted assholes to describe other human beings. I'm aware that it's only a couple of comments here, but I can well imagine scenarios where both Sasha and Thomas have been called "trash" of one kind or another, just for the way they look or the types of people they represent. Dehumanizing comments don't solve ignorance or violence. It's language that affects how people treat one another in real life. It's appalling to me that Thomas felt that Sasha was in some way less human because they were wearing a skirt. It's sad that Thomas had probably been considered less than human because he is black. I know people here are responding to him in this way for his actions and not his skin, but I think it's worth considering if the language we choose in any way reinforces marginalization of other people.



*OHS is currently on a fundraising drive for Sasha.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:34 PM on November 11, 2013 [11 favorites]


I'll make this clear and then I'm out: I'm not accusing anyone of hypocrisy, or of wearing ideological blinders. I'm not accusing anyone of being wrong about anything. I'm simply saying that the disinterest in understanding the perpetrator here, the assuming the worst about his background and motivation, and the rage at anything that suggests sympathy for him, is how most discussion of crime (especially terrorism) goes down at dinner tables, offices, and Facebook pages across the country. And understanding that---paying attention to how people here are feeling and applying that to other criminal cases which don't involve a victim with whom you may strongly identify---explains a lot about America's justice system.

And what we're saying is that you basically invented this based on three comments out of 124 because of an ideological grudge match you insist on pushing regardless of evidence (or more accurately, lack thereof).
posted by zombieflanders at 6:18 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think even if it's three comments out of 124, TheFuzzyBastard makes a good point that doesn't have to be about everyone lining up in their corners and treading the same boring path. I am shocked and angry about this crime, and my first impulse was not to try to understand the victim. I didn't even get there until a lot of comments down. I understand that I'm not the norm, but it seemed to me at least that a lot of other people's comments also started with shock and anger.

And that is in fact how a lot of people - I think things like most can be unnecessarily contentious - but certainly a lot of people react to things they see as horrors. There are quite easily a lot of recent cases where people did not want to try to think with sympathy of the perpetrator because their shock and anger and condemnation was so strong. (Without discussing whether or not the anger was justified: I am reminded of the Zimmerman case).

TheFuzzyBastard, if we're looking at it in good faith, and I'd hope we are, tried to make a point about how often, other Americans that Mefites might not have as much in culturally common with may also react with shock, horror, and rage, and that might lead to the "Tough on Crime" stances that a lot of places have.

And that's true. It doesn't have to be about "Hah! Ideological hypocrites!" But it could be more about, "Man, it's hard to be human, and these impulses are hard, and we're not sure if they lead to good things or bad things. Let's think about that."
posted by corb at 10:30 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, exactly. People here are raging at the perpetrator, immediately believing the police department's paraphrase of a young person's confession, and generally reacting with shock and rage. Which is understandable---it's shocking and enraging! And that doesn't mean people are hypocrites. It just means that people who react with shock and rage to, say, the Boston bombing, and immediately want to believe the worst about the perp, are not slavering monsters, just people like us, who identify with a different set of victims.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:56 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


If we're talking about the whole "tough on crime" aspect, this doesn't make sense. Most of the comments were MeFites expressing that they believed that aspect was not true in their case. So it seemed as if the description was being applied based on a minority of actual comments, not what the overall sentiment of the thread was. Now, if the idea was to contrast that concern with knee-jerk shock, anger, etc., that's another discussion worth having. It just didn't apply here.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:18 AM on November 12, 2013


I think, just judging personally, that it's a little hard to accurately read what the "overall sentiment of a thread is", especially when it's got emotionally tinged components. I know I myself have been guilty of this - I see a few hothead comments and the thread feels hot, even if the majority of people are not - because that emotion is so strong. Or some people are deeply grieved and a thread "feels" sad. Or some people are bitter and snarky and the thread "feels" bitter and snarky. It's really hard for people, I think, to accurately assess the mood of even a physical crowd, much less an internet one. It's especially true when something either goes along with or directly contradicts how you're feeling. I know in this thread, I personally noticed all the "fuck humanity" type comments, because that's how I was already feeling - it took me reading up again to notice some of the gentler ones.
posted by corb at 11:40 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rode home today along part of the 57 bus route and saw some of the rainbow decorations for Sasha. Here's a bus stop about 2 blocks up the hill from Oakland High.

(Not totally clear to me from the article if these are being put up by OEA (the teacher's union), students and teachers at the school where Sasha's father works, or students and teachers from Oakland High, or some combination.)
posted by latkes at 3:34 PM on November 12, 2013 [5 favorites]




ThatFuzzyBastard: "People here are raging at the perpetrator, immediately believing the police department's paraphrase of a young person's confession, and generally reacting with shock and rage. "

I personally am reacting to the fact that a young amab agender person was set on fucking fire. I didn't really pay any attention to what the police said the kid said, because I've seen this pattern a hundred times before and nothing has really cropped up that makes me see this any differently to any of the other times an amab trans or gender variant person has been assaulted or killed.

But go ahead and keep applying your own thought processes to the rest of the world.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:27 PM on November 13, 2013 [10 favorites]




ThatFuzzyBastard, you seem to be overlooking context. The Boston bomber is not enacting a pervasive power imbalance that keeps him above the people he killed. He is not perpetuating a wider power imbalance in society that manifests as discrimination and violence against runners. He is not punching down.

The fellow who set fire to Sasha? Very very much perpetuating and enacting a wider systemic bias and discrimination which puts gendervariant and trans people very much at greater risk of real, serious violence than the population as a whole. Very much punching down.

So is this kid a monster? Yes and no. For sure, there are going to be all sorts of wider issues that inform the decision to set fire to another human being. However, in appealing for us to consider his perspective, you're not really providing insight into a hounded state of mind, into how people react to endemic discrimination, as people so often are when they ask you to consider the Boston bomber, or "terrorists" or what have you. You're asking us to think not of what motivates and maybe justifies the evils of the resistance movement, but to think of why the poor darling occupiers are here, and please try to understand why they are building gas chambers.
posted by Dysk at 1:24 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


So… I have a few different perspectives on this.

One that hasn't been raised yet: the assailant, despite being a minor, clearly did not have an attorney present when they were being interviewed (probably post-arrest). No way in hell would a lawyer have let him say he did it because of homophobia, nor let the conversation go unrecorded. We just have the (arresting?) officer's affidavit, so remember people, accusation is not evidence.

As a fan of civil liberties, I think that's a Very Bad Thing and that the assailant may well have had their Miranda rights violated.

I'm ambivalent about hate crime provisions in general (what hatreds deserve being specially protected against? how is it that we California queers got to have a hate crime bump if we're assaulted but [until very recently] not marriage rights?). It also seems likely to me that the assailant was tried as an adult in large part because of the media attention. This, again, seems like a Bad Thing; we should not be prosecuting people by mob rule.

Not having seen the video or a tape of the interview, I think it's hard for any of us to know what intent the assailant had. They had to have meant to do some harm, yes, but they may have meant it as a relatively low-scale prank; despite the consequences being the same, it's not morally the same as (e.g.) pouring gasoline on someone's legs and then lighting it. I figure that people ought to be judged, for criminal prosecution purposes, based on intent or negligence more than on outcome. So, yes, it was probably a hate crime, and was certainly assault, but it's not clear to me that it was "aggravated mayhem", like he was charged with.


However…

I am also publicly self-identified as agendered (but mostly male-presenting and don't object to male pronouns, as 'they' for an identified person is linguistically awkward), don't wear skirts but do wear a kilt, sarong, hakama, and thawb as part of my normal clothing (not all at the same time!), am bi/poly, etc.

When I was in high school, I too was bullied — and one person in particular repeatedly tried to set my clothes on fire (by putting a lit match in my shoes when I was distracted). Unfortunately, at the time, I lacked the chutzpah / initiative to do anything about it; if it were me now, I would immediately call 911 and press charges for aggravated assault & battery, but too late now so not much point dwelling on it. (FWIW, I do think it unconscionable that behavior adults would consider serious crimes — e.g. aggravated assault, strong-arm robbery, unlawful arrest, theft, stalking, etc — are routinely ignored when they happen in K-12 schools. I don't think people with less capacity for self-restraint should be prosecuted as harshly as adults, but I also don't think that it's OK to give 'em a pass.)

Like Sasha, I'm also a conlanger… in fact, I founded the world's first and only organization for conlangers.

… and I happen to live in SF. I'm pretty sure there are no other agendered conlangers in the area (at least none that are members of the online conlanging community — I run the bay area conlang meetups), and I think Sasha might enjoy meeting another. Having an introduction to a different support network might help. (For that matter, seeing an adult for whom wearing a sarong is perfectly ordinary and not just a 'show of support' might help.)


I think I'll call up the hospital tomorrow and see if Sasha would like a visitor.
posted by saizai at 1:57 AM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


One that hasn't been raised yet: the assailant, despite being a minor, clearly did not have an attorney present when they were being interviewed (probably post-arrest). No way in hell would a lawyer have let him say he did it because of homophobia, nor let the conversation go unrecorded. We just have the (arresting?) officer's affidavit, so remember people, accusation is not evidence.

The assailant also seems to be black. Black boys and men are pretty high on the list of demographics the rights of whom I don't really trust the Oakland police to respect. There's definitely layers and layers of fucked-up-ness going on.
posted by hoyland at 3:21 PM on November 14, 2013 [3 favorites]




"Agender, or nonbinary, identification may be a lesser-known concept at the sprawling Oakland High School, which Thomas attends, than at Fleischman's private Maybeck High School in Berkeley, but after the attack students at both campuses reacted with similar horror and sympathy.

Youths at Thomas' East Oakland campus have raised hundreds of dollars for Fleischman, made posters, held support rallies and helped friends of the family tie rainbow-colored ribbons to poles along the bus route on which the teenager was attacked. And when a community march was held Thursday night in support of the burned youth, students from both campuses carried banners together.

"One thing I would hope can come of this, a silver lining of some sort out of everything everyone is talking about and doing, is a greater awareness of genderqueer issues," said the burned youth's father, kindergarten teacher Karl Fleischman. "Sasha has a very strong sense of justice, and I know they would like that." " sfgate
posted by rtha at 10:54 AM on November 17, 2013


I'll be visiting the hospital on Monday eve or Tuesday morn.

If you want to have a letter hand-delivered, please email me a 1 page PDF by noon Pacific on Nov 18.
posted by saizai at 1:08 PM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


A recent article: High schoolers react to fire attack on bus
They are two teenagers from two different worlds in Oakland - one a straight-A student from the hills who identifies as neither he nor she, the other a struggling student who lives in the bullet-riddled flatlands and considers himself a jokester.

On Nov. 4, the jokester, 16-year-old Richard Thomas, lit the skirt of the agender person, 18-year-old Sasha Fleischman, on fire as they rode an AC Transit bus. Fleischman has been in a hospital ever since, undergoing skin grafts for second- and third-degree burns to the legs, and Thomas is in custody, having been charged as an adult with what prosecutors call a hate-motivated assault.

But this has turned out to be much more than a crime story.

In the days since the attack, those who know Fleischman and Thomas have agonized over how to express their sorrow, anger and compassion. Even as the discussions turn to the differences between privilege and underclass, they circle back to one main point: Despite this violent act, acceptance among the young of kids of varying gender orientations is spreading across demographic lines.
posted by Lexica at 4:07 PM on November 19, 2013


God, if only everyone had the patience and compassion of that father.

And I am glad to see reporters digging in further, even if the comments are still a bunch of hornets.
posted by klangklangston at 5:21 PM on November 19, 2013


FWIW: I asked the conlanging community to contribute to a joint "get well soon" card & letter for Sasha. I delivered it to them at the hospital, and we talked a bit (I promised that it would be off the record, so please don't ask me to comment on anything like their medical condition. All I can say is that Saint Francis Memorial Hospital is excellent and has a specialized burn unit.)

Here are the conlang community card & letters:
http://conlang.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/Sasha-card.pdf
http://conlang.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/Sasha-letters.pdf

Sasha's $20k medical fund has been fully met, but the family has re-opened the funding page for contributions to go to supporting relevant organizations: http://fundly.com/helping-sasha-fleischman-have-a-speedy-recovery
posted by saizai at 4:42 AM on November 24, 2013


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