Whoever controls our knowledge of our past controls our ability to understand our present and to shape our future. All thanks, honor and respect to these young people.
Hundreds of students throughout suburban Denver protested a conservative school policy proposal by walking out of classrooms Tuesday. Following a policy trend that’s gaining traction nationwide, the Jefferson County School Board in Colorado plan would restrict history education to subject matter that “promote[s] citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.”
According to the curricula proposal, students would only be taught lessons depicting American heritage in a positive light, and effectively ban any material that could lead to dissent. Under the proposed policy, a review committee would regularly read instructional text and course syllabic to ensure that educational materials do not stray from subject matter that complies with the policy.
But students involved in the walkout contend that censored coursework actually contradicts American history and ideals. Many of them brought signs about the patriotic nature of protest, and waved American flags as they walked.
Arvada High School senior Tyrone G. Parks disagreed with the school board, and argued that protest is a crucial aspect of American history, “and everything that we’ve done is what allowed us to be at this point today. And if you take that from us, you take away everything that America was built off of.” Tori Leu, a Ralston Valley High School student, shared a similar sentiment. “I don’t think my education should be censored. We should be able to know what happened in our past.”
Students learned about the walkout via social media and word of mouth. And the overwhelming response to the school proposal introduced by Julie Williams makes sense given the area’s diversity. The district also has a history of civil disobedience, as teachers staged a successful “sick-out” that closed two high schools.
The proposal will be voted on next week. Three conservatives on the five-person school board make up the majority of the school board. Speaking to the school news website Chalkbeat Colorado, Williams explained that American history is not entirely positive, and acknowledged that certain events should be taught. “But we shouldn’t be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place,” she said.
Similar rhetoric is used to justify comparable school policies around the U.S. In 2010, Arizona passed a bill that banned ethnic studies and prevented teachers with thick accents from instructing students. More recently, South Carolina conservatives asked the College Board, which is responsible for Advanced Placement curricula, to exclude any material with a perceived ideological bias, such as lessons about evolution. Schools in Texas are trying to incorporate textbooks that distort climate science.
But students like the ones in Denver are pushing back on conservative or discriminatory education policies. In Pennsylvania, a student newspaper editor refused to print the word ‘Redskins,‘ the nickname of his school’s athletic teams. A group of middle school students protested a dress code that discriminated against female students, in March. And several students have protested abstinence-only curricula and slut-shaming from school administrators.
Read more at: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/09/24/3571362/student-protest-denver/
Don't bother with the NYTimes review. It fails to mention its own maligning of Webb in its cover up of the Government's role in introducing and spreading the crack cocaine epidemic in the African-American communities.
The new Hollywood film "Kill the Messenger" tells the story of Gary Webb, one of the most maligned figures in investigative journalism. Webb’s explosive 1996 investigative series "Dark Alliance" for the San Jose Mercury News revealed ties between the CIA, Nicaraguan contras and the crack cocaine trade ravaging African-American communities. The exposé provoked protests and congressional hearings, as well as a fierce reaction from the media establishment, which went to great lengths to discredit Webb’s reporting. We revisit Webb’s story with an extended clip from the documentary "Shadows of Liberty," and speak with Robert Parry, a veteran investigative journalist who advised Webb before he published the series.
Reading Frederick Douglass's, What is the Meaning of the Forth of July for the Slave, I am reminded of a more recent celebration of the Fourth which raised the same question for the descendants of American slaves. The 200th anniversary of the Fourth in 1976 was celebrated with a great deal of fanfare. The celebration lasted all year and culminated in a majestic procession of more than three hundred “tall ships,” sailing vessels from around the world that had gathered in New York Harbor to sail up the Hudson on the Fourth. As we watched the ships passing by from Riverside Park on 105 th st, we noticed that the ships were all turning around at 110th st, just before entering Harlem. This flotilla apparently was acknowledging that the Fourth of July held the same meaning for the descendants of American slavery that Douglass affirmed it had for their ancestors 125 years earlier.
For residents of the world’s pre-eminent capitalist nation, American historians have produced remarkably few studies of capitalism in the United States. This situation was exacerbated in the 1970s, when economic history began to migrate from history to economics departments, where it too often became an exercise in scouring the past for numerical data to plug into computerized models of the economy. Recently, however, the history of American capitalism has emerged as a thriving cottage industry. This new work portrays capitalism not as a given (something that “came in the first ships,” as the historian Carl Degler once wrote) but as a system that developed over time, has been constantly evolving and penetrates all aspects of society.
Slavery plays a crucial role in this literature. For decades, historians depicted the institution as unprofitable and on its way to extinction before the Civil War (a conflict that was therefore unnecessary). Recently, historians like Sven Beckert, Robin Blackburn and Walter Johnson have emphasized that cotton, the raw material of the early Industrial Revolution, was by far the most important commodity in 19th-century international trade and that capital accumulated through slave labor flowed into the coffers of Northern and British bankers, merchants and manufacturers. And far from being economically backward, slave owners pioneered advances in modern accounting and finance.
Edward E. Baptist situates “The Half Has Never Been Told” squarely within this context. Baptist, who teaches at Cornell University, is the author of a well-regarded study of slavery in Florida. Now he expands his purview to the entire cotton kingdom, the heartland of 19th-century American slavery. (Unfortunately, slavery in the Upper South, where cotton was not an economic staple, is barely discussed, even though as late as 1860 more slaves lived in Virginia than any other state.) In keeping with the approach of the new historians of capitalism, the book covers a great deal of ground — not only economic enterprise but religion, ideas of masculinity and gender, and national and Southern politics. Baptist’s work is a valuable addition to the growing literature on slavery and American development.
Where Baptist breaks new ground is in his emphasis on the centrality of the interstate trade in slaves to the regional and national economies and his treatment of the role of extreme violence in the workings of the slave system. After the legal importation of slaves from outside the country ended in 1808, the spread of slavery into the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico would not have been possible without the enormous uprooting of people from Maryland and Virginia. Almost one million slaves, Baptist estimates, were transported to the cotton fields from the Upper South in the decades before the Civil War.
The domestic slave trade was highly organized and economically efficient, relying on such modern technologies as the steamboat, railroad and telegraph. For African-Americans, its results were devastating. Since buyers preferred young workers “with no attachments,” the separation of husbands from wives and parents from children was intrinsic to its operation, not, as many historians have claimed, a regrettable side effect. Baptist shows how slaves struggled to recreate a sense of community in the face of this disaster.
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The sellers of slaves, Baptist insists, were not generally paternalistic owners who fell on hard times and parted reluctantly with members of their metaphorical plantation “families,” but entrepreneurs who knew an opportunity for gain when they saw one. As for the slave traders — the middlemen — they excelled at maximizing profits. They not only emphasized the labor abilities of those for sale (reinforced by humiliating public inspections of their bodies), but appealed to buyers’ salacious fantasies. In the 1830s, the term “fancy girl” began to appear in slave-trade notices to describe young women who fetched high prices because of their physical attractiveness. “Slavery’s frontier,” Baptist writes, “was a white man’s sexual playground.”
The cotton kingdom that arose in the Deep South was incredibly brutal. Violence against Native Americans who originally owned the land, competing imperial powers like Spain and Britain and slave rebels solidified American control of the Gulf states. Violence, Baptist contends, explains the remarkable increase of labor productivity on cotton plantations. Without any technological innovations in cotton picking, output per hand rose dramatically between 1800 and 1860. Some economic historians have attributed this to incentives like money payments for good work and the opportunity to rise to skilled positions. Baptist rejects this explanation.
Planters called their method of labor control the “pushing system.” Each slave was assigned a daily picking quota, which increased steadily over time. Baptist, who feels that historians too often employ circumlocutions that obscure the horrors of slavery, prefers to call it “the ‘whipping-machine’ system.” In fact, the word we should really use, he insists, is “torture.” To make slaves work harder and harder, planters utilized not only incessant beating but forms of discipline familiar in our own time — sexual humiliation, bodily mutilation, even waterboarding. In the cotton kingdom, “white people inflicted torture far more often than in almost any human society that ever existed.” When Abraham Lincoln reminded Americans in his Second Inaugural Address of the 250 years of “blood drawn with the lash” that preceded the Civil War, he was making a similar point: Violence did not begin in the United States with the firing on Fort Sumter.
Baptist has a knack for explaining complex financial matters in lucid prose. He relates how in the 1830s Southern banks developed new financial instruments, bonds with slaves as collateral, that enabled planters to borrow enormous amounts of money to acquire new land, and how lawmakers backed these bonds with the state’s credit. A speculative bubble ensued, and when it collapsed, taxpayers were left to foot the bill. But rather than bailing out Northern and European bondholders, several states simply defaulted on their debts. Many planters fled with their slaves to Texas, until 1845 an independent republic, to avoid creditors. “Honor,” a key element in Southern notions of masculinity, went only so far.
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By the 1850s, prosperity returned to the cotton economy, and planters had no difficulty obtaining loans in financial markets. As the railroad opened new areas to cultivation and cotton output soared, slave owners saw themselves as a modern, successful part of the world capitalist economy. They claimed the right to bring their slaves into all the nation’s territories, and indeed into free states. These demands aroused intense opposition in the North, leading to Lincoln’s election, secession and civil war.
Baptist clearly hopes his findings will reach a readership beyond academe — a worthy ambition. He pursues this goal, however, in ways that sometimes undermine the book’s coherence. The chapter titles, which refer to parts of the body, often have little connection to the content that follows. Presumably to avoid sounding academic, he sprinkles the text with anachronistic colloquialisms (“the president was all in” is how he describes Franklin Pierce’s embrace of the Kansas-Nebraska bill in 1854) and with telegraphic sentences more appropriate for Twitter. Occasionally, he deploys four-letter words that cannot be reproduced in these pages. This is unnecessary — his story does not require additional shock value.
It is hardly a secret that slavery is deeply embedded in our nation’s history. But many Americans still see it as essentially a footnote, an exception to a dominant narrative of the expansion of liberty on this continent. If the various elements of “The Half Has Never Been Told” are not entirely pulled together, its underlying argument is persuasive: Slavery was essential to American development and, indeed, to the violent construction of the capitalist world in which we live.
read more at:
The World Bank reports that Cuba has one of the best education systems in the world, rivaling those of Finland and Hong Kong, and one of the best public health systems in the world, with an infant mortality rate lower than the U.S., despite the crippling, fifty year, U.S. economic embargo.
According to the international organization, Cuba is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean to have a high quality education system. Here are excerpts from the article by Salim Lamrani, a lecturer at the University of La Réunion, and a journalist specializing in relations between Cuba and the United States. [Article translated from the French by Larry R. Oberg.] Lamrani is author of The Economic War against Cuba(2013).
The World Bank recently published a revealing report on the status of education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Entitled Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean, the study focuses on the continent’s public education systems and the major challenges they face. 
In Latin America, kindergarten, primary and secondary teachers constitute, in human terms, a resource of 7 million people, or 4 percent of the region’s workforce and more than 20 percent of all technical and professional workers. Their salaries absorb 4 percent of the continent’s GDP. Their working conditions vary from one region to another, even within national borders. Teachers, mostly women — 75 percent on average — are poorly paid and tend to be of lower socioeconomic status. In addition, the average age of teachers is more than 40. Thus they constitute a workforce considered to be “aging.” 
The World Bank notes that all world governments scrutinize carefully “the quality and practices of teachers,” particularly at a time when the objectives of education systems are required to adapt to new realities. The emphasis is now on skills and not merely on the accumulation of knowledge.
The report’s findings are final. The World Bank emphasizes “the poor quality of Latin American and the Caribbean teachers,” a condition that constitutes the main obstacle to the advancement of education across the continent. [. . .] 
According to the financial institution, with the notable exception of Cuba, “no teaching faculty in the region can be considered to be of high quality when compared to global parameters.” The World Bank also notes that “today, no Latin American school system, with the possible exception of that of Cuba, has the high standards, strong academic talent, high or at least adequate salaries and high degree of professional autonomy that characterizes the world’s most effective educational systems, such as those of Finland, Singapore, Shanghai (China), the Republic of Korea, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Canada.” 
Indeed, only Cuba, where education has been the top priority since 1959, has a truly efficient education system and high-quality teachers. In terms of education, this Caribbean country has no cause to be envious of even the most developed nations. The Caribbean island is also the nation in the world that allocates the highest share of its national budget, 13 percent, to education. 
This is not the first time that the World Bank has praised the education system of Cuba. In a previous report, the organization characterized the excellence of the island’s social system:
Cuba is internationally recognized for its success in the fields of education and health, with social services that exceeds those of most developing countries and, in certain sectors, are comparable to those of the developed nations. Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and the establishment of a communist one-party government, the country has created a social system that ensures universal access to education and health services, provided by the state. This model has helped Cuba to achieve universal literacy, eradicate certain diseases and provide universal access to safe drinking water and basic public sanitation. Cuba now has one of the region’s lowest infant mortality rates and longest life expectancies. A review of social indicators in Cuba reveals an almost continuous improvement from 1960 to 1980. Several major indices, such as life expectancy and infant mortality rates, have continued to improve even during the country’s economic crisis of the 1990s [...].Cuba outperforms both Latin American and Caribbean as well as many other middle-income countries in the most important indices of education, public health and hygiene. 
The World Bank points out that the development of good education systems is vital to the future of Latin America and the Caribbean. It highlights the example of Cuba, which has achieved excellence in this field, as being the only country on the continent to have a high-level teaching faculty. These results reflect the political will of the Cuban leadership that places young people at the center of the social project and allocates the resources necessary for their acquisition of requisite knowledge and skills. Despite its limited resources as a Third World nation and a state of economic siege imposed by the United States for more than half a century, based on the maxim of José Martí, its Apostle and national hero, “to be cultured is to be free,” Cuba demonstrates that quality education is within the reach of all nations.
For full article, see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/salim-lamrani/world-bank-cuba-has-the-b_b_5925864.html
A damning report released last week by the Sentencing Project lays bare how racial bias, and the interconnecting systemic structures that reinforce it, disproportionately affect African-Americans. The report, a powerful condemnation of the "perversity" of racial oppression, reveals how "the over association" of blacks with criminality has a devastating impact on society in general and Black and other people of color in particular.
Discussions of the relationship between blacks and the criminal justice system in this country too often grind to a halt as people slink down into their silos and arm themselves with their best rhetorical weapons — racial bias on one side and statistics in which minorities, particularly blacks, are overrepresented as criminals on the other.
What I find too often overlooked in this war of words is the intersection between the two positions, meaning the degree to which bias informs the statistics and vice versa.
The troubling association — in fact, overassociation — of blacks with criminality directly affects the way we think about both crime and blacks as a whole.
A damning report released by the Sentencing Project last week lays bare the bias and the interconnecting systemic structures that reinforce it and disproportionately affect African-Americans.
This is the kind of report that one really wants to publish in its totality, for its conclusion is such a powerful condemnation of the perversity of racial oppression. But alas, this being a newspaper column, that’s not possible. Still, allow me to present many of their findings:
She further says: “The standard assumption that criminals are black and blacks are criminals is so prevalent that in one study, 60 percent of viewers who viewed a crime story with no picture of the perpetrator falsely recalled seeing one, and of those, 70 percent believed he was African-American. When we think about crime, we ‘see black,’ even when it’s not present at all.”
As the Sentencing Project report makes clear, the entire government and media machinery is complicit in the distortion.
According to the report:
Individual behavior is not the only component of the numbers; bias is the other.
See more at: http://portside.org/2014-09-13/new-study-powerful-condemnation-racial-bias#sthash.EkmET9jn.dpuf
Privatizing public education for $500,000,000,000 profit annually and even greater thought and information control of the populace. Watch this chilling three minute exhange between Diane Ravitch and Bill Moyers
Education historian Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education under the first President Bush, was once an advocate of school choice and charter schools. But Ravitch changed her mind after following the money trail behind the charter movement.
“The lure of getting federal money made many states change their laws to open the door to many, many more charter schools,” Ravitch tells Moyers. And who’s behind the investment in new charters? Hedge-fund managers, private investors and philanthropists, she says.
Watch the three-minute clip:
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Corporate media promote racism, promote division among exploited and oppressed, promote conditions for greater expoitation and oppression, thereby promote interests of the miniscule ruling class minority who are the exploiters and oppressors, who also own the corporate media.
You’re not just imagining things. The local news media’s intense focus on violent crime is also deeply racialized, at least if New York City’s media market is indicative of national trends. The 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. broadcasts of four New York-area stations over the course of this summer and compared their crime stories to arrest data from the New York Police Department. In a report released Aug. 26, the watchdog group found black suspects in crime stories far outweigh their actual representation in arrests—which is saying something, since we also know arrests themselves are racially skewed, with black people representing far more arrests for, say, marijuana possession than drug-use rates suggest is appropriate.
The disparity in crime coverage was most striking for stories about theft. In local news-land, 80 percent of suspects in New York-area thefts are black, Media Matters found. In real life, blacks represent 55 percent of NYPD’s arrests for theft. For assaults, TV-land sees 72 percent of suspects as black. Real life: 49 percent.
This reality skewing coverage is part of how black bodies become synonymous with crime and danger—and helps justify the violence and danger the state then reigns down upon peolpe like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But the news media’s skewed racial reality doesn’t end with crime.
August 25 · Edited
It is significant that this major union makes a statement stating some basic truths, unequivocally expressing outrage over the police murder of Michael Brown, stating that police on the scene refused to get him medical help, thereby "underscoring the fact that they considered him less than human," linking this to the murder of Trayvon Martin, stating that Ferguson police have launched a "military-style crackdown," and that the duty of unions is to "stand with our communities" against this kind of police violence. The statement does not cringe in fear of telling elementary truths to avoid being labeled "anti-police." That said, what is needed is to move beyond statements and mobilize the POWER of labor and all the oppressed, together with anti-racist youth nationwide, demanding all military/police out of Ferguson that all charges against arrested protesters be dropped, and for a working-class offensive against racist terror from Ferguson to NYC and throughout the U.S
Statement on Ongoing Events in Ferguson, Missouri
www.apwu.orgAPWU Web News Articles
Fair-minded people from all walks of life are deeply concerned and outraged by the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson. There is no justification for this young man’s death.
Police on the scene refused to obtain emergency medical help and left the 18-year-old’s body lying in the street for hours after his death, underscoring the fact that they considered Michael Brown as less than human.
The events following the killing are also most disturbing. In response to the protests, local police launched a military-style crack-down that included armored vehicles and machine guns aimed at protesters. Several reporters were arrested.
Unions stand for good living-wage jobs for all workers, respect for and equality of all people, and justice in the workplace and in the neighborhoods in which we live. As postal workers, we live and work in every community across the nation, including Ferguson. At a time when we are reaching out to the people throughout the nation to defend the public Postal Service and good union jobs, we must also stand with our communities. Martin Luther King put it so well when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP, the leader of the Moral Mondays Movement, uplifted our recently-concluded national convention with his wise words: Labor rights and Civil Rights must be united in the same struggle. So it must be in Ferguson, MO.
We urge our members and locals to speak out, peacefully protest, and demand justice for Michael Brown’s family and community. We seek an end to the militarization of local police forces. We seek a new day, where execution-style killings of unarmed African-American teenagers such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown take place no more.
- See more at: http://www.apwu.org/news/web-news-article/statement-ongoing-events-ferguson-missouri#sthash.b8LOEhaL.dpuf
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For decades, many fine journalists and academics have looked at the overlap between crime in Chicago and other health outcomes, by way of looking at crime as a social health problem instead of merely a problem of criminology. Sometimes it’s illness as metaphor; other times, the overlap of physical health outcomes and crime in the city.
A recent study out of the Chicago Fed, by senior economist Susan Longworth, takes it a bit farther, running statistical correlations between health and crime (and lots of other things) in the city’s community areas.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising, but the degree to which crime rates correlates with health outcomes still has the power to astonish.
For the health outcomes Longworth looked at, every one but tuberculosis was statistically significant at the five percent level. It’s not, obviously, causation, but the correlation is dramatic. (Longworth also finds strong positive correlations between all of the above categories and unemployment, and the percent of vacant units in a community area as well.)
Among those correlations, researchers have been busy trying to build a promising causative bridge to one health outcome: lead poisoning. I’ve written about this before, as have Megan Cottrell and Kevin Drum, both of whom are well worth reading.
In terms of community outcomes, Longworth focuses on North and South Lawndale. Both are heavily minority neighborhoods, the former black and the latter Hispanic; both have very low socioeconomic status on the whole. But health outcomes (and crime) are better in South Lawndale.
I’m familiar with some of the research on this, which Longworth dips her toe into. What surprised me, though, was this: the percent black population in a neighborhood is strongly correlated with childhood lead poisoning. The percent Hispanic population is negatively correlated, though not to a statistically significant level.
Which seems odd, especially if you focus on North and South Lawndale. They are, as their names suggest, neighbors. And according to city data, the percent of elevated blood levels in children has been consistently higher in North Lawndale than South Lawndale for years, two or three times as high.
It’s something of a mystery. They’re right next to each other; they share many of the same environmental concerns, like a history of industry and proximity to dense transportation lines. But I can’t help but wonder if it’s related to something that’s been discussed a lot recently: real estate, redlining, and white flight.
North Lawndale is the subject of Beryl Satter’s epic Family Properties. It’s where Ta-Nehisi Coates set his immense Atlantic cover story on reparations, with its focus on housing, disinvestment, discrimination, and capital flight.
Their works are exceptional, but it’s not a new story. In 1971, the National Urban league produced The National Survey of Housing Abandonment, which inevitably touches on North Lawndale, along with Woodlawn and neighborhoods in other cities. And it might give a clue as to why lead poisoning is much worse in North Lawndale.
There has been virtually no new capital flowing into Lawndale for the past ten years or into Woodlawn for the past fifteen. In Lawndale, the racial transition which occurred in the end of the 1950s was aided by at least some of the financial institutions which provided mortgage money for investor-speculators in accompanying the racial change. These investor-speculators would panic white owners, purchase the property at depressed prices, take out a mortgage based upon either the actual or inflated market value, then sell a purchase contract to a Negro buyer…. The seller would then resell his property to another would-be home owner and repeat this process as long as the property would sustain it. This process continues to go on although many properties have been forced off the market due to over-exploitation.
After this initial wave in the late 1950s, banks began to appreciate what was transpiring and decline to make any further investment in North Lawndale. Subsequently, there has been very little real estate activity in this neighborhood except for resale of purchase money mortgages, and the simple abandonment of properties by their owners when they became unmanageable or when cash-flow becomes negative.
In short, absentee investor-speculators rode the properties until they broke, then left them for dead.
In part from the experiences in these crises [sic] ghetto neighborhoods, and in part due to the general shortage of investment capital or the competition for monies from alternative investments, little capital is available either for transfer or refinancing of properties, or for purposes of major improvements in any of the black neighborhoods in Chicago.
This is how you destroy housing stock. And the process was intense in North Lawndale. Fed by restrictive covenants, the black population swelled as the community area’s population increased by almost a quarter from 1950-1960; the population then fell by almost a quarter from 1960-1970; by 35 percent from 1970-1980; and another 23 percent from 1980-1990. Then 12 percent, then 14 percent.
In South Lawndale, that just never happened. From 1950-1960, the neighborhood lost nine percent of its population, then gained three percent, then gained 20 percent.
Longworth isn’t the first writer to contrast North and South Lawndale. Eric Klinenberg, in his famous book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, notes how much more slowly white flight occurred in South Lawndale—98 percent white to 27 percent white over four decades, instead of a near-total change over a decade or two—and why that happened:
There are at least two reasons that Little Village was spared the fate of North Lawndale and other predominantly African-American communities in Chicago. The first has to do with processes of exclusion and oppression that we conventionally call racism…. Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton capture part of the process in their argument that North Lawndale “became a wasteland” while Little Village evolved into “a beehive of commercial activity” because of “the degree of segregation” in North Lawndale. Yet the differences between the two areas—both of which are dominated by so-called minority populations and had few whites—clearly extend beyond segregation. Unlike African Americans in North Lawndale and several other Chicago community areas, Latinos in Little Village did not experience the particular constraints of ghettoization, the rapid and continuous abandonment of institutions and residents, or the arson and violence that contribute to the destruction of the local social ecology. The second crucial reason that Little Village developed into a commercial and residential hub is that since the 1960s the area has become a magnet for Mexican and Central American migrants and immigrants…. The continuous migration of Mexican Americans to this community area has replenished its human resources and regenerated the commercial economy of retailers and small local businesses….
Klinenberg’s work describes the larger differences between North and South Lawndale and their grounding in history. But it makes the lead poisoning differences no less strange. It is true that lead poisoning can be mitigated by behavioral effects such as diet, like calcium intake, but my impression is that isn’t terribly well-known, and there’s research (conducted here in Chicago) that suggests parents are much more knowledgable about lead exposure than prevention and diet.
In that study, an impressive 95 percent of respondents knew that lead paint chips are poisonous, and 91 percent knew that “high lead in the body can affect a child’s ability to learn.” Which is genuinely impressive penetration of public-health knowledge. But only 12 and nine percent knew that iron-containing foods and calcium help prevent lead poisoning (I didn’t, and I actually read a fair amount of this stuff).
So there’s still good reason to think that, broadly speaking, the built environment and not behavioral differences is still incredibly significant when it comes to lead poisoning. And mitigation of lead poisoning in that context requires capital, which requires investment and access. What North Lawndale got was capital flight and a declining housing stock, raising the question of whether the elements of discrimination and decline can be traced literally into the city’s veins.
See more at: http://portside.org/2014-07-27/how-health-and-housing-relate-crime-chicago#sthash.zjqHhFQl.dpuf
“When I kissed my husband this morning, I never thought it would be for the last time,” Eric Garner’s wife told the New York Daily News. Thanks to what looks like an act of excessive force, though, it was.
Eric Garner died Thursday following a violent encounter with New York Police in Staten Island. Police say he suffered a heart attack.
The man, who was 43 and suffered from asthma, was put in a strong choke hold by police as they moved to arrest him. On video of the encounter, you can hear Garner struggling to get out the words “I can’t breathe” several times before collapsing. The person taking the video says he thinks Garner is having a seizure as police push him away from the scene.
At the beginning of the video, you can hear the man behind the camera pleading with police not to bother Garner, saying that he hadn’t done anything wrong and that they were arresting him “for breaking up a fight” — something several witnesses attested to. The police department claims that the man was selling untaxed cigarettes on the street, something he’d been arrested for previously, according to the Daily News. Meanwhile, Garner’s family says he had no cigarettes on him or in his car at the time of the incident.
Garner, before he died in police custody, can be heard on the tape saying, “I didn’t do shit… Every time you see me you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it.”
The story highlights many of the systemic problems behind not only Garner’s death, but a series of incidents between citizens and police officers in the city. While Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to reform the department while in office, the NYPD has a long history of incidents involving apparent excessive force or questionable uses of power. Police reportedly smashed the head of a 14-year-old boy through a store window, they allegedly landed an 84-year-old in the hospital with head injuries after a jaywalking stop, and sent a woman to jail for elbowing a cop who she says was sexually assaulting her.
The department also has a long history of targeting men of color like Garner in its arrests. In 2011, for example, the NYPD recorded a number of stops for young black men that exceeds the actual number of young black men in the city.
read more at: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/07/18/3461602/nypd-choke-hold-man-dies/
While California Highway Patrol officials announced plans to investigate a roadside beating of an unidentified woman on a Los Angeles freeway that was captured in a video that went viral, the victim’s family is demanding answers, the Daily Mail reports.
Highway Patrol Assist. Chief Chris O'Quinn said at a news conference late Saturday afternoon that the woman posed a threat to herself and people in traffic, and the officer was forced to restrain her. She was walking eastbound on Interstate 10, just west of downtown Los Angeles Tuesday, the report says.
He further explained that the woman had begun walking off the freeway but returned when the confrontation occurred, the report says. The officer involved in the incident has not been identified and has been put on paid administrative leave while the investigation is carried out, the Mail reports.
Meanwhile, the woman’s family has hired Los Angeles attorney Caree Harper to help find answers in the case, which sparked outrage after a video of the brutal beating went viral. The lawyer declined to disclose the woman's name or explain why she was walking barefoot alongside the freeway, the report says.
“We want the focus to be what he was doing to her, not what she was doing prior to the confrontation,” Harper said. “She was getting beat like an animal. No one should ever be beat like that.”
The man who recorded the video, David Diaz, told ABC7 that the officer struck the woman at least 11 times in the head during the incident, which he recorded on his cellphone camera from his car.
“The most animalistic, most brutal way to subdue someone is to pound someone's head into the concrete with really big blows to the head,” Diaz told ABC7. “There was no weapons—it's obviously excess force. He starts really letting loose... He starts pounding down on her face really hard. He doesn't try to grab her hands first.”
The daughter of the unidentified woman said the family wants answers.
“He punched and pound and pound on her, the only thing she could do was block her face,” the daughter, Mayisha Adams, said Saturday, according to the Mail.
read more at: http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2014/07/california_highway_patrol_to_probe_roadside_beating_victim_s_family_wants.html
The real story is how rich kids are gaming the system
When the College Boardannounced on March 5 that it would be revising several elements of its SAT tests, including entirely scrapping the essay section—effectively reversing course on the biggest change in the last half century in the college placement exams—it might have seemed like a perfect opportunity to investigate the role of tests in education, and how well they live up to their claims of being objective evaluators of student progress. For much of the US media, though, the SAT changes served mostly as an opportunity to beat the drum of “Is our children learning?”
The revisions, announced with fanfare by College Board president David Coleman, are certainly dramatic. The essay test, introduced in 2005, will become optional, restoring the SAT’s traditional 1,600-point scale: 800 for math, 800 for English. Excessively obscure vocabulary words will be removed and replaced by terms more common in college courses. And the penalty for wrong guesses—also introduced in recent years—will be eliminated, so that a wrong answer will count the same as no answer at all.
For some reporters and pundits, especially on the right, the main concern here was whether the new tests would be dumbed-down compared to the old ones: “While some have praised the test redesign for better aligning with what’s actually taught in schools, others say there are risks of lowering standards” (USNews.com, 3/10/14).
“When the going gets tough, well, why not just make the going easier?” asked conservative Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker (3/7/14) in a widely syndicated op-ed, warning that the College Board was just concerned about inflating scores to reflect “the gradual degradation of pre-college education.” Forbes.com op-ed contributor George Leef (3/13/14) complained that the new SAT rules would be “like playing The Masters from the ladies’ tees.”
USA Today (3/6/14), meanwhile, took the opposite tack, calling the changes a move “to toughen the test,” under the headline “Sharpen Those Pencils, Kids: The SAT Is Getting Harder.”
The SAT isn’t very good at predicting the one thing it’s supposed to, which is how well a student will succeed in college. (cc photo: Josh Davis)
The stated goal of the SAT redesign, though, wasn’t primarily to make the tests easier or harder—after all, students are still competing for the same number of college admissions slots. Instead, it’s supposed to make it fairer. The College Board, in fact, noted this in its press statement (3/5/14), and some coverage dutifully repeated it:NBC News (3/5/14) described the changes as intended to “level the playing field among those taking the exam,” citing the $4.5 billion-a-year test-prep industry that gives students with money to spend an advantage.
It was a curious statement in one regard: Why would the SAT sections that were eliminated be particularly easy for students to game with test prep? Shouldn’t essay questions, at least in theory, be a better gauge of actual academic skills than the multiple-choice questions that make up the rest of the exam?
The answer points to what many testing experts say is the Achilles’ heel of standardized tests: how they’re scored. Whereas multiple-choice questions are often criticized for being mindless fill-in-the-bubble work, essay tests have a different problem: score reliability. With millions of test papers having to be scored every year, testing companies have turned to what FairTest public education director Robert Schaeffer (Minneapolis City Pages, 2/23/11) has called “essay-scoring sweatshops” to process them all quickly.
As former test scorer Dan DiMaggio wrote in his Monthly Review essay “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Scorer” (12/10), it’s not possible to make a considered assessment of essay quality when “at 30 cents per paper, you have to score 40 papers an hour to make $12 an hour.” As a result, he wrote, “for all the months of preparation and the dozens of hours of class time spent writing practice essays, a student’s writing probably will be processed and scored in about a minute.”
To address this, test companies provide “rubrics” that test scorers can use to make scoring easier. Unfortunately, these lists of scoring shortcuts—say, one point for providing a “relevant opinion” and one for providing each of two examples from the cited text, as former test scoring leader Todd Farley described in his tell-all memoir Making the Grades—barely take into account whether an essay makes any sense.
As MIT writing professor Les Perelman told the New York Times (3/6/14), “You can tell them the War of 1812 began in 1945” and still get a good score.Boston Globe columnist Joanna Weiss (3/14/14) summarized Perelman’s advice for SAT essay writers:
Write long, he advised. Use big, fancy words—“myriad” is a winner—and don’t worry about using them correctly. Include a quotation, even if it has nothing to do with the subject at hand. (“My favorite,” he wrote, “is ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’”)
Average SAT scores steadily increase with family income.
These are tricks most easily learned in test-prep courses—something that helps explain why high-income students, who can afford to pay as much as $10,000 for one-on-one tutoring (Dallas Morning News,8/17/11), score much higher on average than their low-income peers.
The Washington Post’s Wonkblog (3/5/14) published charts showing that students from families with more than $200,000 in income score nearly 400 points higher than those with below $20,000—and scores also rise with the number of times students take the preparatory PSATs, which are more commonly offered at wealthier schools. And the disparities are almost as big for the retained math and reading sections as they are for the now-discarded essay test.
Perelman, who helped inspire Coleman’s SAT changes, is not overly hopeful about the new essay-free test either, noting that a Maryland study found that family income and education levels are both tightly correlated with scores on the multiple-choice sections as well (Baltimore Sun, 9/26/13). “SAT tests correlate so highly with income,” Perelman tells Extra!, “that in reality you don’t really need to give the test—all you need is the parent’s income tax statement.”
It was the rare news outlet that explored this deeper question, and rarer still one that investigated whether the revisions to the test would do much to answer it. On NPR (3/6/14), Education Week’s Erik Robelen summarized the problem:
You know, these days kids from more affluent families, they can afford these high-priced test preps, workshops and seminars, and this is an idea to help level the playing field. There are going to be some barriers, though, to how much that will actually level the playing field though, I would imagine.
The Washington Post (3/6/14) quoted Wake Forest sociologist Joseph Soares—“There’s no reason to think that fiddling with the test is in any way going to increase its fairness”—but didn’t further investigate the issue in its long article on the SAT changes.
It’s criticisms like this that help explain one persistent problem with the SAT: It isn’t very good at predicting the one thing it’s supposed to, which is how well a student will succeed in college. As Bard College president Leon Botstein wrote in a Time.com op-ed (3/7/14):
The blunt fact is that the SAT has never been a good predictor of academic achievement in college. High school grades adjusted to account for the curriculum and academic programs in the high school from which a student graduates are.... The richer one is, the better one does on the SAT. Nothing that is now proposed by the College Board breaks the fundamental role the SAT plays in perpetuating economic and therefore educational inequality.
Time’s own coverage of the SAT announcement (3/5/14), meanwhile, merely quoted Coleman’s widely cited soundbite: “If there are no more secrets, it’s very hard to pay for them.” The biggest secret of the SAT, though, is that no matter its changes, it’s likely to remain a test less of the power of students’ brains than of the size of their parents’ wallets.
read more at: http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/flunking-the-revised-sats/
NPR's coverage of Mideast deaths doesn't match reality
National Public Radio's coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has been the target of criticism from all sides, especially since the start of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000. One common complaint from both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian critics is that NPR and other outlets downplay or ignore acts of violence by the "other side."
For example, a press release (8/12/01) from CAMERA, a conservative pro-Israel media watch group, accused NPR of skimming over the killing of a Jewish settler in a news report that focused on the funeral of a Palestinian Hamas activist killed by Israeli security forces. Similarly, Arab-American media critic Ali Abuminah (8/20/01) has criticized NPR for "cursory, inconsistent and wholly inadequate" coverage of Israeli attacks on Palestinians.
To examine these competing claims, FAIR studied NPR's coverage of Israeli-Palestinian violence, examining how often NPR reported fatal attacks on Israelis and Palestinians. The study looked at all NPR News coverage in the first six months of 2001 (1/1/01-6/30/01).
During the six-month period studied, NPR reported the deaths of 62 Israelis and 51 Palestinians. While on the surface that may not appear to be hugely lopsided, during the same time period 77 Israelis and 148 Palestinians were killed in the conflict. That means there was an 81 percent likelihood that an Israeli death would be reported on NPR, but only a 34 percent likelihood that a Palestinian death would be.
Of the 30 Palestinian civilians under the age of 18 that were killed, six were reported on NPR--only 20 percent. By contrast, the network reported on 17 of the 19 Israeli minors who were killed, or 89 percent. While 61 percent of the young people killed in the region during the period studied were Palestinian, only 26 percent of those reported by NPR were. Apparently being a minor makes your death more newsworthy to NPR if you are Israeli, but less newsworthy if you are Palestinian.
An Israeli civilian victim was more likely to have his or her death reported onNPR (84 percent were covered) than a member of the Israeli security forces (69 percent). But Palestinians were far more likely to have their deaths reported if they were security personnel (72 percent) than if they were civilians (22 percent). Of the 112 Palestinian civilians killed in the Occupied Territories during the period studied, just 26 were reported on NPR. Of the 28 Israeli civilians killed in the Territories--mostly settlers--21 were reported on NPR.
These numbers suggest that NPR may attempt to pair reports of Israeli and Palestinian casualties in an effort to appear balanced. The network's anchors often introduce Mideast stories with a quick summary of recent developments, almost always mentioning one or two recent attacks on Palestinians and one or two against Israelis.
After seeing FAIR's findings, NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin commented that "numerical equivalence is not always a determination of journalistic fairness--in the Middle East or anywhere else." He added thatNPR's reporting on the Middle East "regularly takes care to mention the imbalance in death tolls" between Israelis and Palestinians.
But it is easy to see the potential appeal for NPR of reporting individual Israeli and Palestinian deaths in roughly equal numbers. The network is under attack from critics who accuse it of playing down violence by one side or exaggerating violence by the other. It would be useful for NPR to be able to respond to complaints by pointing to stories that report Israeli and Palestinian casualties in more or less equal proportions. That way NPR can claim it is simply “reporting both sides.”
While that kind of coverage may appease critics, it fails to give the audience an accurate impression of what's going on in the Middle East. According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, a total of 576 Palestinians and 164 Israelis have been killed, a ratio of about 3.5 to 1. Given that disparity, the fact thatNPR has reported the same numbers of Israeli as Palestinian deaths would seem to reflect fear of appearing anti-Israel more than it reflects reality.
read more at:
While the "war on drugs" has failed to curtail drug trafficing or drug use, it has succeeded in criminalizing, terrorizing, and subjugating large, targeted segments of the population. In that regard it may be seen as a huge success by the miniscule, ruling, super-rich, elite who see criminalizing, terrorizing and subjugating as necessary to maintenance of the exploitation and opression on which their privilege is built. No coincidence that the country of greatest income disparity is accompanied by the largest prison population and a domestic police force equipped, financed, and trained like an army of occupation.
The US spends $5 billion more annually on the drug war than on the war in Afghanistan.
July 1, 2014 | 1,100 – The number of Americans that die each year due to violent crime caused by the drug war
This average death toll of Americans murdered in drug-related crimes is higher than the annual fatality rate of US soldiers in either the Afghanistan or Iraq war. In fact, according to an analytical study of FBI crime statistics, the Vietnam War is the only conflict in the past half-century that has been deadlier for Americans. Disturbingly, this figure doesn’t even take into account the numerous individuals who have been killed by law enforcement in drug-related raids.
$51 billion – The amount that the U.S. government spends each year on the war on drugs
This huge figure, which is $5 billion more than the average annual expenditure on the Afghanistan War, is primarily allocated to arming and training the increasingly militarised law enforcement. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), weaponry held by US counter-narcotic agencies for use against American drug suspects includes flashbang grenades, sniper rifles, and submachine guns. There is also an increased prevalence of drug-targeting SWAT teams using armoured personnel carriers – vehicles that were originally created to “transport infantry and provide protection from shrapnel and small arms fire on the battlefield.”
61 percent – The percentage of individuals targeted by drug-related SWAT raids who are people of color
The ACLU investigated the impact rates of SWAT teams in sixteen counties around the US, and in every single one, people of color were disproportionately targeted. In Allentown, PA, Latinos were 29 times more likely than white people to endure a SWAT raid, while Blacks in Burlington, NC, were 47 times more likely than whites to face this violence. This bias treatment is ongoing despite the rates of drug use and selling being comparable across racial lines.
18 months – The age of Bounkham “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh, a recent American casualty of the drug war
On May 28, a team of police officers raided the Phonesavanh’s home, with the mistaken belief that the residents were involved with drugs. As they entered, they tossed a flashbang grenade that landed directly in the crib of baby Bou Bou, which exploded within point-blank range – critically injuring him. In a harrowing article, his mother, Alecia, described seeing “a singed crib” and “a pool of blood”, and later being informed by medics of the “hole in his chest that exposes his ribs.” Alecia said that the sole silver lining to this story is that it may “make us angry enough that we stop accepting brutal SWAT raids as a normal way to fight the war on drugs.” Fortunately, Bou Bou has been making a gradual recovery, but his family is relying on donations to support their living and medical costs.
82 percent – The number of Americans who believe that the government is losing the War on Drugs
American polling company, Rasmussen, reported this staggering statistic, which contrasts considerably with the miniscule four percent who believe that the drug war has been successful. Despite the inordinate human and financial cost of the war on drugs, and its lack of success in quelling drug use or trafficking, Republican and Democrat leaders continue to express anti-democratic defiance as they ignore the will of the people and perpetuate the drug war’s inhumanity.
This article first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.
It has been six weeks since the city turned off Nicole Hill's water.
Dirty dishes are piled in the sink of her crowded kitchen, where the yellow-and-green linoleum floor is soiled and sticky. A small garbage can is filled with water from a neighbor, while a bigger one sits outside in the yard, where she hopes it will collect some rain. She's developed an intricate recycling system of washing the dishes, cleaning the floor and flushing the toilet with the same water.
"It's frightening, because you think this is something that only happens somewhere like Africa," said Hill, a single mother who is studying homeland security at a local college. "But now I know what they're going through — when I get somewhere there's a water faucet, I drink until my stomach hurts."
Hill is one of thousands of residents in Detroit who have had their water and sewer services turned off as part of a crackdown on customers who are behind on their bills. In April, the city set a target of cutting service to 3,000 customers a week who were more than $150 behind on their bills. In May, the water department sent out 46,000 warnings and cut off service to 4,531. The city says that cutting off water is the only way to get people to pay their bills as Detroit tries to emerge from bankruptcy — the utility is currently owed $90 million from customers, and nearly half the city's 300,000 or so accounts are past due.
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But cutting off water to people already living in poverty came under criticism last week from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, whose experts said that Detroit was violating international standards by cutting off access to water. "When there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections," Catarina de Albuquerque, the office's expert on the human right to water and sanitation, said in the communique.
"Are we the kind of people that resort to shutting water off when there are disabled people and seniors?" said Maureen Taylor, chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization. "We live near the Great Lakes, we have the greatest source of fresh water on Earth, and we still can't get water here."
The issue of utility affordability is acute in Detroit, with its high proportion of low-income residents and an infrastructure whose costs were once borne by a much larger population. But municipal analysts say the problem is becoming more prevalent everywhere as extreme weather and its unusual range of high and low temperatures force utility bills ever upward.
Water is a life utility. You can do without lights and gas. But how are you going to do without water?"- Marcus McMiller, a Detroit utility customer
In Iowa, for instance, there were nearly 10,000 electricity and gas disconnections in April, a state record, as the weather warmed and utilities could shut off power without breaking the law. (Many states have laws prohibiting the disconnection of gas or electricity during the cold winter or hot summer months.)
But the price of water and sewer services has far outpaced other utilities and the rate of inflation, according to Jan Beecher with the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University. The reason is that much of the nation is in a construction and renovation cycle, with cities spending billions on renovations after long neglecting them.
Whereas federal programs have been developed to help people pay for the rising cost of fuel and electricity, no such program exists for water, Beecher said.
"We've never really developed a clear public policy toward universal service and water," Beecher said. "International organizations are concerned with a basic level of service, but with water, the tricky thing is that drinking water would fall into that, but watering the lawn would not be considered a basic human right."
"The real issue is the obligation of the utility to bill affordably so that people will be able to avoid disconnections of service," said Roger Colton, a consultant with Fisher Sheehan and Colton who specializes in the economics of utilities. "That's the issue that is quickly coming to the forefront."
The last time Detroit began shutting off water for unpaid bills a decade ago, Colton worked with the Michigan Poverty Law Program to develop a program that would help the water department collect money while still keeping water affordable. He found that whereas the federal Environmental Protection Agency recommends that families spend no more than 2.5% of their pretax income on water and sewer service, some Detroit residents were paying more than 20%.
Colton argues that cities won't get the money they want by simply shutting off services. Instead, he says, utilities should require residents to pay a percentage of their income to the water department for service.
"If you give someone a more affordable bill, you end up collecting more of the bills," he said.
Taking Colton's advice into account, Detroit's water department implemented a program that allowed residents to start making payments on their bills even if they were thousands of dollars behind. But that program was cut during the city's bankruptcy, said Lorray Brown, with the Michigan Poverty Law Program. The city, still in bankruptcy, is probably not in a position to pay for a similar program now, she said.
A line of angry customers waited on Thursday outside a customer service office for the water and sewer department. "Water is a life utility. You can do without lights and gas. But how are you going to do without water?" said Marcus McMiller, who was waiting in line with dozens of others.
McMiller said he thought he was current on his bill, but when he called the city, he was told that his house was listed as unoccupied. He was hoping to get his water service resumed by paying the $312 he was told he owed.
Nicole Hill said she was told she owed $5,754, which she finds impossible to believe. She moved into her apartment five years ago, and right away the water bills seemed strange — $200 a month or more. When she called the water department to have it check on her water, she didn't get anywhere, she said.
For the last two years, she has paid $2,800 to try to get caught up, but the utility wants her to pay $1,700 more before she can even get on a payment plan — an amount she doesn't have.
Now her car has broken down, and she has to depend on friends for rides to get water. Her three children are staying with friends because she fears that child protection authorities will take them away if they find they are living in a home without running water.
Her son said he was worried about her because he had never seen her cry before — until lately. "I literally feel like I'm going back to 'Little House on the Prairie' days," Hill said, standing in her kitchen, where a pan sat dirty on the stove.
She's called dozens of service groups looking for help, and has been approached about entering into a class-action lawsuit against the city for the water shutoffs. Hill said she doesn't care about a settlement from the city, or even an apology. All she wants, she said, is to be able to turn on her tap and take a long, cold drink.
read more at:
This post originally appeared at The Nation.
Fifty years ago, Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old anthropology major at Queens College, went down to Mississippi for Freedom Summer. His first stop was Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he and Mickey Schwerner, a 24-year-old graduate student in social work at Columbia University and James Chaney, a 21-year-old volunteer with the Congress for Racial Equality from Meridian, Mississippi, were sent to investigate a church burning. Schwerner and Chaney had spoken at Mount Zion Methodist Church over Memorial Day, urging local blacks to register to vote.
In 1964, only 6.7 percent of African-Americans were registered in Mississippi and not a single one in Philadelphia’s Neshoba County. The fight for voting rights was the reason Goodman traveled to Mississippi. “He just thought it was unfair that an American citizen of voting age was restrained and stopped from voting,” said his older brother, David.
On June 21, 1964, the young civil rights activists were arrested by the Neshoba County police and then abducted by the Klan. Their bodies were found 44 days later in an earthen dam. Goodman and Schwerner, both white, had been shot once. Chaney, who was African-American, had been mutilated beyond recognition. Martin Popper, the attorney for the Goodman family, called it “the first interracial lynching in the history of the United States.”
The murders of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were the starkest example of the brutality the Freedom Summer volunteers encountered from local whites. Freedom Summer “produced almost as many acts of violence by local whites as it did black voters,” wrote historian David Garrow. Mississippi didn’t change until Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. “A lot of people lost their lives getting that Voting Rights Act into place,” said David Goodman.
The legislation eliminated the literacy tests and poll taxes that for so long prevented blacks from registering to vote in Mississippi and other Southern states and made sure those states didn’t adopt new voter suppression tactics in the future. The VRA transformed Mississippi and the rest of the country. Today, the Magnolia State has more black elected officials than any other state.
The 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer happens to coincide with the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v Holder, where the Supreme Court’s conservative majority invalidated Section 4 of the VRA on June 25, 2013. As a result, states like Mississippi, with the worst history of voting discrimination, no longer have to clear their voting changes with the federal government.
Section 4 provided the formula for covering states that had to submit their voting changes under Section 5 of the VRA (known as “preclearance”). Chief Justice John Roberts struck down Section 4 for two reasons: it was based on outdated data from the 1960s and 1970s, he argued and violated what he called the “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” among states. Though Roberts conceded “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that,” he stated that the “extraordinary measures” of the VRA were no longer justified.
Think voting discrimination is largely a thing of the past?
Take a look at this map, courtesy of the Brennan Center for Justice:
Some relevant facts Roberts neglected to mention:
Since the 2010 election, 22 states have passed new voting restrictions, according to the Brennan Center. This includes requiring strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cutting early voting, making it harder to register to vote and rescinding voting rights for non-violent ex-felons. New restrictions will be in place for the first time in fifteen states in the 2014 election. All across the country, we’re seeing the most significant push to restrict voting rights since Reconstruction.
Partisanship is a strong motivating factor for the voting changes — GOP legislatures or governors enacted 18 of the 22 new restrictions.
So is race. According to the Brennan Center: “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 7 have new restrictions in place. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 9 passed laws making it harder to vote.”
These disturbing facts suggest that the strong protections of the VRA are still needed. Nearly two-thirds of the states previously covered under Section 5 of the VRA, nine of 15, passed new voting restrictions since 2010.
Take another look at the maps above. You’ll see that the South continues to restrict voting rights more aggressively than anywhere else in the country. What has changed in recent years isn’t the South but the fact that states like Kansas and Ohio and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have adopted Southern-bred voter suppression tactics. Just when the VRA should’ve been expanded to cover the surprisingly wide scope of 21st century voting discrimination, the Supreme Courtinstead gutted the law.
“Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet,” Justice Ginsburg wrote in her dissent. The central irony of the decision is that it was pouring when the Supreme Court removed the umbrella designed to protect voters from discrimination.
What happened next was entirely predictable. Within two hours of the decision, Texas implemented a voter ID law judged to be discriminatory by the federal courts. Two months later, North Carolina passed the harshest package of voting restrictions in the country.
Local jurisdictions previously covered by the law have responded in kind. Reports MSNBC’s Zack Roth:
Georgia lawmakers changed the date of city council elections in Augusta from November to July, a time when black turnout is traditionally far lower — a tactic that goes back to Jim Crow days. In Pasadena, Texas, voters approved a new “at-large” scheme for electing council members that made it much harder for Hispanic candidates to win office. A similar scheme, adopted by a school district in Beaumont, Texas, was blocked by the Justice Department under Section 5, but went into effect this year.
Since the Shelby decision, 10 jurisdictions in seven states have enacted potentially discriminatory new voting changes that would’ve been subject to review under Section 5, according to the Leadership Conference.
These soldiers were a unit of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) of the Union Army during the Civil War. They were just a few of the nearly 200,000 African-American volunteers--freedmen and escaped slaves—who, along with volunteers from Canada, the Caribbean, and Africa, served as the USCT, which made up 10% of the Union Army. They helped save the Union and fought bravely to end slavery. Forty thousand gave their lives, suffering the highest casualty rate of any group in the war. Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist and writer, himself an escaped slave, said, "He who would be free must himself strike the blow." The USCT was truly the heroic embodiment of that philosophy.
The Day African-Americans Achieved Freedom from Slavery
The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln declared on January 1, 1863 that all slaves were freed in states that were in rebellion. However, the promise of the Proclamation was not fulfilled until the Union Armies defeated the Confederate forces throughout the South in the spring of 1865, and, finally, until Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas on June 19th with nearly 2,000 Union soldiers and the last stronghold of slavery fell and the last 250,000 slaves held in Texas were freed. The Civil War won emancipation for 4 million African-Americans. Celebrate Juneteenth.
The Case for Reparations: An Intellectual Autopsy
Four years ago, I opposed reparations. Here's the story of how my thinking has evolved since then.
MAY 22 2014, 11:19 AM ET
In North Lawndale, the Chicago neighborhood featured in The Atlantic's June cover story on reparations, a church occupies a boarded-up storefront. (Carlos Javier Ortiz)
The best thing about writing a blog is the presence of a live and dynamic journal of one's own thinking. Some portion of the reporter's notebook is out there for you to scrutinize and think about as the longer article develops. For me, this current article—an argument in support of reparations—began four years agowhen I opposed reparations. A lot has happened since then. I've read a lot, talked to a lot of people, and spent a lot of time in Chicago where the history, somehow, feels especially present. I think I owe you a walk-through on how my thinking evolved.
When I wrote opposing reparations I was about halfway through my deep-dive into the Civil War. I roughly understood then that the Civil War—the most lethal conflict in American history--boiled down to the right to raise an empire based on slaveholding and white supremacy. What had not yet clicked for me was precisely how essential enslavement was to America, that its foundational nature explained the Civil War's body count. The sheer value of enslaved African-Americans is just astounding. And looking at this recent piece by Chris Hayes, I'm wondering if my numbers are short (emphasis added):
In order to get a true sense of how much wealth the South held in bondage, it makes far more sense to look at slavery in terms of the percentage of total economic value it represented at the time. And by that metric, it was colossal. In 1860, slaves represented about 16 percent of the total household assets—that is, all the wealth—in the entire country, which in today’s terms is a stunning $10 trillion.
Ten trillion dollars is already a number much too large to comprehend, but remember that wealth was intensely geographically focused. According to calculations made by economic historian Gavin Wright, slaves represented nearly half the total wealth of the South on the eve of secession. “In 1860, slaves as property were worth more than all the banks, factories and railroads in the country put together,” civil war historian Eric Foner tells me. “Think what would happen if you liquidated the banks, factories and railroads with no compensation.”
As with any economic institution of that size, enslavement grew from simply a question of money to a question of societal, even theological, importance.
I got that in 2011, from Jim McPherson (emphasis again added):
"The conflict between slavery and non-slavery is a conflict for life and death," a South Carolina commissioner told Virginians in February 1861. "The South cannot exist without African slavery."Mississippi's commissioner to Maryland insisted that "slavery was ordained by God and sanctioned by humanity." If slave states remained in a Union ruled by Lincoln and his party, "the safety of the rights of the South will be entirely gone."
If these warnings were not sufficient to frighten hesitating Southerners into secession, commissioners played the race card. A Mississippi commissioner told Georgians that Republicans intended not only to abolish slavery but also to "substitute in its stead their new theory of the universal equality of the black and white races."
Georgia's commissioner to Virginia dutifully assured his listeners that if Southern states stayed in the Union, "we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything."
An Alabamian born in Kentucky tried to persuade his native state to secede by portraying Lincoln's election as "nothing less than an open declaration of war" by Yankee fanatics who intended to force the "sons and daughters" of the South to associate "with free negroes upon terms of political and social equality," thus "consigning her [the South's] citizens to assassinations and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans..."
This argument appealed as powerfully to nonslaveholders as to slaveholders.Whites of both classes considered the bondage of blacks to be the basis of liberty for whites. Slavery, they declared, elevated all whites to an equality of status by confining menial labor and caste subordination to blacks. "If slaves are freed," maintained proslavery spokesmen, whites "will become menials. We will lose every right and liberty which belongs to the name of freemen."
Enslavement is kind of a big deal—so much so that it is impossible to imagine America without it. At the time I was reading this I was thinking about an essay (which I eventually wrote) arguing against the idea of the Civil War as tragedy. My argument was that the Civil War was basically the spectacular end of a much longer war extending back into the 17th century—a war against black people, their families, institutions and their labor. We call the war "slavery." John Locke helped me with that.
This was all swirling in my head about the time I saw this article in the Times:
On Saturday, more than 15,000 students are expected to file into classrooms to take a grueling 95-question test for admission to New York City’s elite public high schools. (The exam on Sunday, for about 14,000 students, was postponed until Nov. 18 because of Hurricane Sandy.)
No one will be surprised if Asian students, who make up 14 percent of the city’s public school students, once again win most of the seats, and if black and Hispanic students win few. Last school year, of the 14,415 students enrolled in the eight specialized high schools that require a test for admissions, 8,549 were Asian.
Because of the disparity, some have begun calling for an end to the policy of using the test as the sole basis of admission to the schools, and last month, civil rights groups filed a complaint with the federal government, contending that the policy discriminated against students, many of whom are black or Hispanic, who cannot afford the score-raising tutoring that other students can. The Shis, like other Asian families who spoke about the exam in interviews in the past month, did not deny engaging in extensive test preparation. To the contrary, they seemed to discuss their efforts with pride.
I was sort of horrified by this piece, because what the complaint seemed to be basically arguing for was punishing a group of people (Asian immigrants) who were working their asses off. It struck me that these were exactly the kind of people you want if you're building a country. Even though I am arguing for reparations, I actually believe in a playing field—a level playing field, no doubt—but one with actual competition. It struck me as wrong to punish people for working really hard to succeed in that competition.
This paragraph, in particular, got me:
Others take issue with the exam on philosophical grounds. “You shouldn’t have to prep Sunday to Sunday, to get into a good high school,” said Melissa Santana, a legal secretary whose daughter Dejanellie Falette has been prepping this fall for the exam. “That’s extreme.”
I was stewing reading this. It offended some of my latent nationalism—the basic sense that you want everyone on your "team" to go out there and fight. But as I thought about it I felt that there was something underneath the mother's point. In fact there are people who don't "have to prep Sunday to Sunday, to get into a good high school." But they tend to live in neighborhoods that have historically excluded children with names like Dejanellie. Why is that? Housing policy. What are the roots of our housing policy? White supremacy. What are the roots of white supremacy in America? Justification for enslavement.
A few days later I sent the following rambling memo to my editor, Scott Stossel:
> Hey Scott. I have an essay that's starting to brew in me that I've been thinking a lot about. Are you at all interested in a piece that makes the case for reparations? This is totally pie in the sky, but it's my take on the Atlantic as a journal of "Big Ideas." There's this great piece in the Times a few weeks back about selective schools in New York and how Asian immigrants are dominating the process. I found myself really compelled by a lot of the stories and actually in more sympathy with the Asians (now Asian-Americans) than with the blacks who were protesting. A lot of what they were saying reminded me of the sort of stuff my own parents said.
> And then something occurred to me. The reason why a lot of these black parents are upset is because the schools are basically credentialing machines for the corridors of power. By not going to a Stuyvesant you miss out on that corridor, so the thinking goes. And moreso the feeling is (though never explicitly said) that black people deserve special consideration, given our history in this country. The result is that you have black parents basically lobbying for Asian-American kids to be punished because the country at large has never given much remedy for what it did to black people.
> I've thought the same before in reference to gentrification. The notion that DC should remain "black" has always struck me as really bizarre. Very little in America ever stays anything. Change is the nature of things. It only makes sense if you buy that black people are "owed" something. I.E. Since we never got anything for slavery, Jim Crow, red-lining, block-busting, segregation, housing and job discrimination, we at least deserve the stability of neighborhoods and cities we can call home.
> I'm thinking about it with the Supreme Court set to dismantle Affirmative Action. Isn't the "diversity" argument actually kind of weak? Isn't the recompensation argument actually much more compelling? Except this was outlawed with Bakke. What I am thinking is right now, at this moment, American institutions (especially its schools) are being asked to answer for the fact that country lacked the courage to do the right thing. In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision coming down, in the wake of (what looks like) a second Obama term, we could make a really strong case that now is the time renew a serious discussion about Reparations.
> And we could move it beyond "Check in hand" discussion to something more sophisticated. Does this interest you? I actually could see us arguing that Obama has nothing to lose, and should explicitly support such a policy. He ain't gonna do it. But we might--might--be able to make a good faith argument for it.
> Any interest?
All of this did not stick. (I don't, for instance, think it would be a good idea for Obama to support reparations. That would actually be a horrible idea.) But by then I had it fully established in my head that we are asking other institutions to answer for something major in our history and culture.
The final piece of this was the uptick in cultural pathology critiques extending from the White House on down. There is massive, overwhelming evidence for the proposition that white supremacy is the only thing wrong with black people. There is significantly less evidence for the proposition that culture is a major part of what's wrong with black people. But we don't really talk about white supremacy. We talk about inequality, vestigial racism, and culture. Our conversation omits a major portion of the evidence.
The final thing that happened was I became convinced that an unfortunate swath of popular writers/pundits/intellectuals are deeply ignorant of American history. For the past two years, I've been lucky enough to directly interact with a number of historians, anthropologists, economists, and sociologists in the academy. The debates I've encountered at Brandeis, Virginia Commonwealth, Yale, Northwestern, Rhodes, and Duke have been some of the most challenging and enlightening since I left Howard University. The difference in tenor between those conversations and the ones I have in the broader world, are disturbing. What is considered to be a "blue period" on this blog, is considered to be a survey course among academics. Which is not to say everyone, or even mostly everyone, agrees with me in the academy. It is to say that I've yet to engage a historian or sociologist who's requested that I not be such a downer.
This process was not as linear as I'm making it out to be. But it all combined to make me feel that mainstream liberal discourse was getting it wrong. The relentless focus on explanations which are hard to quantify, while ignoring those which are not, the subsequent need to believe that America triumphs in the end, led me to believe that we were hiding something, that there was something about ourselves which were loath to say out in public. Perhaps the answer was somewhere else, out there on the ostensibly radical fringes, something dismissed by people who should know better. People like me.