By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
"May I see your search warrant?" Alex asked the HISD policeman standing in Lamar High School's parking lot.
"I don't need one," the officer said.
The 17-year-old senior is in the smart-kid classes. He's read the Bill of Rights.
"Look, I'm not going to be an asshole about this," the cop said; he had probable cause to search the 1990 Plymouth Voyager. "Either you open your car or I'm gonna get in there."
Not wanting his windows smashed and not thinking there was anything to hide, Alex unlocked the door. He wanted to get back to class and study for his English vocabulary test.
Facing away from the van, the officer made Alex put his hands on the police car, patted him down like you see in every cop movie and then ransacked his van. They didn't turn up any booze; Alex's dad had gotten the fuel injectors cleaned two weeks earlier, and the alcohol residue on the firewall and fenders was probably what the dog sniffed. They picked up a few crumpled chip bags, a copy of The Communist Manifesto, and buried in the back pocket of the passenger seat they found a dagger.
Sharper than a butter knife, but not as sharp as a kitchen knife, it was a $20 replica Alex's sister bought at a renaissance fair last summer. Alex collects ornamental knives; he had forgotten it was in the car.
The officer said it was an illegal knife. He was only a little wrong: The silver-trimmed black blade is five inches, a half-inch shorter than what the state law prohibits.
"You must be joking," Alex said. "That's not even a real knife. Feel the blade. The blade's not even sharp."
The officer didn't bother.
"If it's illegal, why do they sell knives like this in Texas?" Alex asked.
"Maybe they weren't selling it as a knife," the officer said. "Maybe they were selling it as a paperweight."
"Okay," said Alex. "I was using it as a paperweight."
"It wasn't holding down any papers," the officer said, searching Alex's wallet and backpack. He found some money from Alex's trip to China last summer and a couple of photos of Alex and his buddies holding beer cans on a camping trip in Waco Springs, just outside Austin. One shot showed a friend rolling a joint.
The officer passed the pictures to passersby, asked Alex to narc out his friends, then escorted him in handcuffs to assistant principal Warren Anderson.
Anderson suspended Alex for three days and threatened expulsion.
"Can I go get my work from my teachers before I go home?" Alex asked. He figured if he went straight home and mowed the lawn, his parents might be less mad.
"You're not going home," Anderson told him. He went to jail.
Alex would gladly go to jail as part of a protest, as a way of fighting the power. "I thought that'd be cool, the whole Abbie Hoffman thing," Alex says. But this trip to jail wasn't what he had in mind; forgetting a toy in his car isn't the kind of grand cause he wanted to suffer for. His arrest, he says, was a stupid mistake, and an unfair one at that. Because of it, he's become the cause he's fighting for.
"Ever since he was too small to remember, he would just get really excited by anything that smacked of injustice," says his mother, Barbara Keyfitz. Whether it was Asian factory workers being exploited or a Supreme Court decision in 1917, if Alex thought something was wrong, he wanted to fight it. In ninth grade he got especially angry, joined the young socialists club and started writing letters for Amnesty International. He protested a gated community and went to Huntsville to protest the death sentence of a man who had killed a cop. He quit the young socialists club because they wanted to have a yard sale and raise funds instead of going to a protest in the Galleria. Now a senior, he protests independently. Last week, his government class compiled a list of good qualities for a president: honest, moral, that kind of stuff. Alex wrote "communist" on the board.
"Hell if I know," says his friend Jake Cole, "but he might be the next Karl Marx. He's got those kind of ideas."
"Yeah, a Jewish Karl Marx," says his friend Tal Ozeri.
"Karl Marx was Jewish," Alex tells him.
In his freshman year Alex got some of his friends interested in socialism too. They liked the idea of equality. "Minors are some of the most pushed around people in this country," Alex explains. "We have no representation."
His friends' mothers called and yelled at him, saying they didn't want their kids involved in his commie crap. He just listened and responded calmly.
Alex's mother was a socialist in Canada. His dad is "less thrilled with marginal political activity."
On the school campus Alex saw things to protest. Last year principal James McSwain instated a more stringent absence policy effective the Monday HISD took its official attendance count. Alex's friends were outraged; they thought that if the school wants students to go to class, it should make classes more interesting instead of making more rules. To protest, one kid ran up and tried to grab the mike from McSwain's hands during the assembly; McSwain dodged. Alex and his buddies saw their friend charge the stage and figured they'd better follow. The group stuck around and chatted with McSwain for about 20 minutes. He told them if they ever tried to disrespect him again in front of a crowd, they'd be "in serious trouble."