Skidmore assault case winds down

So the assault by four black and Hispanic Skidmore students of a white guy in downtown Saratoga Spri
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So the assault by four black and Hispanic Skidmore students of a white guy in downtown Saratoga Springs is not being charged as a hate crime after all but rather as a simple assault, a misdemeanor, which the principal assailant, Justin Tavarez, has pleaded guilty to.

“The hate crime statute is very narrowly defined,” Saratoga County District Attorney Jim Murphy told me. “Just because it’s not a hate crime doesn’t mean it’s not racially motivated.”

You need a direct connection between the crime and something like a racial epithet to make clear what the motive is, and that was missing in this case.

The Skidmore students didn’t say anything offensive to the white guy they assaulted. They said something offensive to the black guy he was with, who was actually an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, George Parker. Or at least it was offensive to his white friend, 40-year-old Christopher McCarthy. It was what we delicately refer to as the n-word.

McCarthy challenged the students on it — “got in their faces,” Murphy says McCarthy told him — and they jumped him.

Parker now says he himself wasn’t offended. He hears the n-word all the time from black teenagers as well as in rap music, he told Murphy.

So how do you get a hate crime out of that? You don’t, Murphy says. “There’s a disconnect between the term and the race,” meaning the race of the victim.

He says waitresses at Compton’s diner reported hearing the students use the n-word multiple times, maybe 10 or 15, taunting the white man and black man who were sitting together, but Parker says he heard it only once and wasn’t bothered by it.

Murphy says McCarthy, who got punched and kicked and had a dinner plate cracked over his head, is satisfied with the guilty plea to a misdemeanor.

It will be up to a judge in Saratoga Springs City Court to impose sentence on April 5. Murphy said he will not make any recommendation. The sentence could be anything from a slap on the wrist up to a year in jail.

As for the other three defendants, originally charged with misdemeanor assault, Murphy said he has made them an offer, which ordinarily means something less than the original charge, and is waiting for a response from their attorneys.

The attorneys, by the way, are no longer mere public defenders. They are some of the heaviest hitters in the Capital Region, including E. Stewart Jones Jr. and William Dreyer, who recently came on board to replace the public defenders originally assigned.

I’m not able to tell you who is paying them, though it’s clearly an organized effort.

Jones has represented many high-profile defendants over the years, including former Congressman John Sweeney. His client in this case is Korvin Vicente.

Dreyer most recently represented former Sen. Joseph L. Bruno in his honest-services trial. His client is Tavarez, who just took the plea.

The other two lawyers are Daniel Stewart of Queensbury, a former associate of Dreyer’s, representing Elijah Johnston; and Fred Korskoz, an Albany immigration lawyer, representing Sakhile Sithole of South Africa.

So, anyway, the case seems to be fizzling to an end, and I think it’s fair to say the diversity gods have been placated. In the absence of felonies, the suspended students will be reinstated to good standing at Skidmore, and Skidmore itself will be able to resume developing “the intercultural skills necessary to affirm one another’s humanity, no matter how different we might at first appear, with the ultimate goal of living and working successfully together,” as its strategic plan has it.

For my part I admit that Christopher McCarthy’s having confronted the four students over their taunts rather than being a passive victim ameliorates somewhat the students’ thugishness in beating him. Whether it makes them exemplars of Skidmore’s policy of affirming one another’s humanity, I will leave to Skidmore to decide.

A CUT NOT HUGE

I think it’s a measure of how out of control our state government is that Gov. Cuomo’s proposed cut of 2.7 percent in total spending is regarded as drastic.

And it’s more of a measure that the cut simply reflects the ending of federal stimulus money, to the tune of $5 billion, while the spending of actual state money is going to increase by 1 percent.

That’s the best that a governor who clearly takes the state’s financial crisis seriously can do, and even that feeble effort is subject to amendment by the Legislature, which has a history of adding to whatever budget a governor proposes.

Aid to schools is going to be cut, aid to municipalities is going to be cut, Medicaid spending is going to be cut.

The state is “functionally bankrupt,” Cuomo says, but all he can trim is 2.7 percent.

There must be many thousands of families in our fair state that have had to reduce their spending more than that.

I don’t fault Cuomo. State budgeting is largely a “sham,” as he himself said the other day, with ever higher costs required by formulas that are locked into law, not to mention yearly raises that are locked into contracts.

The options of any governor are limited.

Barring an economic miracle, I think we have a lot more rethinking to do about the nature of our government than Cuomo has offered, though I certainly wish him the best.

Categories: Opinion

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