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Off the Record (Dec 30, 2014)

WHAT WOULD VERN have done? The Fort Bragg basketball tourney is named after the late Vern Piver who, for many years, dedicated himself to youth sports, and when I invoke the overused and often misapplied term "dedicated," everyone who knew Vern also knew he spent many thousands of hours —almost every waking hour after his work in the timber industry — organizing and coaching the full range of youth sports, from little kids through high school age youth.

I HAVE NO IDEA how Vern would have reacted to two teams wearing message t-shirts as they warmed up for basketball games. And leave it to school administrators to blow up a low-key political expression in a small town far from everywhere into a national media storm, raging still as we go to press Monday afternoon. The school bosses banned the shirts and the basketball kids the shirts rode in on. And very shortly the ban became global news.

PAUL McCARTHY of MendocinoSportsPlus broke the story. We relayed Paul's initial reports on our website about how both Mendocino High School's basketball teams, boys and girls, were barred from the Fort Bragg High School Vern Piver hoops tourney for wearing t-shirts emblazoned, "I Can't Breathe," the reference of course being to the choking death by a white New York policeman of Eric Garner, a black man. The Mendo boys, except for one kid, the son of a CHP officer, agreed not to wear their shirts, but the Mendo girls said they'd stick to their 1st Amendment protections and wear theirs. The girls were barred from competition, which started Monday morning, but the Mendo boys are playing. McCarthy reported that at least one Coast resident has contacted the ACLU with, one assumes, an intention to bring a 1st Amendment suit against the Fort Bragg School District, and McCarthy sent an inquiry off to the ACLU to ask if they had indeed been contacted about the Fort Bragg controversy. The ACLU, he reported back, is off for the holidays (!).

WE THINK adult authority is wrong to censure young people for unpopular political statements. By the time a young person reaches the 11th or 12th grades, he and she has been exposed to many hours of mantra-like instruction that he and she live in a country that treasures, above all, unimpeded speech no matter how unpopular the opinions expressed.

NOT IN FORT BRAGG or Mendocino. Their young people have discovered that The Great Principle is null and void if it angers the people who have power over them, that rather than argue the issue the majority simply says, "You're wrong, and you can't say it here." Here, of course, is at, of all places, educational institutions where, all their young lives, they've been told free expression is what their country is all about, that many Americans have died so they can feel free in expressing their opinions.

THE EDU-FOLLOW-UP, on the off-chance there is any in either Mendocino or Fort Bragg, ought to be a group discussion with all perspectives on the controversy at the table, including the perspective of at least one cop. (I nominate Sheriff Allman or DA Eyster, both lively public speakers.) The Mendo kids involved here seem to have gotten only one perspective, one prevalent among local libs who don't seem willing to step out themselves, but a perspective loathed by a lot more local people who see it as a slam at local cops, which the affected students themselves, the Mendo girl's basketball team, have made clear is not the case. But the young hoopsters are unlikely to have heard a real discussion of what all's involved here. It's past time they did.

IT TAKES THREE 'EDUCATORS' to come up with the completely wrong claim that political statements on t-shirts worn by teenage basketball players are a threat to public safety? Pathetic, and one more lesson for “the kids” (all rise) that when basic democratic principles run up against a spineless school administration (is there any other kind?), the principles get chucked along with the young people who express them.

ONE MORE TIME: I think the national hysteria represented by the I Can't Breathe movement is just that — hysteria. Most cops go about their difficult work for whole careers without ever pulling their guns, let alone shooting anybody. But slam-dunking a bunch of kids for expressing a minority political opinion is simply shameful, not to mention an indication of the intellectual standards at the two Mendo Coast schools.

BUSH, Walker and Triplett, the three administrators, could stand some remedial instruction themselves. The sad thing is that spineless school administrators, inevitably backed up by spine-free school boards, hire spineless teachers, and the whole stultifying K-12 show makes sheep out of young people, the educational "experience" instilling in young people that they're better off not participating in political life, let alone as a dissident. If they do participate, their opinions won't be respected, and they sure as hell won't be protected by Fort Bragg and Mendocino School authorities.

INCIDENTALLY, there was no protest from anyone this football season when Mendocino High School postponed their homecoming week out of respect for Yom Kippur, a clear violation of another Constitutional principle — separation of church and state. Imagine the howls from the Mendocino Coast's liberals if homecoming had been postponed for a week so the Church of Christ could lead students in Bible study?

AP, The New York Times, the Guardian of London, and even Al Jazeera have picked up Fort Bragg's I Can't Breathe t-shirt ban. The Press Democrat ran the AP story until they finally came up with their own story. The Fort Bragg Advocate snoozes on as does, of course, Mendocino County Public Radio or, as it falsely calls itself, "Free speech radio." None of the big media, save the PD, has credited Paul McCarthy of Elk who broke the story on his MendocinoSportsPlus blog a week ago.

THE CONTROVERSY is breaking down nationally as what loosely passes for the “Left” claiming that the police are out of hand everywhere while the Right is suggesting that criticism of the police anywhere is a form of subversion. The “Left” is going so far as to say that we already live in a police state, which is a huge insult to the millions of people around the globe who live in real police states and speak out on a range of subjects at the risk of their lives.

BLESS the Mendocino girl's basketball team. By refusing to honor the shirt ban, they provide heartening evidence that not all young people are brain dead, and that they understand what kind of country they're supposed to be living in, even if their administrators don't.

Mendo Girls Varsity players: (Front row, left to right) Aimee Gordon, Naomi Baker, Sunny Scott; (Back row) Isobell Hall & Michaela Hubbard [courtesy MendocinoSportsPlus].
Mendo Girls Varsity players: (Front row, left to right) Aimee Gordon, Naomi Baker, Sunny Scott; (Back row) Isobell Hall & Michaela Hubbard [courtesy MendocinoSportsPlus].
ME? I thought you'd never ask. My reaction is that I think the Hands Up, Don't Shoot stance implies that white cops are out there randomly gunning down black people to satisfy their racist blood lust, which I don't believe is the case. The slogan also implies that we've made no racial progress in our sad country, which is also false.

EACH of the shooting episodes that have cumulatively set off this national hysteria maligning all cops as state-sanctioned psycho killers occurred in dissimilar circumstances. Collectively, they hardly represent a pattern of arbitrary police shootings. That said, there are lots of police departments across the land who should have many more black officers and who also need to revisit training methods which, basically, instill in cops, "There's us, and there's them," and them are a bunch of lowdown scumdogs.

DEPT. OF SODDEN THOUGHTS: Those New York cops who turn their backs on their mayor seem to think they're an end in themselves, a special category of citizen. Back turning on civil authority by policemen working in a democratic context is definitely police state-thinking.

OAKY JOE! The legendary Redwood Valley agriculturist produces, hands down, the best calendar you'll see. OJ called the other day to tell us his calendars were ready, but he didn't leave a call back number or a location for pickup. Everyone who sees one, wants one. Each, as aficionados know, feature a local marijuana maiden fetchingly posed against a 12-foot pot plant, a definitive Mendo collector's item and so popular in my circles (where the drug of choice is whisky) that they made me promise to get them one this year. Joe?

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS  PARAGRAPH?  "But the conversation can’t happen until police departments understand that some criticism of them is legitimate; that not everyone who levels criticisms is a cop-hater; and that in a democratic society, no institution is above criticism and accountability. We don’t criticize the armed services much in America these days—this isn’t the early 1970s, with anti-Vietnam protesters cruelly calling legless veterans pigs and so on—but by God, when something goes haywire (Abu Ghraib), at least there are some prosecutions and forced retirements. The CIA spends years getting away with the stuff it gets away with, but eventually, something happens like this month’s Senate report, and with any luck a couple of heads will roll." (Michael Tomasky)

LOTS CONCEPTUALLY, but specifically this sentence: "We don't criticize the armed services much in America these days — this isn't the early 1970s, with anti-Vietnam (sic) protesters cruelly calling legless veterans pigs and so on....."

NEVER HAPPENED. Straight up lie of the straight-up lie prevalent among the right wing in the Vietnam era: "I came home from fighting the war in Vietnam and the hippies spit on me and called me a baby killer." That never happened either, but Congressman Thompson once put it out there and it still circulates, but Tomasky, a "liberal" of the type now dominant at The Nation where he's a contributor, has taken the pernicious big lie of the 60s and updated it.

GOVERNOR BROWN has declared states of emergency for four rain-damaged counties — Marin, San Mateo, Ventura, and Mendocino. The proclamation says the recent storms caused damage to roads from mudflows, debris, floods and erosion. Mendo can get some federal repair money.

THE EFFECTS of The Drought haven't been remedied by the recent rains, but Lake Mendocino, our visual guide to Mendocino County's water health, is filling up. No longer is the crucial reservoir the vast mud puddle it's been for several years.

KAREN RIFKIN'S hazy story on the Mendocino Environment Center in a Ukiah Daily Journal of last week has her history wrong, and if there's a better place than Mendocino County to get history wrong, I haven't heard of it. Wrong history about the MEC and Redwood Summer is a kind of specialty of local history re-writers.

THE MEC WAS FOUNDED in 1987 by five people: John McCowen (who owns the building housing the MEC); Lang Russell, a uniquely catatonic fellow who never seemed to me quite all there; Patricia Lawrence who, I believe, still lives on the Mendocino Coast; and Gary and Betty Ball who bounced in with Earth First's Judi Bari and bounced out when Bari died in 1997.

THE MEC was not founded "in 1999 by 9 individuals" as Rifkin has it and the "height of Redwood Summer" was not 1996 as Rifkin also has it. Redwood Summer peaked in 1990.

IF THE TRUE history of the Mendocino Environment Center is ever written it'll be a "blast," so to speak, but it is unlikely to be told because the true history of the Redwood Summer period seriously inconveniences the handful of opportunists who profited from it. Some inconvenient facts and opinions are available at

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