Author explains writing “If Michael Vick were white”

An ESPN piece (and picture) that considered what might have happened if Michael Vick was white has received a lot of attention. The author explains his thought process here:

Tonight somewhere in America two men will be arrested for DUI. Many people get arrested for this every day. Surely some will be black and some will be white. Does the fact that people of both races will be arrested for this prove that it’s not a racial situation? No. Does the ratio of those arrests as compared to the population perhaps prove that it is in fact a racial situation? Sure, but almost every situation is racialized.

One black driver may be arrested because the police who notice him are hypersensitive to black drivers in BMWs, so he’s the victim of Driving While Black even though it turns out that he also had a little too much to drink. Meanwhile maybe another black driver is swerving and it’s obvious he’s a problem before the officers can clearly see his face. The point is race is too nuanced to be looked at in a simplistic way. And this “switch test” should be discredited and thrown out…

Am I saying that we’re in a post-racial society and race no longer matters? Absolutely not. “Post-racial” is a meaningless term that people who have a sophisticated understanding of race do not use without an ironic smirk. I hate that dumb term and am dismayed at the number of people who think it’s indicative of modern America. It is not. Race still matters. But I think nowadays it often matters, or comes into play, in ways that are more subtle or nuanced than we care to admit.

The key points here:

1. Race still matters.

2. Race is complicated.

Both of these points should be remembered when talking about this article or about other matters that involve race.

This reminds of one reason that I am a sociologist: we don’t rely on singular situations like this. Thinking about Michael Vick can be a helpful exercise but ultimately, it is just one case. Had a number of factors been different, Vick’s skin color, background, football performance, etc., the outcome would likely be very different. But if we look at the more complete picture, whether it is all NFL players or all of American society, we can see how race still matters. Take NFL players: there has been some interesting research about the quarterback position and how race plays into conceptions of who is able to take on that role. Take American society: there is plenty of evidence that the criminal justice system heavily penalizes certain kinds of crimes more than others, certain groups have much higher incarceration rates, and certain groups are treated differently by the authorities.

Another question we could ask: how does the Michael Vick situation illustrate different approaches of justice? I’ve suggested before that it seems like some will never be happy that Vick has tasted success again and this raises questions about whether Americans should pursue retribution or rehabilitation through the criminal justice system.

“Electronic justice” after Vancouver riots

Some online responses to the recent Vancouver riots (see here and here) are now being called “electronic justice“:

The more than 3,000 words posted online (replicated in full below) were called an apology and it seemed a remarkable display of contrition by a young woman caught on video looting a tuxedo rental outlet, wearing a Canucks shirt and a broad grin, during Vancouver’s ignoble Stanley Cup riot. But the screed that followed dished as much justification and vitriol as self-flagellation and regret, leaving many readers cold to Camille Cacnio’s reconciliation.

It is seen as the next stage in an emerging form of “electronic justice” that has accompanied the riot. The naming and shaming came first, a time-honoured way for a community to express dismay and disgust, as people posted photos of suspected perpetrators online. It was a modern version of the medieval stocks, when an offender was held in a square for public humiliation. It seemed a suitable response: a mob exposing participants in a mob; crowdsourcing v. herd mentality.

But the extent and viciousness of the online identifications and humiliation is causing discomfort as well. Self-appointed cyber sheriffs emailed the employers, family, schools of the suspects…

Christopher Schneider, sociology professor at the University of British Columbia, calls it “vigilante justice in cyberspace…. It is a very dangerous path we’re taking. It is quite unsettling. The role of social media in this is profound.”

I’m sure this could be tied to larger discussions about online anonymity and what people are willing to do online that they may not be willing to do in person.

I’m not sure what the lesson is for the woman who posted this long apology. On one hand, it sounds like she wanted to take some responsibility. On the other hand, she simply made herself a bigger target. Perhaps we could settle on this: beware what one posts and/or admits online.

I wonder what the “employers, family, schools of suspects” did when they received news of who had been involved in the riots. Without such emails, many might not have known who was involved. But regardless of how they find out, are these collectives obligated to take action?

If this “electronic justice” is dangerous, might we reach a point where authorities crack down? Already, more websites have become much more strict about what comments they will tolerate.

The land of 100,000 lawsuits

Some enterprising anonymous researcher has determined that almost 100,000 copyright infringement lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. in the past year:

In the United States the judicial system is currently being overloaded with new cases, but the scope of the issue was never really clear until now. An anonymous TorrentFreak reader has spent months compiling a complete overview of all the mass P2P lawsuits that have been filed in the US since the beginning of 2010, listing all the relevant case documents and people involved in a giant spreadsheet.

The research shows that between 8th January 2010 and 21st January 2011, a total of 99,924 individuals have been sued. The vast majority of the defendants have allegedly used BitTorrent to share copyrighted works but a few hundred ed2k users are also included.

Of the 80 cases that were filed originally, 68 are still active, with 70,914 defendants still in jeopardy.

The raw data is available is spreadsheet form over on Google Docs.

As the disparity between 80 and 70,914 indicates, these types of lawsuits completely overwhelm the courts.  The U.S. justice system is simply not set up to handle this kind of volume, especially for suits as notoriously tricky to argue as copyright infringement.