If Malls Aren’t Safe, What Is?

images-2While many people expect the biggest hassle of malls to be waiting in long lines, that was not the case this past Saturday in Kenya. Between ten and fifteen terrorists took siege of Westgate Mall in the capital city of Nairobi, shooting people and taking hostages as they made their way from store to store. The Westgate Mall, an upscale shopping center, is a popular destination for rich businessmen and wealthy Kenyans. Many come who live on only a couple of dollars a day; some work in the grocery store and shops, while others only come to watch.

The first group of terrorists stormed in through the front entrance, throwing grenades and shooting rifles as they moved. The gunmen questioned individual’s faith, only releasing Muslims while targeting the others. They were very meticulous in separating the Muslims from those who did not share the same beliefs, besides when they sprayed bullets into crowds. A four year old non-Muslim boy was spared after telling one of the armed shooters, “You’re a very bad man”. At least sixty-seven civilians died, 175 remain injured, and sixty-two remain hospitalized. Among the deaths were six British citizens, two French nationals, two Indians, and two Canadians, including a diplomat.

It took four days for the Kenyan authorities to defeat the terrorists. Kenyatta, the president of Kenya, stated, “We confronted this evil without flinching, confronted our deep grief and pain, and conquered it”. The Kenya Red Cross reported sixty-five people have still not been found. Three floors of the mall collapsed, caused by fires and explosions, trapping bodies underneath. Janet Mwikali lingered outside the mall holding her granddaughter on Monday, waiting for any word about her husband who worked in the mall’s grocery store who was among the missing. “I have hope, and I pray. He’s the love of my life,” she said.

images-1The siege was the bloodiest attack by terrorists in Kenya since 1998, when the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was bombed. The terrorists were believed to be a part of the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terror group. The group has threatened Kenya since 2011, when Kenyan soldiers stopped the action of al-Qaida-linked militants. The ethnicities of the attackers is another important part in determining the reason behind the attacks. There were reports of several Americans and a British woman among the group of shooters, but this could not be confirmed. A U.S. connection on intelligence reports has been looked into, but the solidarity of this was looking less likely. There is also not enough evidence to prove that the woman in the group was in fact Samantha Lewthwaite, born in Britain, before the forensic examiner has looked at her body. Kenya has been a strong component to the U.S. in working against Islamist terrorism. This attack is thought to have been planned well in advance, and  members had probably searched out the mall to get a feel. According to CNN, an email was received from the al-Shabab, which stated, “any part of the Kenyan territory is a legitimate target. … Kenya should be held responsible for the loss of life.”

When I heard about this story on the news it really hit me. People go to malls all the time, and it could happen anywhere in the world. So many innocent people were killed or injured that day just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many were slaughtered because they did not share the same faith at the terrorists, something that is the right of every human being. Although this is in a foreign country and the Constitution has no meaning outside of the United States, people are persecuted here as well for their beliefs, even with the First Amendment. There were even reports of Americans being a part of the gunmen. If we cannot be safe in upscale centers full of high security, can we ever feel like we are not in a possibly dangerous situation? It is almost unimaginable to think about being in this situation and not knowing how quickly the outcome could change. The government cannot always stop attacks like these, which is a terrifying thought. People lost innocent loved ones because of an action made by the government that angered a group of people. While it will be a long recovery process for the families who lost loved ones, the people of Kenya have already banded together to help each other through this tragedy. They have  donated blood and started raising money to contribute to the victims. According to Fox News, Kenyatta states, “Our attackers wished to destroy the essential character of our society. They failed. Kenya endured. Kenya endures.”

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The Filter Bubble: Helpful or Harmful?

In the modern day’s notion of the internet and social media, some people tend to think that they can view whatever they want, whenever they want, and however they want to view it. But this proves to be not fully true as Eli Pariser points out in his TED Talk over the, “Filter Bubble.” The reality of how the government filters out what we are able to research on the internet are shocking. I think that by blocking out certain aspects that some other people may be able to see, we are deprived of understanding the full knowledge of our researched topic.

Eli Pariser giving his TED Talk over the Filter Bubble

Eli Pariser giving his TED Talk over the Filter Bubble

Pariser brings up some interesting points about how we live in an altered state of mind. He explains how two different people could type in a commonly searched topic, like Obama, and the two people would get different search results. This is due to the tracking of what we previously search for on the internet, and our searches are saved and documented to filter other searches. I find this fascinating, but also kind of annoying. I understand and appreciate (in a sense) the clarifying of our somewhat complicated search results to better suit what we may like to what we may not like, but I also think this can create a close-minded view of the world. If I were to look up something I would need for a research paper, I might only be collecting information from one opinion and not even know it because I’m not the one who is filtering the results. This could reduce my comprehension of the topic I wanted to learn more about. Take Google for example. In July-December 2010, Google received 4,601 data requests from the U.S. government. They ask for these data samples so that they can know what to filter through during your search results. It is said that the most reliable source of information comes from the radio or television, not the internet, and many people are people are starting to take notice.

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I think the whole idea of constricting our point of view (in a way we don’t even realize) is very interesting. I notice that every time I log onto Facebook, I see ads pop up in the sides of my screen that I usually enjoy. They are products I would actually buy! If I were typing in, ‘Homecoming Dresses,’ the ads on the side of my Facebook page would have to do with clothing or high school or some kind of similar thing. I actually do like this aspect of filtering; it makes it easier to look for things that would sometimes be harder to narrow down. Another positive thing about the Filter Bubble is that it is an individual, personalized search engine that we don’t have to manipulate ourselves. But that is also the same point that makes it negative- we can’t manipulate it ourselves. This limits our exposure and hinders learning and creativity to anyone and everyone researching something. As stated in a blog post I read that was reviewing the Filter Bubble, I stumbled upon a good point as to why this is a negative thing that the government is doing. “We are biased to believe what we see, and filters affect what we see. They reinforce what we already believe, and hide different opinions. Therefore they dramatically amplify our existing confirmation biases. They also reduce the confusion which is inherent in the world, and since such confusion drives us to seek new information, they make us lazily stick to our existing beliefs.”

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I think that stopping the Filter Bubble altogether would actually help us absorb the news as a whole, instead of bits and pieces. We should not have to limit our resources to just the newspaper or the radio to get information on the current news happening in our world when we have the World Wide Web at our fingertips. The government is preventing us from being a democracy by, in a sense, making us look at certain things and block out certain things. I believe that if we did not have the Filter Bubble, people would better understand every point of view.

http://www.thefilterbubble.com/

http://dontbubble.us/

Welcome!

Welcome to our blog!

This is a class blog authored by student contributors and curated by their teacher, Dave Ostroff.

The posts on this blog are part of an ongoing assignment in our Government classes at All Saints’ Episcopal School (Ft. Worth, TX). The major goal of our course is to prepare students for responsible citizenship in the 21st century. Students post reflection pieces on a rotating basis. We invite you to return often and read what we write!

Please read the specifics of our class blog assignment here.

View our class blogging and commenting guidelines here.

Special thanks to Mike Gwaltney and his AP US Government and Politics students for providing the inspiration for this project!

STOP the Frisk

Stop_and_Frisk_ACLU_report_cover_graphicNot only do I believe the Stop and Frisk law in New York City is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, but it raises many issues concerning racial discrimination and may fray the trust between police officers and civilians.  When I am walking around town I feel safe.  I feel safe because I trust people and because I know I will not at any point be stopped and searched by a random police officer.  This has nothing to do with the fact that I am an 18 year old, white female, who is probably hanging out with friends or family.  It is because I know my city obeys the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution and continues to respect my personal space.

Stop and Frisk laws in New York City give officers permission to stop and search any persons who they believe to be suspicious at any time.  I understand this law was set up having the safety of the people of New York in mind, but I believe this law is simply an invasion of privacy.  If police officers are allowed to conduct a full body search at random on the side of the road, what’s next?

The Fourth Amendment of the constitution of the United States prohibits any unreasonable searches and seizures and sets out requirements for search warrants based on a probable cause.  I do not believe that a questionable suspicious person is a reasonable reason to conduct a search.  If governments are now allowing people to be randomly searched on the side of the road, this could lead to further laws that violate the rights of our amendments.  Once government begins to alter some of our rights, what is stopping them from violating other amendments we have as US citizens?

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Along with the argument of whether or not the “Stop and Frisk” laws go against our rights as Unites States citizens, there have been many questions raised about racial discrimination during the Stop and Frisk process.  Many argue that police have been discriminating against minorities and incorrectly accusing them of being suspicious. While I understand how this may be a concern and issue for many, I also believe that it is equally unfair to accuse a police officer of being racist if they are only trying to do their job.  Upset, many blacks and Latinos began to protest in New York City demanding not to be considered a threat solely based on the color of their skin or ethnicity.  Whether someone is being frisked based on the color of their skin, or based on the fact that they look suspicious is a hard call to make because there is no actual hard evidence on either side of the spectrum.  In this photo, we see both a black and a white man being frisked on the side of the street.  In my opinion, it would be just as unfair to be accuse police officers of racial discrimination as it would be for the police officers to actually be discriminating against the a man or woman of color.

My final issue with the Stop and Frisk law is the embarrassment and level of discomfort it may bring, along with the broken trust between civilians and police officers.  As an eighteen-year-old girl, I would feel extremely violated if I was to be stopped on the side of the road and given a full body searched based on the fact that I looked “suspicious.”  This level of discomfort could lead to distrust with officers.  With the Stop and Frisk laws, I believe police officers will become a threat rather then someone who is there to help in times of danger.

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While I do believe the Stop and Frisk laws in New York were created to protect the people of the city, I think it is causing more problems than it is helping.  Not only does this law violate our rights and is an invasion of privacy, but it also causes many problems with racial discrimination and issues concerning discomfort and trust.

The Scars of Stop and Frisk: Racial Profiling?

Stop and Frisk is a program in New York city in which the New York City Police Department stop and question thousands and thousands of pedestrians annually, and frisk them for dangerous weapons and other contraband. About 684,000 people were stopped in 2011, most of them being African-American or Latino. Unknown-3 6.20.29 PMimages-2 6.20.33 PM

“The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices raise serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights. The Department’s own reports on its stop-and-frisk activity confirm what many people in communities of color across the city have long known: The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino.” The New York Civil Liberties Union website has plenty of information about the Stop and Frisk Campaign. Some data from this site shows that:

In 2012, police stopped the citizens of New York 532,911 times.

473,644 were totally innocent (89 percent).

284,229 were black (55 percent).

165,140 were Latino (32 percent).

50,366 were white (10 percent).

From this data we can see that it is obvious there is a bit of racial profiling going on here, whether it be accidental or not, it is happening and many of the people of New York want it to stop. Another table of Stop and Frisk data shoes that there is indeed more minorities being stopped than whites. 52% were African-American, 31% Hispanic, and only 10% Caucasian. This video from the New York Times website is a great source to hear from a victim himself. “The Scars of Stop and Frisk” is a short documentary film on New York’s stop-and-frisk policing focuses on Tyquan Brehon, a young man in Brooklyn who says he was stopped more than 60 times before age 18. images-5 6.20.29 PM

In my opinion, Stop and Frisk is wrong and right at the same time. I think it is wonderful for the Police Departments to be trying to constantly protect the citizens of New York, but I also believe that stopping and searching citizens randomly is wrong, unfair and unjust. One thing that makes this campaign so controversial is the fact that it is unconstitutional. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution is the part of the Bill of Rights and it prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. Because of this amendment, many people argue that the Stop and Frisk campaign is unconstitutional and should therefore be eliminated.

Fourth AmendmentThe Fourth Amendment states that it is unlawful for citizens to be subject to unreasonable searches and seizures if there is not a probable cause, so, as a solution to this controversy, I believe that the New York City Police Department should have a probable cause to stop a citizen before actually stopping him or her. This way, by stating a probable cause to the suspect, there is less misunderstanding that so much racial profiling is involved. If people are given a reason as to why they are being stopped and searched, they will feel more comfortable that they are not being stopped and searched because of their race. Furthermore, there is factual evidence that a very small percent of the people that are topped annually by the NYPD are actually innocent. This chart from the New York Civil Liberties union shows that only a small portion of the suspects were a threat anyways, so, by having probable cause, the NYPD can refrain from pulling someone aside and wasting time. This data shows that “Only two percent of frisks resulted in a weapon found.” This means that only 1 in every 50 people were actually a threat to the public. By having a probable cause, the citizens of New York can be happy that there is less assumption of racial profiling and the New York City Police Department can be happy that it will save them time and trouble. Thanks for reading!     Jane Speaker

Taking Care of America

During a discussion about the situation in Syria, a comment was made that struck a chord with me. A student said, “Before we can take care of other countries, we have to take care of ourselves.” This got me thinking- what should we be taking care of in our own country? According to the United States Census Bureau, last year 46.5 million people living in the United States were living in poverty. These are people who do not have the monetary means to support themselves, and/or do not live a standard of life that is accepted by society. In 2011, 46.2 million people in our country were living in food insecure homes. A food insecure home is one in which there is no promise of a next meal.

After reading these statistics, I wanted to know what teenagers, like myself, could do to make a difference to reduce hunger in our nation. How can teens do things to bring attention back to the problems in our country? A very effective way to directly make an impact on hunger in our own communities is volunteering. Food banks need help repackaging food for distribution and shelters need people to help serve food. Donating money is another way to contribute to the cause by giving financial aid to the families and individuals in need or by giving to organizations like “Feeding America” and “No Kid Hungry”.

If volunteering or making a donation is not feasible, there are also ways to indirectly play a part in the fight against hunger. There are many profit and nonprofit organizations that take the initiative to develop laws to provide assistance to those who cannot afford to keep food on their tables. Joining their causes in your community and on a national level is an easy way to get involved. Every source that I used agreed on the importance of raising awareness. In high schools, the opportunities to raise awareness are endless. The more creative, the better. Host a benefit concert, have a can collecting contest between classes, or use existing organizations and clubs to attract attention. Raising awareness can be done in countless ways, some requiring as little effort as liking an organization like Feeding America’s page on Facebook.

Hunger is an issue that seems untouchable after looking at the numbers. How can one     person help 46.2 million people? One person can make a difference. By volunteering, donating, and spreading the word, one person can touch lives and influence others to join the movement to end hunger. One person becomes ten, which becomes one hundred with the right effort. Even if it’s just becoming educated about the situation in our country, it’s time to start taking care of America.

 

Sources:

http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/index.html

http://feedingamerica.org/

http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/us_hunger_facts.htm

http://www.nokidhungry.org/problem/hunger-facts 

 

Cat burns itself alive because it is bored of Syria in the news

Right now, whenever I hear the name “Syria”, I just want to cover my ears, as I do with many other trending political topics. It makes me frustrated whenever we talk about this touchy situation because it always results in two extreme options: war or isolationism. While I like to keep my opinion versatile and factual, the information and reasoning on both sides of the spectrum leaves me perplexed. Why would we want either of those? If we were to not go to war, there would be more Syrian casualties, and surrounding countries would get the impression that if someone crosses Pres. Obama’s ‘red-line’, no consequences would come of it. Whereas if we did go to war, it would rustle unnecessary feathers, and it would be expensive.

As I researched both arguments, I noticed that I agreed with bits and pieces of each, as well as disagreed. But we all have one common theme and ultimate goal: peace. And then I thought… Why can’t we meet somewhere in the middle of isolationism and war? I thought some more. And turns out we can. What if, instead of launching missiles and bad attitudes, we sent humanitarian aid to the rebels of the Free Syrian Army? Again, just a thought.
America supports democracy, no? Well, so does the Free Syrian Army.
PEACE YO

Some people are concerned with Al-Qaeda’s involvement, and yes, their involvement is something to be concerned about. However, we should have CIA in Syria, right now, figuring out who is with each rebel group. Because it is not just the Syrian government v. the rebels, + Al-Qaeda. There are many different and separated clusters of rebels. America should support the Free Syrian Army through supplies, food, and medical aid. By doing this, America would be helping the democratic rebels overthrow and rebuild the Syrian government. We would be indirectly at ‘war’ with Bashar Al Assad, but our troops and missiles would never have to be deployed and we would be taking direct action in response to the crossing of the “red-line”.
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I know that since I am young and not the president, that my say does not truly make a difference in how these political choices will pan out. Until I began my own personal research, I discovered that it is definitely possible to find that “happy medium”. But I’m confused as to why this peaceful and, dare I say, sneaky option has not risen to major headlines yet? I’m concerned that with my generation, as well as any generation that uses social media frequently, is uninformed. I’m uninformed! I’m uninformed because I’m lazy and don’t want to look this stuff up. I already see my Facebook page and see my two options to side with: war and isolationism. I see all that I needed to see. I see all that I think I need to see. But… that’s all that I can see.

My true observation regarding Syria is not to butcher anyone else’s ideas and say that “I have a plan that beats yours”, but to observe that I am uninformed and that I can’t blame being uninformed on anyone else but myself. It is my responsibility, and I feel like many people, like myself, thought that what was on the headlines or news feeds, was all there was to it. I read two recent pieces in New York Times newspaper and Times magazine that gave me a lot of credible information in a small articles. I honestly haven’t searched anything into my Google Toolbar, or ever truly read the newspaper, in ample depth regarding Syria, until this assignment. And I’m happy that I got to.

Work Cited:

Pictures are hyperlinked.

Time Magazine Article:
http://swampland.time.com/2013/09/11/obama-and-syria-stumbling-toward-damascus/

New York Times.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323527004579077401049154032.html