I was recently standing on my old corner of Cloverfield Boulevard and Virginia Avenue. I remember being a youngster and running out to stand on the small hill after we heard accidents. In the early 1980s the city finally put a crosslight there.

This intersection, for me, is symbolic of the many people who travel into Santa Monica — to work, drop their kids off at school — and fail to look around, to acknowledge the community of people there, historically black, brown, white, Asian and working class; and that we have particular rights that we are willing to defend and fight for.

This is one issue Michael Klein (”Mencia cancellation raises questions about free speech,” April 9, 2009) conveniently overlooks when defending comedian Carlos Mencia’s free speech rights.

To the non-critical reader, Klein’s evasion of the Latino community — particularly the Association of Mexican American Educators (AMAE) which initiated the dialogue on Mencia’s material — is a small mistake (few at the panel discussion on the Mencia event missed AMAE’s absence). To Latino activists close to the issue, and those truly concerned with freedom and fairness, it is the arrogant and empty jargon of a dishonest pedant selfishly arguing for his own (and his hidden constituents’) case.

Klein’s evasion is also the district’s: no one from Superintendent Cuneo’s office bothered to notify AMAE leadership of the event, much less invite us to be on the panel. Many AMAE members were busy organizing Cesar Chavez school activities. Only Darryl Goode of the Venice Westside NAACP captured the concerns of AMAE; namely, that the Mencia controversy was about the comedian’s selective use of racist slurs (especially against his own race) and the irony that a bilingual program’s PTA would be so uncritical as to not find offense in his material.

Another aspect of Klein’s glaring dishonesty is his conflict of interest. While he addresses readers in his patronizing tone as an objective and professional interpreter of the law (ACLU lawyer), not once does he mention that he is a member of Edison PTA with vested interests in their fundraising. While he presents himself as a “know-it-all-Anglo,” he also reveals PTA self-centeredness and manipulation. Threatening to sue the district (for an inflated estimate) in a time of fiscal crisis is shameless and greedy. He conveniently ignores that the district clearly and repeatedly explained that Mencia’s routine would be violation of Building Code 415.5 which states that use of offensive language that could incite violence in public buildings is a violation.

Klein also fails to address hate speech, race, Latinos and AMAE’s official position. He refers to AMAE indirectly as “some people,” “those demonstrators,” “those dissidents;” objectifying and equivocating AMAE to a mob that the Santa Monica Police “would be fully capable of handling” (AMAE happens to have a fine relationship with Chief Jackman who has bothered to introduce himself to community members and organizations). This demonization of Latino activism is racist, whether intentional or not. Institutionalized racism, felt daily by people of color and often unseen by whites, has also been called “have a nice day racism” by UC Riverside professor Tiffany Lopez.

Klein ignores AMAE’s right to protest, that we exercised that right, and won. It has also been disclosed that Mencia cancelled when he heard there would be a protest, and PTA miscommunication and disorganization was the actual cause of him canceling his flight to Los Angeles.

If Klein is as concerned with racism as he is with freedom of speech (and fundraising), he must update his “expertise” by reading “Critical Race Theory” coming from leading law professors. For starters he should pick up Ian Lopez’ “Racism On Trial” for an introduction to the history of how law has treated Chicanos/Latinos since 1848, and Chicanos’ particular experience with legal racism.

He can then graduate to more complex readings by Derrick Bell, Kimberly Crenshaw and Richard Delgado, especially their claims that the law despite its essentialist nature, continues to have its limits and imperfections especially with regard to race. People of color only know too well the racially discriminating aspects of courts, prisons and police officers. The law, and lawyers, are not infallible, not always fair, nor above critique, as Klein would have us believe.

Klein’s article teaches us that throwing around titles doesn’t make anything more true or lawful. As long as you’re avoiding issues (race) and groups of people (Latinos, AMAE) you are condoning Mencia’s ideological attacks and normalizing hate speech.

Although some may take issue with AMAE making this an issue of law, education and race, I find this crossroads a good place to take a stand. It is, after all, the crossroads at which Klein’s argument ends. Edison PTA leaders continue to slander AMAE, avoid addressing racism (and Mencia’s hate speech in particular) and only talking about money (see Lorenza Munoz blog in the Los Angeles Times).

It is important to meet people before you demonize them or attack them. As we learned as kids, you should stop at the intersections and look both ways.

Maybe even stop and study the corner. Failure to understand this can get you blindsided.

Elias Serna is President of the Association of Mexican American Educators, Santa Monica — West Los Angeles Chapter, an educator, and native of Santa Monica. He is an artist/filmmaker with the Chicano Secret Service, and currently completing a PhD in English at UC Riverside.

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