The Principal’s School Thanksgiving Feast: All can come, both the Police and Parents with Outstanding Warrants!

 

This is Bill Rich’s last of three or four blogs about the American Thanksgiving feast posted here at Ethnography.com.  Previous posts have reflected on how to distribute turkeys to the poor kids at the school.  This blog also reflects on how to organize a Thanksgiving feast on school time, but also the others Bill needed to work with during the school year.  How do you arrange it so that both parents with outstanding arrest warrants and the local police can come to the same feast?  TW

by Bill Rich

After preparing and delivering Thanksgiving baskets to needy families in my school attendance district, I looked forward to the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday when we would hold our own school feast. This day was marvelous for me across an entire spectrum of personal and school needs. The weather was always comfortably cool, in the 60’s but sometimes reached the 70’s after the normally hot fall in the 90’s. The entire school community gathered happily under the banner of gratitude and thankfulness. 200 parents who were not on the free lunch program paid for their lunch and sat down with their children after waiting through the cafeteria line and being served, turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and green beans, freshly baked rolls with butter, and cranberry sauce as well. Free lunch parents also came in droves to enjoy this special time. This was not a meal of government cheese and beans. The cooks arrived early, 4am, and I budgeted the overtime happily for the benefit this day would bring to the school community. Classes gave short performances for parents including recitations of poems, plays with turkeys, pies, Pilgrims and friendly Indians helping one another in difficult times.

At the First Thanksgiving

From friendly Squanto, wise in all things wild,

We found out where the fattest codfish flash.

To mingle beans and corn in succotash

We learned. We learned as though we were one child.

 

By winter winds whose edges carve like knives

Our numbers have been pared.

Now we who have been spared

Thank the Good Lord who took but half our lives.

X.J. Kennedy

 

Jake O’Leary’s Thanksgiving

When Jake O’Leary

Thanksgiving Day

Was having lunch

With his Auntie Mae

And later on

When dessert came by

Was given his private

Pumpkin pie.
And hated the filling,

Hated the crust

And couldn’t eat it

And knew he must…

In order to get it out of sight,

He gobbled the pie

In ONE BIG BITE.

 

Though gulping the pie

Was far from easy

And Jake O’Leary

Felt stuffed and queasy,

He forced himself

(As a person does)

To thank his auntie

Whose pie it was.

 

But found his thanks

Were a sad mistake

When Mae, his auntie

Remarked to Jake:

‘It’s easy to see

With half and eye

You’re crazy about

My pumpkin pie.’

 

And off she hurried

On flying feet

And brought him another

Pie to eat”

 

Kaye Starbird

 

The cafeteria was built for a school of 200 and attendance was around 450 at the time I was principal. Normally we ran three lunch periods and on this special day, the line never stopped for about 3 hours, from 11am to 2pm. I also budgeted lunch tables for students to eat lunch outside during my first year at this school and this paid off during such a day when many visitors came. Parents came from work and sat with their kids and friends and enjoyed themselves immensely.

Police came after being invited as my guests and connected with children whose parents could not come for various reasons. It was heartwarming to see veteran officers standing in a long lunch line with the children of the people they typically arrested. I worked to develop this important community relationship by inviting these officers to lunch at local sandwich shops or diners at least once every few months. In this way I got my own briefing on gang activities and issues I needed to know about from teams of beat cops assigned to my neighborhood, as well as with the officer assigned to youth and teen crimes As a result, I never called them for petty issues, but when I called, they came immediately. We had a gentleman’s agreement that the PD would not hook up the parents with parole violations at the Thanksgiving lunch when and if they showed up. Central office administrators and confidential staff came to support me and to be seen supporting me. Most important, school board members came and enjoyed the opportunity to connect with parent-voters, to listen and to tell about accomplishments. Parent club officers and other club members came and took advantage of the opportunity to talk over various projects and also to meet other working parents who could not come to school on a regular basis to volunteer. There was a feeling of wholesomeness after the good deeds of delivering Thanksgiving food baskets and this motivated them to cooperate and feel good about doing it.

There were no official speeches since there was not a time when all were assembled in one place. But I ‘worked the room’ like the pro I was, connecting with everyone. I wore a blue blazer with gray slacks and a regimental tie. And very important, I wore my big black gunboat brogues, shoes that signal authority, decision making power and who was in charge. I greeted and talked with as many parents as possible projecting confidence in our school and thanking them for supporting their kids in this simple but very meaningful way. I was the classic visible principal on this day. Teachers were not required to participate since they enjoyed a duty free lunch for 30 minutes by law. But most took part in some way and helped build the reputation of our school as a welcoming and supportive institution that taught great American values associated with a great American holiday, Thanksgiving.

I thought about the fact that this celebration was a construct that didn’t square with the actual history of the relationship among white settlers and Indians in this region. But that didn’t really matter. What mattered was the feelings of belonging and community ownership and even patriotism that were generated with the mythology around such an event. And these feelings and thoughts were completely authentic. But I wonder now how to prepare young children for the information that will come to them as they mature. How could I have told them, without adding a good measure of trauma to the lunch that their pioneer ancestors rounded up 500 or so natives and slaughtered them at Massacre Flats, a nearby clearing on the Sacramento River? Or that these same ancestors placed even more natives in a pen in what is now downtown Chico and marched them on a trek away from their lands, over mountains into Nevada, a trek that would kill over half of them? The Indians hereabouts didn’t share a Happy Thanksgiving with the 19th century Pilgrims to Northern California. Perhaps Thanksgiving should be a feast of confession, hope for forgiveness and reconciliation in the future. Who was the great American peace maker who could give us a model for the future of peace and understanding we desire?

 

 

 

Devils, Angels, Spanking, Lice, a See-through Nighty, and a Prayerful Principal. Welcome to Ethnography.com Bill Rich!

“Any kind of downer is pretty much forbidden for school administrators. Got to be upbeat and positive all the time. Can do, no problem, got it all under control, don’t worry about a thing, just leave it to me…..”

Click to continue reading “Devils, Angels, Spanking, Lice, a See-through Nighty, and a Prayerful Principal. Welcome to Ethnography.com Bill Rich!”

Child Abuse Season and the Prayerful Principal

My “Holiday Child Abuse Memo” which came out in early November each year, covered up all kinds of passion and emotion, sadness and trauma. So much in schools revolves around seasons, and the memo served as a kind of code reminder to educators that we were entering a season of trouble.

Educators are witness to a kind of trauma associated with dealing with some horrible abusive situations. And the responsibility for the most basic health needs of children (don’t let them get raped or beaten up at home) seemed huge and remains so. It was during these kinds of incidents that I began to pray at work, and to feel the presence of a kind of threat I couldn’t really identify. Who knew where the abuse would come from? What if I missed the signs? Teachers of elementary age children generally do not sanitize their orientation towards their students. Many teachers feel what their students feel and must work hard to maintain balance, focus, and a sense of proportion as they see individual students suffer in ways they can’t help.

Ostensibly, abuse increases around the holidays due to a kind of crisis on the part of many parents of the reality-expectations gap. Our culture portrays this time of year as filled with happy family gatherings, abundant food, and marvelous gifts that signal one’s success. The television is filled with ads for children that result in shrill nagging, “ I want that!!” The frustrated parent can easily snap and slap too hard, and step over the line in other ways.

This season of growing peril is also Advent on the Christian calendar. As Advent begins we pray in thanks and expectation for the coming of Christ, the light of the world. At the same time we know that for many children, the strength of evil grows in parallel. As a kind of meditation, I have laid out a few of my professional experiences with abuse in juxtaposition with excerpts from prayers from the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church for the four Sundays in Advent.

1st Sunday of Advent

At our home we light the first candle on the Advent wreath and read from The Book of Common Prayer,

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light….

 

The first I knew of what happened to Reba Mae was when she started talking about it and crying at school. I was a teacher then so I wasn’t aware of this aspect of school administration, or life for that matter. Our school psychologist told me it was a kind of hysteria, the need to tell everyone everything, no matter what the social cost or impact. For years her older brother, also a former student at school molested her in their shared bedroom at home. She was threatened to never tell, but she did. The police responded by putting the brother in jail but his parents managed to bail him out. When he got home he laid his right hand on a stump, choked up on an axe like a confident hitter at the plate, and chopped off his index finger on his right hand in front of Reba Mae. Her mother came to school and yelled at her in front of her class for ‘what she done to her family and her brother.’

2nd Sunday of Advent

We light the second candle on the Advent Wreath and read again from The Book of Common Prayer.

Merciful God, who sent thy messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to head their warnings and forsake our sins….

 

I wasn’t aware of this incident either until John came to school with a large bandage around his head, similar to one of those World War I movies. His mom was angry at his wise-ass attitude, and in response, threw a full coffee can at him. He wasn’t able to duck in time and ended up with gash across his forehead and a good number of stitches. He was also placed in a foster care receiving home, but really didn’t want to be separated from his mom and siblings. I learned this later, that no matter what the abuse, the kids want to stay connected with their families.

 

3rd Sunday of Advent

We light the third candle on the Advent wreath and read from The Book of Common Prayer,

Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.

I was involved in the referral for Larry when I was still a teacher as well. He lived in a family that had many cats and that did not bathe or do laundry. As a result, his clothes were stained in fresh and not so fresh cat shit. His skin was in a constant rash that could have been anything from a bacterial infection to scabies. Calling Child Protective Services (CPS) I learned that this was a social condition that fell under the legal rubric of ‘benign neglect.’

This meant that a social worker could go to the home and instruct the family about hygiene but there would be no serious repercussions, unless the child suffered from social or psychological effects. This was the ticket. Kids teased this boy as you can imagine and I wasn’t too happy with having him in class either. He received additional counseling services and was taught how to clean himself and his clothes before school. Our school also had a washer, dryer and spare clothes so he could wear them each day until his clothes were clean.

4th Sunday of Advent

We light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath and read aloud from The Book of Common Prayer,

We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by they daily visitation…

This incident was not the first I dealt with as a principal, but it haunts me to this day.

I knew that several single mothers in one of the apartment complexes were drug addicted and when they were high they neglected their children. We made several calls and referrals to CPS since the kids were dirty, had head lice, scabies and often came to school hungry. The school cooks always had extra snacks for hungry children and these kids benefitted from this unwritten policy. Social workers came and interviewed the children but their program consisted of trying to help the families improve in terms of hygiene and organization. One day, the kids in one family were removed to foster care and we didn’t know why. After a call to a worker I learned that a 15 month old child had received a ‘donut’ burn from the mother. The mother had become frustrated with the infant because he wouldn’t potty train fast enough, and she dipped his bottom in scalding water to both punish and wash off the fecal matter. This seemed to me the devil’s advent wreath. Of course he was burned badly. She took him to the clinic and was arrested.

When school resumed in January after the Christmas (now winter) Vacation, abuse always dropped dramatically. January was a month for academic focus and undistracted progress as the hopes and disappointments of the holidays faded. The merchants knew that no one had any more money to spend on toys and tinsel. Advertising was muted, and the neglect and abuse of children declined.

 

 

 

 

A Memo on Child Abuse over the Holidays: The Bureaucrat Responds!

Every year as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approached in the United States, as an elementary school principal I sent a memo to my school to remind teachers and support staff to be extra aware of possible child abuse during the holidays. Under California law, schools are required to be vigilant about potential neglect and abuse of children–if we were not the school district could be sued when something went wrong. The memo went something like this:

Dear Colleagues,

 

As we enter the holiday season, I would like to remind you that child abuse tends to spike at this time of year. Please be extra aware of behaviors among your students that could suggest abuse, such as flinching when touched, bruises or black eyes or frequent urination for girls. Also note increasing flat affect or unusual crying along with students revealing stories about sexuality that is not appropriate for their age.

 

As educators, we are not investigators who need to prove any kind of abuse. Our legal responsibility as mandated reporters is to be aware and report if we suspect any kind of neglect or abuse. To report you must call Child Protective Services (CPS) or the police and file a written report using CPS forms in your school’s office so an investigation can be undertaken. The law provides you are held harmless for fulfilling this duty in case parents find out you reported and become upset. Be sure to let your school administrator know after you call or file a written report.

 

Yours,

 

Bill Rich

This bland memo covered up all kinds of passion and emotion, sadness and trauma. So much in schools revolves around seasons, and the memo served as a bureaucratic reminder to educators that we were entering a season of trouble, and needed to protect both our students, and the legal liability of the school.

 

A Thanksgiving Story: How lice, a see through nighty and a turkey helped grow compassion

In which Bill Rich, our intrepid do-good principal takes PTA mothers into something of a bordello in order to deliver a Thanksgiving Turkey. The PTA mothers emerge better for the experience, gaining new insight into the lives of their children’s classmates.

Click to continue reading “A Thanksgiving Story: How lice, a see through nighty and a turkey helped grow compassion”

Marx Channels Shakespeare on Money: Why the Lame Will Walk, the Ugly are Beautiful, and the Dishonest are Honest

Or, perhaps this post could be sub-titled, “Why Bill Gates can’t believe what anybody tells him,” simply because no one can really be honest around big money.

Or, as the young Karl Marx wrote in 1845:

That which is for me through the medium of money – that for which I can pay (i.e., which money can buy) – that am I myself, the possessor of the money. The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness – its deterrent power – is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has [In the manuscript: ‘is’. – Ed.] power over the clever not more clever than the clever? Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

Marx is in effect saying that money is the real brain creating what we believe to be good and bad. If it has money, it must be good. If someone does not have money, they must be bad in any world. Money though warps judgment by transforming what should be incapacities like dishonesty and stupidity into strengths to be ignored or even admired.  This is why the wealthy can go through life believing they are smarter than the rest of us, even if they are not.  They can even pay for grand projects which fail, but are not seen as failures. For one such example, see Ford projects like Fordlandia.EdselHenry Ford on Anti-semitism.  Henry Ford was also awarded a major medal (Order of the German Eagle) by Nazi Germany, and later have a US Postage stamp issued in his honor.  Nothing burnishes reputations for cleverness than simply being rich!

Marx cites Shakespeare (!) play “Timon of Athens” to conclude his point about the special powers of hard cold cash:

Shakespeare stresses especially two properties of money:

  1. is the visible divinity – the transformation of all human and natural properties into their contraries, the universal confounding and distorting of things: impossibilities are soldered together by it.
  2. It is the common whore, the common procurer of people and nations.

Source

Karl Marx (1844) “The Power of Money” in the Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.  https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/power.htm

 

Student Housing and Ethnic Segregation at Chico State

This is a rather odd post for a blog which typically addresses national and international issues.  This blog is about my own university, Chico State, in California, which has worked very hard to qualify for federal money to be a “Hispanic Serving Institution.”  This is a good thing, as California is rapidly changing ethnic composition as California has always done in the last 200 years.  The idea is that Chico State will get extra money if it can attract and serve at least 25% full time “Hispanic” students (in California this typically means students who have a family history in Mexico, or Central America who are typically referred to as Chicano or Latino).

Anyway, the administration has worked hard at the “numbers game” part of becoming a Hispanic serving institution, and it is expected that Chico State will qualify for the federal money next year.  However, the problem is that this is primarily a numbers game of “attract the student,” and then you get the big bucks in exchange.  Nothing is said about what you will do with the students once they arrive.  Which is where this blog begins.

What to do with the many new Latino students?  Will there be classes to serve them, and can they be integrated into campus life?  And where will they be housed?  This last question is the subject I want to address via some recently released statistics from the campus housing office.  You see, the answer is typically that they will be housed with the other students in the on-campus dormitories.   There are several kinds of dorms at Chico State.  There are the traditional dorms near the dining commons in the center of class (which are more expensive), and the cheaper dorms, which have kitchens and no dining services, and are located one mile away from campus.  One set of dorms is at the center of the action on-campus, and the other is a mile away, on the other side of the railroad tracks.  Guess where the newly recruited Latino students tend to end up?

Anyway, rumors have been floating around campus for several years that the more distant dorms at University Village (UV) had higher rates of Latino students living there, than in the main dorms like Whitney Hall on campus.  But hard data about how exactly this institutional bias might be was not forthcoming. Until last week.  Last week, the issue was raised by a professor at the public Academic Senate meeting.  There was a great deal of murmuring at the meeting that this should not be, and the head of Institutional Research piped up that he would find out as soon as possible.  And he did.  The statistics are below.  And, it looks like the off-campus dormitories are just 22% White, while the on-campus dorms like Whitney Hall are just over 50% White.  The good news of course is that so many of the students housed at Chico State are non-White in a state and campus that was in recent decades 80 to 85% white.  The bad news is that Chico State housing is now segregated by both race, and economic status.

The Table below gives you a rough idea of how this segregation works at Chico State.  University Village seems is where the HIspanic and Black students are most likely to end up, while Asian students are clustered in particular dorms as well. Whitney, Lassen and Shasta, Sutter Halls, and North Campus are all much “Whiter “ This can be seen most easily by comparing the percentages in the table below.  International students, most of whom at Chico State are from Asia and the Middle East, are also almost completely isolated at the off-campus dorms.

At least as important is the segregation of the economically disadvantaged students in University Village.  This can be seen by looking at the statistics for students on Pell Grants (an indicator of lower income), and students who are “first generation” college students.  Again, there is a segregation of students, with the contrasting demographic characteristics.

Anyway, that is briefly the news from Chico State.  Embedded in this data are more complex ethnographic stories of how racial segregation, and positive and negative privilege persists not only at Chico State, but in California and the United States.  Even in the case of the best intentions, institutions revert to older patterns of segregation and exclusivity.

 

 

 

Fall 2015 Students in Campus Residence Halls

Residence Community
Ethnicity Lassen and Shasta North Campus Sutter Hall University Village Whitney Hall
1 – American Indian 3 1 2 1
2 – Asian 11 16 11 33 14
3 – Black 9 6 7 39 12
4 – Hispanic 121 105 59 344 136
5 – Native Hawaiian 1 1 1
6 – Two or More 29 14 19 31 38
7 – White 226 147 118 154 276
8 – Nonresident Aliens 3 10 1 67 3
9 – Decline to State 26 21 19 29 30
Not Found in ERSS 1 13
Total In Community 428 321 234 700 511
1 – American Indian 0.70% 0.31% 0.00% 0.29% 0.20%
2 – Asian 2.57% 4.98% 4.70% 4.71% 2.74%
3 – Black 2.10% 1.87% 2.99% 5.57% 2.35%
4 – Hispanic 28.27% 32.71% 25.21% 49.14% 26.61%
5 – Native Hawaiian 0.00% 0.31% 0.00% 0.14% 0.20%
6 – Two or More 6.78% 4.36% 8.12% 4.43% 7.44%
7 – White 52.80% 45.79% 50.43% 22.00% 54.01%
8 – Nonresident Aliens 0.70% 3.12% 0.43% 9.57% 0.59%
9 – Decline to State 6.07% 6.54% 8.12% 4.14% 5.87%
Residence Community
First Generation Status Lassen and Shasta North Campus Sutter Hall University Village Whitney Hall
Not First Generation 268 194 174 334 327
First Generation Student 160 127 60 366 184
Total In Community 428 321 234 700 511
Residence Community
PELL Grant Status Lassen and Shasta North Campus Sutter Hall University Village Whitney Hall
No PELL Grant 314 220 179 374 401
Received PELL Grant 114 101 55 326 110
Total In Community 428 321 234 700 511
% First Generation 37.38% 39.56% 25.64% 52.29% 36.01%
% Received PELL Grant 26.64% 31.46% 23.50% 46.57% 21.53%

Vigilantism in a Tanzanian Village, 1997

Vigilantism in a Tanzanian Village, 1997

from

When Killing is a Crime, by Tony Waters

Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997

 By Essau Magugudi in Kigoma

NOVEMBER 27, 1997, is deeply etched in the memories of Shunga villagers. It was on this day that they took law into their own hands and hacked to death three bandits who they suspected of carrying out acts of robbery in villages surrounding refugee settlements of Mutabira and Muyovozi.

     Such retribution was unprecedented…”

I found the above article story while cruising the internet in1999, after typing in the keyword “Shunga” on a lark. Shunga is a remote village in Western Tanzania where my sister-in-law lived for 16 years, and also where my wife and I were married. I had also spent six weeks there writing an article about Shunga itself which was later published in . The article struck me as odd because lynch law (or vigilante committees, if you will) were not unprecedented in that part of Tanzania as is asserted in Esau Magugudi’s article. Rather it is fairly typical of remote Tanzanian villages. Indeed, during the three years I lived in the nearby town of Kasulu (1984-7), typically once or twice per year, some kid would be caught in the market stealing something trivial. Someone would yell “thief” and he would run toward the police station as fast as he could, with a very angry mob chasing after him. The unspoken arrangement was that if he made the police station he would be arrested and a legal case would be made against him. Thus, the police station was “safe” so to speak, even though he would be prosecuted. But, if the crowd caught him, he could be beaten to death. Similar rules of summary justice were applied to Shunga. The big talk in Shunga in previous years had been of rumored poisonings, the attempted murder of a former ward councilor (someone set his grass roof on fire in the middle of the night), and the execution by a burning tire “necklace” of a thief caught in a neighboring village. Vigilante justice and summary execution is not that unusual in this part of Africa, where the courts and police find it difficult to find transportation to the remote villages even if they are called. Without access to a vehicle, police officers must walk for at least half of a day even to ask the first question. What has changed is that because of the refugee crisis, journalists now come to the area looking for stories, some of which might end up on the internet where I can find them.

I found the above article story while cruising the internet in1999, after typing in the keyword “Shunga” on a lark. Shunga is a remote village in Western Tanzania where my sister-in-law lived for 16 years, and also where my wife and I were married. I had also spent six weeks there writing an article about Shunga itself which was later published in African Studies Review. The article struck me as odd because lynch law (or vigilante committees, if you will) were not unprecedented in that part of Tanzania as is asserted in Esau Magugudi’s article. Rather it is fairly typical of remote Tanzanian villages. Indeed, during the three years I lived in the nearby town of Kasulu (1984-7), typically once or twice per year, some kid would be caught in the market stealing something trivial. Someone would yell “thief” and he would run toward the police station as fast as he could, with a very angry mob chasing after him. The unspoken arrangement was that if he made the police station he would be arrested and a legal case would be made against him. Thus, the police station was “safe” so to speak, even though he would be prosecuted. But, if the crowd caught him, he could be beaten to death. Similar rules of summary justice were applied to Shunga. The big talk in Shunga in previous years had been of rumored poisonings, the attempted murder of a former ward councilor (someone set his grass roof on fire in the middle of the night), and the execution by a burning tire “necklace” of a thief caught in a neighboring village. Vigilante justice and summary execution is not that unusual in this part of Africa, where the courts and police find it difficult to find transportation to the remote villages even if they are called. Without access to a vehicle, police officers must walk for at least half of a day even to ask the first question. What has changed is that because of the refugee crisis, journalists now come to the area looking for stories, some of which might end up on the internet where I can find them.

     …The three slain bandits had on that day ambushed a peasant along the main road … As luck would have it, the peasant escaped narrowly from his custody of his captors who had tried to seize his bicycle. He then reported the incident to the villagers who were bathing at a nearby stream. As the bandits emerged from their hideouts and descended towards the stream, they were stopped by villagers for questioning. It was discovered that the bandits were refugees at Muyovozi camp. Upon searching them, the villagers found them with three locally made guns secured in an old sack. The bandits were handcuffed and taken to the ward office where a mob of angry youths hacked them to death.

 

Not much of a criminal investigation here. Probably most relevant is the fact that the youths killed represented the threat the refugee camp provided to the village. Since 1994, Shunga, which has a population of about 4,000 has had a UN supported refugee camp built on its boundary. In 1997, there were 50,000 refugees from Burundi living there. This camp has changed the social order in unexpected ways. If I look for an analogous reaction in sociology, I think that it would be 17th century Puritan Massachusetts, which Kai Erikson wrote about. Political and social change resulted in the legal execution of Quakers in the early 1660s and of witches in 1691.

     The hacking of the bandits did arouse mixed feelings among villagers, especially when the councillor of the ward was taken by the police at Kasulu for questioning, but residents of Shunga and other neighbouring villages believed the killing of the bandits would minimise, if not stop altogether, acts of banditry which had been increasing in the villages. 

“Mixed feelings” is usually an indication that there are doubts about “legitimacy,” particularly in the context of the removal of the ward councilor. Villagers asked themselves whether they should have killed the refugees or not? How does it feel like to live next door to people who have killed publicly in this fashion? What can the central authorities, whose authority was usurped, actually do? Should they have presented the thieves to the ward councilor while still alive? There are doubts among the villagers about whether the right thing was done, and whether they legitimate authority to do it. Notably, though, the doubts were about who should have responded, not whether the punishment for theft was just. Rather, it was about who is the legitimate third party, the central government, ward councilor, or the village mob? There is also fear that “two party” justice exposes the villagers up to retaliation by the dead refugees’ friends.

I also pity government officials assigned to rural areas of Tanzania, like the ward counselor. He was sent to a remote village like Shunga with the idealistic assumption that he could persuade villagers to develop and pay for a modern state, even though they will never receive things like police investigations. From the villagers perspective, the most prominent duty or the ward counselor is to collect the annual head tax, a job which confers little status, and for which their miniscule salary which is typically late. In fact the salary is so small and irregular that as with virtually every other person living in Shunga, the ward councilor had a subsistence farm in order to raise enough food to eat.

Not surprising, in many parts of Tanzania, the situation often leads to corruption. Technically, of course, the Shunga Ward Councilor had the Kasulu Police force to back him up, but then so does every other of the 40 or 50 ward councilors in the District. When I lived in Kasulu, the police had only one or two vehicles, and were unlikely to respond to a remote robbery case. A consequence is that the problem escalates into the type of lynching described above. This is a classic case of a weak state which has little legitimacy built up, and as a result has difficulty asserting the monopoly on the use of coercive force.

In fact, the central government is aware that Shunga has had a history of problems with ward councilors. One of the previous ward councilors, who pushed projects of school construction and tax collections too hard (he was known as a modernizer), had the grass roof of his house burned late one night, in an attempt to kill him. He was warned, but lost his house, and was given a transfer by the central government. No one ever prosecuted (or lynched) those responsible for the torching.

   But, four months after that incident, several more incidents of banditry and robbery have been reported from villages near refugee settlements in Kasulu district.

      So much for the hope that lynching controls stealing. Banditry was a chronic problem before and after the incident in Shunga. Lynching, perhaps less so, but the point that Esau Magugudi makes here is a good one. Lynching is not necessarily an effective means of crime control. Nor were the footraces out of the Kasulu marketplaces described above. Stealing was there before and after “executions;” so much theories equating severity of punishment with deterrence. This is a stark reminder that capital punishment of the most horrific sort did not control theft in the area. In such a context, other explanations for the brutal lynchings need to be sought, and Erikson’s (and Durkheim’s) point that such violence are important at times social boundaries are realigned becomes relevant.

What happened in Shunga was consistent with what Cooney, Weber, and Durkheim write about homicide, the state, and the nature of social control. In other countries where the state is weak, the representatives of the government of low status, and there has been much social change of the sort found in the remote Puritan Massachusetts described by Erikson, also have similar incidents. I suspect that explanations of what happened in Shunga are probably more rooted in such experiences, than the hoped for control of crime that the villagers and perpetrators articulate. I am also sure that without even the rudimentary guarantees of a functioning justice system, the innocent are also likely victims.

Related Reading

Waters, Tony (1997) Beyond Structural Adjustment: State and Market in a Rural Tanzanian Village. African Studies Review. 40(2):59-89.

Erikson, Kai (1967/2004) Wayward Puritans.   Prentice Hall.