8B he Statement Wednesday, April 7, 2010
GRAPPLING WITH SILENCE
BY SCOTT ELLSWORTH
Like many new teachers, I am
constantly seeking ways to get
my students to engage with the
material and to bringthe problems of
the real world into the often-artifi-
cial confines of the classroom.
Here at the University, where I
teach a course called "Crime, Race,
and the Law," I've had an easy time
of it. My students are bright, alert
and open to new ideas. But during
the winter 2009 semester, they also
learned an unexpected lesson, one
they are not likely to soon forget.
In my classes, my students and I
grapple with the complex ways that
race impacts the nation's criminal
justice system. And two semesters
ago, we enlisted the help of a number
of guest speakers, including a federal
prosecutor, a retired judge, aparole
officer and a trio of public defenders.
But none of our visitors had been as
eagerly awaited as our last scheduled
guest, a young man known as Anto-
A minor character in "Getting
Ghost," Luke Bergmann's book about
African-American drug dealers in
Detroit, Antonio grew up along the
grim streets of the city's west side, a
poverty-ravaged moonscape of single
family homes and vacant lots, shut-
tered schools and shattered dreams.
In a city whose public school sys-
tem graduates less than'half of its
students, Antonio had started deal-
ing drugs by his thirteenth birthday,
and by the time he turned twenty-
one, he had been in and out of both
juvenile lock-up and adult prison.
Free once again, Antonio had been
looking forward to his upcomingvisit
to Ann Arbor. But as it turned out, he
wouldn't be coming after all.
Like many newly released ex-con-
victs, Antonio had found his previous
lifestyle to be either too alluring, or,
in a city where unemployment hov-
ers at around 30 percent and jobs for
cides in Detroit, Antonio's murder
will likely never be officially solved
- a chilling reality that the city's
population is all too familiar with.
But white Detroiters living in the
suburbs, on the other hand, probably
won't hear of it at all. In the subur-
ban editions of the Detroit News and
the Detroit Free Press that I picked
convicted felons are almost impossi- up the next day, the only crime with-
ble to find, practically irreplaceable. in the city limits that received any
Last - spring, he had apparently attention was one involving the body
been dealing drugs again in his old of a young white woman found inside
neighborhood when he was informed an abandoned house..
But the flipside -
"Instead of finding the customer, that is, had Antonio's
- likely murderers been
Antonio and a female companion white - is equally
unsettling. Unlike the
... found only death." case of Oscar Grant,
the 28-year-old Afri-
that a reliable customer was wait- was shot to death by a white transit
ing for him at a nearby street cor- officer in Oakland, Calif. on Jan. 1
ner. Instead of finding the customer, 2009, the murder of Antonio Phelps
Antonio and a female companion won't generate any protest marches
- a young woman whom, it seems, or calls for Congressional action.
had merely been looking for a lift to Unlike the 1999 slaying of Ama-
a nearby grocery store - found only dou Diallo, it's unlikely that, a decade
death. later, candidates for public office
Shot twice in the head, undoubt- will be asked for their position on
edly by rival dealers, Antonio died Antonio's death. Unlike Jasper, Tex.,
instantly. or even Jena, La., the often-deadly
As with two-thirds of all homi- streets of the west side of Detroit
won't likely become anyone's rally-
Instead, the uneasy truth of the
matter is that young African-Ameri-
can men killing other young African-
American men in the United States
isn't just not news anymore, it has also
fallen out of public discourse. Despite
the fact that homicide is still the lead-
ing cause of death for black boys and
men between the ages of 10 and 24
in the United States, we, as a nation,
have turned our heads the other way.
Consumed by other problems, we now
have other things on our mind.
My students certainly do. With the
semester winding down, and signs
of spring finally starting to appear
across campus, they have already
started turning their thoughts to
graduation and summer jobs, law
school and spring football.
But a late young drug dealer
named Antonio Phelps - someone
that my students had read about but
will never meet - will leave them
with one final tutorial, an object les-
son about how the nation sometimes
responds to some of its most intrac-
It's called silence. E
- Scott Ellsworth is a lecturer
in the Center for Afroamerican
and African Studies.
From Page 5B
new forms speaks well of the tremen-
dous dedicationofstudents torightthe
wrongs of the world they live in.
Today, the spirit of the 60s activ-
ists lives on within dozens of
campus organizations dedi-
cated to peace, racial equality, gender
equality, immigrant rights, gay rights,
civil liberties, social justice, environ-
mental justice and drug legalization.
But one group that specifically chan-
nels the community-organizing core
of activism is the University's School
of Social Work. The fact that activ-
ism is now practiced and preached in
University classrooms is just one more
positive developmentsince the '60s.
"We are a profession with a code of
ethics," said Liz Gonzales, a graduate
student in the School of Social Work
who helped organize the confer-
ence. "Meet people where they're at,
For Gonzales, being a social worker
means listening to people, finding out
what's keeping them down and fixing
"You need to sit with a person and
hear their story, hear what's going on,
hear how systems are holding them
back from moving forward, from being
successful," Gonzales said.
Such an approach would certainly
please Haber, who still believes that
listening to each other is the only way
to end all the violence and exploitation,
from the wars inthe Middle East tothe
wars in our own hearts.
"You won't make peace without a
meeting," said Haber. "If we're going
to have peace in our little part of real-
ity, what are the questions that have
to be resolved? What are the prin-
ciples of resolution that bring justice
and restore what has been out of bal-
ance, and makes you at the end feel
like everyone has come out better?
The whole war system has to be dealt
Haber is still working to facilitate
these meetings. His dream is to hold
a gathering in Meggido, Israel - the
location of the Christian apocalypse as
described in the Book of Revelations
- where he hopes to preempt the war
to end all wars with a peace to prevent
all wars. As for his home town of Ann
Arbor, Haber is working to bring the
city community and the student popu-
lation closertogether, especiallyon the
issue of the Ann Arbor Public Library's
now defunct parking lot, which he
hopes to transform into a common
The face of activism may have
changed. It is of course the very nature
of radicals tobe excited for the future
rather than clingtothe past. But Haber
and his friends are still warriors for
peace, justice and equality. His words
for the conference attendees were
short and simple, yet elegant and apro-
pos. In so many ways, he still epitomiz-
es the burning passion and undying
dreamof the student activist. ,
"I hope you all will be part of the
choice for the new society rather than
the quiescenceof ratifying the old soci-
ety," he said.
With student activism still growing,
he won't have to worry about that any-
From Page 7B
to instill the importance of edu-
cation for her son and to this day,
Mesko works hard on his school-
work, making time for his studies
despite having to juggle football and
"During exam weeks, I would
have group meetings or study with
friends until two in the morning ...
and then I (had) to wake up at five in
the morning to go to a 6 a.m. work-
out," he said. "Investment bankers,
they work 100-plus hours a week
but they're sitting at their comput-
er. I'm running and lifting weights
with the same amount of sleep."
If he does end up in the business
world, Mesko said he would most
likely work for a consulting firm or
something in the financial district,
and maybe eventually start his own
business. He also keeps the option
open of potentially working around
his football career.
NOW, MESKO HAS a chance
to be an NFL punter or, if he choos-
es, to enter into the business world.
Either way, he's ready for both.
The first time Carr saw Mesko
punt, he knew there was something
different about the kid.
"What I knew was, this guy had
incredible potential and guys like
him don't come along every day,"
Carr said. "It didn't take long to
see that he was also very dedicated.
When he didn't have a good punt it
bothered him. He had a great pride
in being the best. In my judgment,
he had all the intangibles in addi-
tion to the great physical ability."
Though the road to Mesko's cur-
rent life may have been tough at
times, he and his family can look
back on their struggles in Romania
and smile, knowing things are bet-
Michael and Elizabeth made
a decision to come to the United
States for their son, and he's made
the most of his parents' sacrifice.
"Their willingness, just leave
their whole family behind and pack
up for a whole new life, a lot of it was
for Zoltan so he would have more
opportunities in his life," North said.
"It's a great story and you see Zoltan
knows that it's such a chance that
he's in this situation that I think he
really does everything he can in his
life to seize that opportunity." 0
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