Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Student banned for game map of school

Fort Bend Now, April 30 2007

Members of the area Chinese community have rallied behind a Clements High School senior who was removed from the campus and sent to M.R. Wood Alternative Education Center after parents complained he’d created a computer game map of Clements.

About 70 people attended the Fort Bend Independent School District’s April 23 meeting to show support for the Clements senior and his mother, Jean Lin, who spoke to FBISD Board trustees in a closed session.

While an agenda document does not specify details, the board is holding a special meeting tonight to address the boy’s actions and the discipline that was meted out as a result, sources close to the matter say. The boy’s name was not identified last week, and the district has declined to discuss his case.

Richard Chen, president of the Fort Bend Chinese-American Voters League and a acquaintance of the boy’s family, said he is a talented student who enjoys computer games and learned how to create maps (also sometimes known as “mods”), which provide new environments in which games may be played.

The map the boy designed mimicked Clements High School. And, sources said, it was uploaded either to the boy’s home computer or to a computer server where he and his friends could access and play on it. Two parents apparently learned from their children about the existence of the game, and complained to FBISD administrators, who investigated.

“They arrested him,” Chen said of FBISD police, “and also went to the house to search.” The Lin family consented to the search, and a hammer was found in the boy’s room, which he used to fix his bed, because it wasn’t in good shape, Chen said. He indicated police seized the hammer as a potential weapon.

“They decided he was a terroristic threat,” said one source close to the district’s investigation.

Sources said that although no charges were filed against the boy, he was removed from Clements, sent to the district’s alternate education school and won’t be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies with classmates.

“All he did was create a map and put it on a web site to allow students to play,” Chen said. “The mother thinks this is too harsh.”

FBISD officials declined to comment on the matter Monday. “Our challenge is, people in the community have freedom of speech and can say what they want, but we have laws” covering privacy issues, especially involving minors, that the district has to respect, said spokeswoman Nancy Porter.

Speakers at the FBISD Board’s April 23 meeting alluded to the Clements senior’s punishment, and drew a connection to the April 16 shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in which a Korean student shot and killed 32 people.

The Asian community “faces new pressures” as a result of the shootings, William Sun told board members. “We urge the school and community not to label our Asian students as terrorists.”

“We should teach our children not to judge others harshly” and not to target people as being a threat because of their race, said Peter Woo, adding that the school district should lead the way in such efforts.

But Chen said Monday he and other community members don’t consider FBISD’s actions in the case to be racially motivated, and don’t think they blew the incident out of proportion.

“They all think the principal has to do something – but how much? We do understand with the Virginia Tech incident…something has to be done,” Chen said. “Someone just made a mistake, and we think the principal should understand that.”

We need to start questioning student's motives and intentions before taking disciplinary action against them. A student mapping out their school in Counter-Strike is no more of a threat to the student who maps out their home in The Sims. Many students have done things like this; last year, a student who had modeled and textured a map of our campus for a Computer Science assignment converted it into a Battlefield 1942 map for himself and his friends. It was distributed on campus and received a positive write-up in the student newspaper. That student is no more likely to actually drive a tank into our student center than this student is to run around the halls with a machine gun, or for Sims players to lock the bathroom door and watch houseguests starve to death. Hell, I know people who replicated their hometowns in SimCity 2000 ten years ago and wiped out their schools with tornadoes. Why are there any adults in existence who would consider these things threatening, let alone in places of power?

It's called fantasy, and it's everyday part of human life. Administrators and officials need to exercise some common sense and judgment in determining what is harmless fantasy and what is legally threatening. People create with what they're familiar with; ever wonder why Stephen King writes so much about Maine? Representing familiar environments in interactive virtual worlds is actually an area of sophisticated research in universities today, looking for the next level of human interaction with their environments and recognizing the inherent differences therein.

There is a distinction to be made in how we exercise our First Amendment rights, at what point we cross the line from expressing an opinion (a basic right) and inciting panic and fear of violence (not protected speech.) Since the infamous Jack Thompson has made this the subject of his latest case against posters on a message board making disparaging comments against him, it's probably a good idea to present some examples:

"Jack Thompson deserves to be stabbed."
"Jack Thompson ought to be stabbed."
"Somebody should stab Jack Thompson."
"I should stab Jack Thompson."
"I am going to stab Jack Thompson."

Now at what point does this cross the line from hyperbole to threat? And even in the latter case, any prosecutor in a court of law would have to provide more than verbal evidence to prove intent to commit a crime. In the absence of any specific people, methods or means, this student hasn't done anything even remotely threatening. Although we may consider his act to be in poor taste it's certainly not criminal.

Meanwhile, it's apparently legal for the police to search your property if a 3D map of your school for a video game is attributed to you.

The fact that police seized a hammer--not a hobby knife, not a BB gun, not a model rocket engine, but a hammer--as a potential weapon and labeled him a 'terrorist threat' is deeply troubling. It reeks of totalitarianism, to be able to arrest an American citizen who had committed no crimes and legally be able to ship them off to a military prison without the right to defend themselves, thanks to the suspension of Habeus Corpus for 'enemy combatants' labeled as Terrorists by the government, even within our own country. And lest you have faith in our government and are of the attitude that only criminals and undesirables will be affected by these procedures, keep in mind that the government will be making that distinction, NOT YOU.
In the oft-quoted words of Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left
to speak up for me.
We as a society need to fight for the rights of minorities, because the smallest minority of all is YOU--the individual. Maintain awareness of these events and call out those responsible.

1 comment:

CJ said...

This is simply mind-boggling. I have no further comments, really, simply a show of support and mindless repetition of how utterly shocking this kind of behavior is. These judges, these police officers, this kind of knuckling-under to the lunatic fringe and their hysterics is monstrous.

As a novelist, I've destroyed entire cities; I wiped out twenty blocks of lower Manhattan and penned tales about terrorists smuggling nuclear bombs into America before the first World Trade Tower attack. Should I be suspected? Should the letter openers and stapler one would find in my officer be "weapons" enough to allow them to drag me away as well?

Fright is no excuse for destruction of our real rights and freedoms. America is an ideal that is rapidly becoming a joke. When real terrorists like Bill Clinton and George Bush 2 are allowed to bomb other countries while most everyone says "no," is this our way of making ourselves feel good? "Well, I couldn't use my voice to keep the president from slaughtering anymore innocents, but I can put a harmless kid in jail for playing a video game." When does the insanity end?

I could keep ranting, but at this point, you're either with me, or calling the police to report me. Well, let 'em come. I've been looking to kick someone down the stairs for weeks now. Just let me get to the hardware store and get armed. Because, believe me, they can have my ballpeen when they pry it from my cold, dead, fingers.