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Are school closings racist?

Some people think so.

At the most basic level, there’s the fact that decisions about African American communities are being made without their consent.

Of 54 school closings proposed by CPS, 51 are in low-income African American areas; 90 percent of students being impacted are black.

“If you look at the people making the decisions and the communities they’re talking about, you have white males saying they know what’s best for African American students,” said Austin schools activist Dwayne Truss.

“Barbara Byrd-Bennett is not calling the shots,” he said.  “Mayor Emanuel and David Vitale and Tim Cawley are calling the shots.  She’s just an expert in closing schools who they brought in to do that.  She’s just the messenger.”

Comments Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition, “She’s put in place to implement these policies so they can hide behind her.”

Byrd-Bennett “would not have been hired if she was not on board with [Emanuel’s school closing agenda] — and with the priority of providing opportunities for private educational interests to make money bringing in mediocre interventions for black children,” said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.

Three high schools

For Brown, it’s about the school system’s priorities — and that’s a civil rights and human rights issue.

“The priority has been to disinvest from minority communities and invest in failed programs, invest in charter schools and contract schools,” he said. “The priority has been that minority children don’t have the same quality of education.

“Example: Look at North Side College Prep, they have 22 AP classes.  Lakeview High, with about 18 or 20 percent African American students, a few blocks from the mayor’s house, they have 12 AP classes.  Dyett High School, 99 percent African American and 95 percent low-income, no AP classes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Charge swastikas in workplace

Warehouse workers from Joliet will be in Chicago Thursday morning to file discrimination charges against their employer. Read the rest of this entry »

High arrest, incarceration rates for minority youth

African Americans comprised 18 percent of the state’s youth population but 57 percent of youth arrested; Latino youth are nearly twice as likely as whites to be detained.

Various experts and policymakers are expected to join community members, especially youth, in an open forum discussing the disproportionate arrest and incarceration of African American and Latino youth, Tuesday, April 20, 7 p.m. at the Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone.

It’s co-sponsored by the Invisible Institute and Chicago Public Radio, part of WBEZ’s ongoing series, Inside and Out.  Steve Edwards will moderate.

Mojo Snake Minuet

John Litwelier is the esteemed music critic who covered the early days of the AACM and has written about all manner of jazz for Downbeat, the Reader, the Sun-Times, the Tribune, etc., along with a book about free jazz and a biography of Ornette Coleman.  Now he’s published his first novel, Mojo Snake Minuet, and it’s a murder mystery unlike any other murder mystery.

First of all, the sleuth is a music critic, and there are lots of music critic jokes.  (At one point the hero faces a drawn gun; “he could imagine the headline: ‘Musician Kills Critic’ —  it had to happen someday, but why me?”)  So we have a satire of the music critic racket, which is badly needed and long overdue, but the satire doesn’t end there.

The central conceit of the novel is that black people run America and white people are the oppressed minority. There are white civil rights and white power movements, white alcoholics are hounded and imprisoned, and degenerate opera arias are performed in dingy nightclubs. At times the conceit is revealing, at times cumbersome, at times a little absurd, but it quickly subsides behind a cast of lively characters, with sharp, intelligent dialogue and wild action.

There’s Yakub Yakub, the handsome, callow young critic, his fecklessness shielded by a grandiose ego, who manages to be both laughable and likeable. There’s his boss, Chief Danyal Kaida, the eccentric and autocratic owner of the Chicago Daily Messenger, who manipulates the city’s political elite as he looks out from the top-floor office in the Messenger Tower near the Michigan Avenue bridge.  There’s Yakub’s old flame, Aisha Salim, an investigative reporter for the Chicago Daily Drum — and courageous supporter of civil rights for whites.  There are a couple of pop divas, a couple of corrupt cops, a gangster kingpin and a renegade voodoo sect.

There’s a Back To Europe movement led by Bishop Joseph Johnson of the Church of St. Elvis (on 47th Street) and a thuggish white studies professor named Atilla Galahad.

The plot is complicated not just by a variety of crooks who are after the same treasure, but by two separate investigators, after the certified licensed private witch Shadow Mbalabala joins the chase.  We meet him in his shabby office over the Wabash el, where he’s reading a hardboiled witch thriller.  In contrast to Yakub, he is quietly competent, jaded, sardonic, and a bit run-down.

It’s all wonderfully entertaining – but does the upending of our society’s racial paradigm serve any purpose beyond entertainment, and a writer’s exercise?  I don’t know.  It does put things in a different light, to say the least.  It makes you think, in between laughs and thrills.

Litweiler will read from the book at 57th  Street Books, 1301 E. 57th Street, Thursday, January 21, at 6 p.m.

Promoting segregation

A third of non-selective CPS magnet schools would  become “almost entirely white” under a proposed admissions policy, according to an analysis by Designs for Change.

The “primary thrust” of the new policy would turn magnet schools that are now mainly racially diverse into largely segregated neighborhood schools, according to a statement from Don Moore of DFC.

He calls the policy “a scheme to further segregate the system.”

The elements of the policy that would do most to re-segregate schools – giving greater preference to siblings of students and to neighborhood residents – are entirely voluntary and in no way mandated by the courts, he emphasized.

About a third of the magnet schools, now located in mainly white neighborhoods, would become “almost entirely white” under the new policy, while middle-class and low-income schools located in minority communities would become less diverse economically, he said.

CPS has falsely argued that a 2007 Supreme Court decision bans the use of race as a basis for assigning students, he said.  (A Tribune report today echoed that contention.)  What the court ruled was that race could not be the only factor, Moore said.

Civil rights groups (including the ACLU) and education groups (include the Black Star Project and PURE) have called for including race as a factor in admissions decisions for these schools.

The ACLU has pointed out that replacing race by socioeconomic status has been shown to exacerbate racial segregation, citing school systems in San Francisco and Cambridge, Massachusetts – and that recent Supreme Court decisions “make clear that race can be used as a factor in determining admissions and fostering diversity in a public school system.”

The Board of Education is expected to vote on the new policy on Wednesday.

Complaint: Olympic bid discriminates

Nine community activists have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice charging the Mayor, the Chicago Park District and Chicago 2016 with racial discrimination in the siting of Olympic venues.

The Chicago Olympic bid puts of the heaviest burden on three major parks in low-income African-American communities, denying residents use of the park over a period of years for venues that will be constructed and then torn down after the Olympics, they charge.  Only one venue is sited in a park in a predominantly white community — the tennis competition will take place on courts in Lincoln Park.

In Washington Park and elsewhere, Olympic spectators will be shuttled in and out of events, with virtually no economic benefit for surrounding communities.  Chicago 2016 developed the siting plans and the Chicago Park District approved them with no input from residents, according to the complaint.

“I think the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee has stolen parks in low-income African-American neighborhoods because they think we will just be quiet and take it, while white and more affluent neighborhoods wouldn’t tolerate it,” said Michael Johnson, who coaches a youth football team in Washington Park. 

Wealthier areas of the city “would never tolerate extensive shutdowns and construction,” said South Side activist Toni Stith.  Washington and Douglas Parks currently provide the only recreational resources in their respective communities.

While the Olympics have been promoted as a private enterprise requiring no public funding, “think of what they’d have to pay if they wanted to rent these parks for so many years at a fair rate,” said education advocate Don Moore.

Police ‘sensitivity training,’ tasers

Racial sensitivity training is trotted out as the solution after every new outrage, but does it work?  Not much, according to Boston Mayor Tom Menino and others cited at Alternet.

Veteran West Coast cop Norm Stamper, author of Breaking Rank, notes that “the rhetoric of community policing” has been accompanied by an “increase in militarism in American policing,” and says the tendency to focus on sensitivity training should be replaced by “non-negotiable expectations for performance and conduct”  which make “respect for and capacity to deal with minority communities…a condition of employment, not something to teach after the fact.”

Another innovation which hasn’t much changed police behavior, if these videos from an Alternet piece on tasers are at all representative, is the dashboard video cam monitor.

Here are videos (featuring some guys who probably shouldn’t be police officers) of a middle-age mom tased and handcuffed in front of her children during a routine traffic stop; or this guy stopped while driving his mother home from work, tased after he passes a sobriety test, with his elderly mother pepper sprayed when she objects; or this 72-year-old grandmother tased during a traffic stop.

Notes author Scott Thill, “Thanks to the taser’s wildfire deployment [and] classification as non-lethal weaponry…cops have nearly lost their minds using it on everyone from children, the elderly, and pregnant mothers to the mentally unstable and physically disabled.

“Or have their lost their spines? After all, the police are public servants, and were even once referred to as peace officers, charged with resolving disputes, defusing danger and, when necessary, applying lethal force to keep the public safe. But lately, and thanks partially to the taser’s alleged safety, they have been leaving peace behind in favor of brutalizing innocent civilians with accelerating lunacy.”

Chicago race riot

Developing Communities Project holds a symposium on the 90th anniversary of the Chicago race of 1919, with community leaders and clergy reflecting on “the work in progress” of race relations in America, on  Monday, July 27, Lilydale First Baptist Church, 649 W. 113th.

As everyone knows, the riot began on July 27, 1919, when a raft carrying some kids drifted from the black section of the 29th Street beach toward the white section.  Eugene Williams, a 17-year-old African American, drowned when he was struck by rocks thrown by a white man; a police officer on the scene declined to assist Williams or arrest the rock-thrower.

Thirty-eight people died and 537 were injured — most of them black — as white gangs rampaged through the Black Belt, committing murder, arson, and looting, over the next several days.  A thousand African Americans were left homeless after their homes were burned down; some got back on the trains they’d come on and returned to the South. It ended when the governor called in the National Guard to set up a perimeter around Bronzeville.

History Matters reprints the July 28 front-page Chicago Daily News article by reporter Carl Sandburg, featuring reactions by black community leaders.  Jazz Age Chicago has a photo of white marauders, bricks in hand, and links to several contemporaneous newspaper accounts.

John Hagedorn’s Gang Research site has a piece on the Irish gangs that were found by an investigating commission to be the ‘”primary instigators” of violence.  The University of Illinois library offers a digitized version of a pamphlet on the riots — urging black and white workers to organize together against economic exploitation — by Mary Marcy, who edited the International Socialist Review (where Sandburg also appeared), published by the Charles Kerr Co. of Chicago.



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