Monday Reading List: Preparing for Life and the Role of Teachers in Segregation

Sarah Gonser of The Hechinger Report looked at how a high school in Lowell, Massachusetts prepares students for the real world:

Like many cities across America, Lowell is struggling to find its economic footing as millions of blue-collar jobs in manufacturing, construction and transportation disappear , subject to offshoring and automation. The jobs that once kept the city prosperous are being replaced by skilled jobs in service sectors such as health care, finance and information technology — positions that require more education than just a high-school diploma, thus squeezing out many of those blue-collar, traditionally middle-class workers ... On the surface, American high schools are doing better than ever at educating young people. Eighty-four percent of students are graduating on time — an all-time high, according to the U.S. Department of Education — and 70 percent are enrolling in college directly after high school. And yet, beneath these optimistic benchmarks lies a career- and job-readiness picture that may be increasingly out of sync with what the future economy will require.

It's worth reading the whole piece, as it examines a range of students, and the various choices they are making about colleges and careers. As with many debates about the role of high schools in America, the discussion hinges on whether students should be prepared for a four-year college, a career, or both. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive, and given the changes to the economy in the last generation, it's reasonable to think that all young people need post-secondary education. Does that mean a four-year liberal arts degree? In many cases, probably not, but career-only preparation is bound to lock people in lower-wage jobs where they acquire fewer portable skills.

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Meanwhile, as Natalie Wexler of The Atlantic points out, American schools have failed to internalize scientific consensus on the teaching of reading:

On a daily basis, teachers have their students practice skills and strategies like “finding the main idea” or “making inferences.” And teachers select books that match the given skill rather than because of the text’s content. Rarely do the topics connect: Students might read a book about bridges one day, zebras the next, and clouds the day after that. Cognitive scientists have known for decades that simply mastering comprehension skills doesn’t ensure a young student will be able to apply them to whatever texts they’re confronted with on standardized tests and in their studies later in life.

If you want to rile-up a group of reading specialists, ask them to argue about this topic. Two things are true simultaneously. First, it is impossible to be a strong reader without a ton of content knowledge, and we cannot teach reading without asking students to consume copious amounts of variegated content. Second, because of America's problematic history with race and ethnicity, historically, too much of the "content" in schools has been skewed towards a Euro-centric perspective on what kind of content is "relevant" or "standard."

Does this mean that we should abandon the idea that content is important?

No. Fortunately, many teachers find a way to teach the highest levels of rigor, while introducing significant diversity in the selection of reading texts.

Finally today, Rebecca Stoner is in Pacific Standard with an examination of a new book about the role of white women in maintaining segregation:

Recently published by Oxford University Press, Elizabeth Gillespie McRae's Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy takes a sharp look at mainstream, everyday segregationism: the segregationism of respectable white women. How, McRae asks, did those white women work to maintain segregation across the 20th century? What was their role in the battle to preserve Jim Crow? Why do many still support racist policies and politicians? Unlike governors or legislators, white women couldn't directly enforce Jim Crow with state power. Unlike the Klan, they generally eschewed direct violence. Their sphere of authority was family, home, and those local spaces considered extensions of the domestic sphere—most notably public schools.
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It's impossible to understand the racial dynamics of public schooling without grappling with the role of white, female teachers in upholding the most critical bastions of institutional racism. Given the fact that the majority of white women in America voted for our current president, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that this particular role continues today.

Have a constructive week ...

Friday Reading List: Gentrification and Police Violence

Citizen Ed published a piece I wrote, which reflects on the death of Saheed Vassell:

While Americans tend to talk about racial integration and coexistence in aspirational, abstract terms, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that an influx of new white residents takes a serious, and sometimes violent, toll on residents in black communities. These intersections between police violence and gentrification warrant much more discussion in our culture. Neighborhoods become gentrified – or, to be even more assertive, colonized – when new residents superimpose their interests and culture on a community, often in direct conflict with a neighborhood’s existing character. This process is usually oversimplified as a real estate phenomenon, wherein developers and investors plunder the housing stock of underserved communities, driving up prices in a way that enriches themselves, while making it impossible for existing residents to keep up with the escalating cost of living. But the problem isn’t about real estate alone, as Sy’s death makes painfully clear. 

Natasha Lennard, writing at The Intercept, had a similar take:

A study by RentCafe released last February found the area encompassed by the Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant area to be one of the 20 most gentrified in the country, using metrics of housing value spikes, median home value, median household income, and the share of residents that hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Whether or not the 911 callers in Vassell’s case were direct participants in this gentrifying protest, the readiness with which longtime residents drew this conclusion speaks to an empirically grounded concern in gentrified and gentrifying communities that black residents will face increased scrutiny and police interference — at times with deadly consequence.

And here's Errol Louis, at the New York Daily News, making specific points about the way that the NYPD alters videos before presenting them to the public:

City leaders — including elected officials, police commanders and community activists — should agree to take a few important steps to prevent a repeat of this disaster. The fact that Vassell was shot at 10 times suggests the NYPD should reconsider its current training, which allows officers to use whatever level of force is needed to neutralize a perceived threat ... To increase community trust, stunts like the NYPD’s video creation should be banned as a matter of policy. Instead, a full release of raw, untouched footage — including audio of 911 calls — should be presented to the public as soon as possible.

Vassell's family also has called for the release of the unedited videos. This transparency is critical, as the police tend to construct a narrative that exculpates its employees, in cases where those employees have murdered unarmed citizens.

The interplay among the Supreme Court's interpretation of the fourth amendment, and state and local "use of force" laws and policies, means that it is extremely rare that a police murder is technically "illegal," even if it is morally wrong.

"Legal" and "moral" are not synonymous. See also: slavery, the contemporary prison system, etc.

Transparency here would serve two purposes. First, and most importantly, it would hasten justice for Saheed Vassell and his grieving family. Second, and more globally, releasing all of the available evidence, including incontrovertible video evidence that demonstrates an unnecessary use of force, could shift public opinion in such a way that allows us to sustain political pressure on the leaders who could change the laws, which currently allow police officers to get away with murdering innocent people.

Have a thoughtful weekend ...

Wednesday Reading List: The Nation's ... Report Card?

The annual results of the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) - otherwise known as the "nation's report card" - came out yesterday. Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looked at the data and found little to celebrate:

The 2017 results also mean that the U.S. has seen its test scores largely stagnate for a decade, after 10 years of substantial gains in math. The country’s “achievement gaps” between black and white students, and between low-income and affluent students, have also largely held steady over the last 10 years. “I’m pleased that eighth-grade reading scores improved slightly but remain disappointed that only about one-third of America’s fourth- and eighth-grade students read at the NAEP Proficient level,” said former Michigan Governor John Engler, the chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the tests. “We are seeing troubling gaps between the highest- and lowest-performing students. We must do better for all children.”

Barnum notes that it's almost impossible to attribute the scores to any particular educational policy, as laws and regulations vary so widely from state to state. Still, it's striking that, on an internationally benchmarked test, only about 1/3 of all American students are at a level that experts would consider "proficient."

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Sarah Sparks of Education Week looked at data for subgroups:

Achievement gaps remained stubbornly wide for particular student groups, too. In grade 4 math, the average achievement fell by four scale points for students with disabilities, two points for urban students, and one point for students in poverty. No other grade or subject showed changes for individual student groups. Over the past decade, the results for students with special needs have been grimmer. Students with disabilities nationwide had an average scale score of 214 out of 500 in 4th grade reading in 2017, right at the cutoff for NAEP's "basic" level of performance. That's the lowest average performance for this group since 2003. At 8th grade, students with disabilities had an average score of 247, about the same as a decade ago, and down from a high of 250 in 2011. Similarly, 8th grade English-language learners have not improved significantly in reading since 2003.

It is important to juxtapose the stagnation in performance improvements, against the backlash towards education policy reforms. Some parties were justifiably miffed by the pace and tenor of change during the Obama era, but it's baffling to me that there are still people out there who believe that the status quo in education is acceptable.

In the meantime, Alia Wong of The Atlantic thinks we should be paying attention to the bigger picture of teacher strikes:

The Oklahoma teachers’ strike has a lot in common with an earlier strike last month in West Virginia, where classrooms across all of its 55 counties were shuttered for nine school days. Like West Virginia’s teachers, educators in Oklahoma are demanding higher pay and better benefits—but they’re also similarly driven by an underlying mission to improve the quality of public education offered in their state ... In these states (and potentially others yet to come), a strike may be the most effective pathway for securing more investment in public schools and creating educational equity ... Historically, the courts have led the way on that conversation, mandating certain funding levels or desegregation, but the judiciary has in recent decades retreated from that role. “So what do the people do when the courts are reluctant to intervene and the other branches of government have failed them for so long?” [Professor Joshua] Weishart asked. “They either quietly accept their fate or they publicly resist and demand change.”

Two things to keep in mind here. First, teachers should be compensated much, much better in this country, and striking may be the only way to achieve that goal.

That said, Wong is far too optimistic about the notion that a labor strike will lead to improvements in educational equity, particularly when it comes to student outcomes. I'm not sure what the basis is for her assertion about this, other than wishful thinking.

I would love to see teachers and their professional associations push for the things that we know could improve the quality of public schooling in this country, but my suspicion is that they will be extremely forceful on issues of funding, and silent about other important topics, like teacher quality and data.

Happy to be proven wrong here!

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Two oversimplifications currently define the debate about education policy. On the left, it's the idea that more money alone will improve the quality of public services. On the right, it's the idea that deregulation and market forces are akin to a panacea. Neither idea is anywhere near correct, and after a decade of crippled state and local revenues, driven by the collapse of the economy, there's finally more money to go back into public services. The responsible thing to do would be to both add money to education budgets, AND require concomitant reforms.

I suspect, though, that our policymakers are going to struggle to both walk and chew gum at the same time.

Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: #SaheedVassell

Last week, officers with the New York Police Department killed a neighbor of mine. His name was Saheed "Sy" Vassell. Here's The New York Times:

The police said on Friday it took 5 to 10 seconds from the moment officers pulled up to the corner of Montgomery Street and Utica Avenue to the moment they shot the man, Saheed Vassell. The department did not answer questions about how far the officers were from Mr. Vassell or what exactly they did in those intervening seconds ... The police did not release any video of the officers getting out of their car or firing. Officials said the only security camera that captured the officers was almost a block away and did not show the incident in much detail. They said they were not releasing it because the department and the state attorney general’s office were still investigating the shooting.
April 4, 2018 - Police investigate themselves at the corner where they shot Saheed Vassell. Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

April 4, 2018 - Police investigate themselves at the corner where they shot Saheed Vassell. Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

In cases where the police are responsible for a murder, the city should be required to release video evidence, at least to community review panels, during the investigation. The police department has every incentive to suppress evidence that paints its officers in an unflattering light.

That's what the family of Vassell wants. The New York Post reports:

Medics rushed Vassell, a Jamaica native and father of a 16-year-old boy, to Kings County Hospital, where he died. [Saheed's father] Eric Vassell claimed that when he went to the hospital, officials said he couldn’t see his son’s body.“They said I couldn’t identify him, that he was already in the morgue. That’s all they said,” said Vassell ... Saheed Vassell’s devastated sister, Vern Mathurin, 21, said of her brother: “There’s more to him than his mental disability — he was kind and loving … he was a great father, always with his son. Just a good man, a good brother.” Mathurin also called for the release of the 911 calls that led to her brother’s shooting death.

You can help support the family's pursuit of justice, and their funeral expenses, through this fundraiser.

April 5, 2018 - Hundreds rallied for a march, from Utica Ave to New York Ave on Empire Blvd, seeking justice for "Sy." Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

April 5, 2018 - Hundreds rallied for a march, from Utica Ave to New York Ave on Empire Blvd, seeking justice for "Sy." Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

As Doreen St. Félix of The New Yorker points out, the Crown Heights community is experiencing rapid gentrification, which is further complicated by a history of racial tension:

Parts of Crown Heights are gentrifying rapidly. (Madina wondered aloud to me if a person unfamiliar with the mores of the community had called the police.) Walking along the main drag of Eastern Parkway, the neighborhood appears to be a genial example of multiracial and multifaith fusion. But many of its interior blocks are highly segregated, and tensions between its West Indian residents, Orthodox Jewish residents, and the police—the same tensions that in 1991 brought on three days of riots, after a Hasidic driver ran over and killed a seven-year-old black child, Gavin Cato—persist. On Thursday, several residents mentioned the year 1991 to me, as if it had laid a curse on this grid.

It's hard to avoid the linkages between gentrification and hyper-aggressive policing:

Incidents like this can take a devastating toll on a community. At a vigil for Sy on Saturday night, his family shared their hope that, in the wake of tragedy, we might find a way to come together as a community to discuss the challenges presented by police violence, gentrification, and communicating across lines of racial and ethnic difference.

April 5, 2018 - Neighbors look for answers at the NYPD precinct at New York Ave and Empire Blvd. Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

April 5, 2018 - Neighbors look for answers at the NYPD precinct at New York Ave and Empire Blvd. Photo - Justin C. Cohen.

If you are interested in being a part of these conversations, please reach out to me at juscohen at gmail dot com.

I am particularly interested in having serious conversations about the connections between police violence and gentrification with white people who are relatively new to the Crown Heights community.

Wednesday Reading List: MLK 50

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Atlantic has dedicated its April issue to Dr. King's legacy, capturing a range of perspectives and angles. Eve Ewing tackled education and integration:

Every year, millions of American students are told that King’s hope has come to fruition, and their own technically desegregated classrooms are held up as evidence. This is a lie, one that feels good and makes some sense if you consider that it is predicated on the mid-20th-century image of segregation. Our children are shown pictures of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford facing the National Guard in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 and of U.S. marshals in New Orleans escorting 6-year-old Ruby Bridges to school in 1960. They learn that this, and only this, is what injustice looks like. The absence of de jure segregation, of furious mobs spitting and screaming at the front door, is heralded as the true test of justice—a low, low bar. But even by this standard, we aren’t doing all that well. 

Here's Stephen Sawchuk in Education Week, expanding on the sanitization of Dr. King's message:

As the nation marks the 50th anniversary of King’s death, the incident is nevertheless a good metaphor for how his life and legacy are often taught in public schools: truncated and tidied up. King’s beliefs were contested within his own circle, he was hounded by the U.S. government for his activism, and after his death, his legacy was far from assured. It was not until later in the century that he became the face of the civil rights movement—eclipsing all others except perhaps Rosa Parks. By the time he was murdered on April 4, 1968, King had become both more impatient and more broadly focused on poverty and social conditions rather than exclusively legal remedies for segregation. Yet he is still too often reduced in school curricula to just one speech, if not four words: “I have a dream.”

It is important to grapple withe the magnitude and expansive of King's beliefs. Here he is, in his own words, in a 1967 speech, on the complexities of pursuing economic justice:

The practical cost of change for the nation up to this point has been cheap. The limited reforms have been obtained at bargain rates. There are no expenses, and no taxes are required, for Negroes to share lunch counters, libraries, parks, hotels and other facilities with whites. Even the psychological adjustment is far from formidable. Having exaggerated the emotional difficulties for decades, when demands for new conduct became inescapable, white Southerners may have trembled under the strain but they did not collapse. Even the more significant changes involved in voter registration required neither large monetary nor psychological sacrifice. Spectacular and turbulent events that dramatized the demand created an erroneous impression that a heavy burden was involved. The real cost lies ahead. The stiffening of white resistance is a recognition of that fact. The discount education given Negroes will in the future have to be purchased at full price if quality education is to be realized. Jobs are harder and costlier to create than voting rolls. The eradication of slums housing millions is complex far beyond integrating buses and lunch counters.

Dr. King reserved harsher words still for the political moderates in the white community, who urged caution regarding the Civil Rights agenda. Here's an excerpt from King's famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail":

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Everyone should take time today to read primary sources. Hear Dr. King in his own words. His vision for racial an economic justice remains radical, and yet most Americans go through school hearing only snippets of a single, soaring speech.

When you're done reading Dr. King's writing, here's Terence Moore of The Undefeated, interviewing Andrew Young, one of King's top advisors, about what happened on April 4, 1968:

I was in court all day long, and Martin had closed on such a poignant note the night before [at Mason Temple in downtown Memphis], when he came out to speak with a fever in the pouring-down rain. But there were 11,000 or 12,000 people there, and he dragged himself up, and that’s where he made that famous speech, ‘I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I’ve seen the promised land.’ He had been feeling really bad that day, and that next morning of April 4, I expected him to sleep late, and he probably did. But I had to be in court at 9 a.m. because we were challenging the injunction that wanted us to stop from marching [in Memphis for striking sanitation workers].

This interview was touching, because it's a good reminder that heroes are human. They have breakfast, poke fun at their friends, and swap stories.

And sometimes, they get murdered for their beliefs.

Take time to do some deep reflection today. I have interspersed the reading list with videos of Dr. King's speeches. It's worth listening to them.

Have a justice-filled day ...


Monday Reading List: School Integration and Police Violence

Linda Brown died last week. She was best known for the Supreme Court case that both bears her name and remains synonymous with the idea of school desegregation in America. Elise Boddie and Dennis Parker wrote about that legacy, and why the project of integration remains incomplete, in The New York Times:

Integration has also fallen out of favor because many of its practices fail to adequately consider the needs of black communities. For example, scores of black teachers were fired in the wake of Brown v. Board because some white administrators refused to allow black people to teach white students. This segregated teachers, and it cut off a pathway to a good career and the middle class. In addition, poorly designed school-desegregation policies have scarred black students by focusing too narrowly on removing legal barriers to integration rather than creating inclusive school environments that value the abilities and dignity of all children. As a result, new discriminatory policies that cater to white parents, like tracking, as well as other policies that target black kids for punishment, have emerged in schools that are supposedly integrated.

I take some issue with the authors' characterization of the integration conversation, because while they argue that it commands "such little attention," I would argue that tons of policymakers and journalists are talking about this issue right now. The problem with the conversation is that the debate is still happening among the relative elite, while ignoring the interests of black and brown parents in underserved communities, who are the ostensible beneficiaries of such changes.

Here's Tanzi West Barbour from Wayfinder on the perils of that approach:

It never really dawned on me that a portion of my life is contained in a history book somewhere. I just never considered myself old enough to have been a part of integration. But I was. I am a member of the first class of Black students that integrated Atwood McDonald Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas in 1979 ... Black kids were not safe in these integrated schools. In fact, I remember the introduction of “safe houses” with the blue handprint logo decals in the windows of homes that you could go to if you felt like you were in danger or being threatened on your way home. I never stopped at one (my brother and I fought our battles), but I remember feeling relieved that they were there just in case we ever needed them.

West Barbour goes on to recount the various ways in which black students were treated as second class citizens in her integrated school. This problem persists today, wherein our most integrated schools often segregate students into separate classrooms, shining even greater light on the lack of equity.

These challenges are not arguments against integration, but rather a cautionary tale for policymakers who pursue such solutions today. School integration ultimately failed in this country for a number of reasons: the Supreme Court's softening on the issue by the 1980s, white flight, more explicit forms of racism from white communities, and the prioritization of other education policies in the years since integration peaked in the 1980s.

The reality, however, is that a significant reason for integration's failure is that, while we had a legal strategy to ensure that desegregation was executed at a technical level, that strategy lacked a concomitant political and community organizing strategy to ensure that black families and communities would be valued, loved, safe, and nurtured in integrated schools.

White communities completely and utterly failed to accomplish this, and we must learn from our shameful past.

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In other news, there was news Friday in the murder of Stephon Clark, who was killed in his grandmother's backyard by police officers in Sacramento, California. His family ordered an independent autopsy, which refuted the police department's account of the incident:

Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was fatally shot last week by Sacramento police officers, was struck eight times, mostly in his back, according to an independent autopsy released Friday, raising significant questions about the police account that he was a threat to officers when he was hit ... In its initial account, the Police Department said Mr. Clark had “advanced toward the officers” while holding what they believed to be a firearm. In body camera footage provided by the police, it is not clear which direction Mr. Clark is facing, and the family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said the independent autopsy contradicted the assertion by the police that he was a threat.
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It's hard to know where to start with all of this, but I want to be clear about something important here: the police have huge incentives to lie in these cases.

Because police have direct influence over the pace of investigation, evidence collection, and narrative creation in these cases, they are able to control information in such a way that paints the police in a more favorable light, a tendency that almost always involves criminalizing the victim. That's what happened with Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Laquan McDonald, and too many more innocent people to list.

In each case above, available video evidence directly contradicts the "official account" of the police. It is impossible to trust the police to investigate themselves, not to mention the prosecutors who work hand-in-glove with police departments and serve as enablers for racist, violent behavior.

While the police officer who killed Alton Sterling lost his job, but Ray Tensing, who killed Sam DuBose in Cincinnati in 2015, just received $350,000 in back pay and legal fees.

That's why, as Anne Branigin of The Root writes, the black students at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida want to change the conversation about gun violence:

At a press conference they organized, black students told reporters that they felt left out of the conversations on gun violence that have followed in the wake of the February shooting. And some safety measures that have been put in place at Stoneman Douglas High—namely, an increased police presence on campus—have left them feeling in more danger.  Among the students, the Miami Herald reports, was 17-year-old Kai Koerber, who told the crowd that he worried that increased law enforcement at a predominantly white school meant that he and other black students would be treated like “potential criminals.” “It’s bad enough we have to return with clear backpacks,” Koerber said. “Should we also return with our hands up?”

Food for thought to begin the week ...

Wednesday Reading List: Gun Violence is a Gun Problem

Isabelle Robinson, a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, writes in The New York Times, dispelling myths about disturbed students:

... students should not be expected to cure the ills of our genuinely troubled classmates, or even our friends, because we first and foremost go to school to learn. The implication that Mr. Cruz’s mental health problems could have been solved if only he had been loved more by his fellow students is both a gross misunderstanding of how these diseases work and a dangerous suggestion that puts children on the front line. It is not the obligation of children to befriend classmates who have demonstrated aggressive, unpredictable or violent tendencies. It is the responsibility of the school administration and guidance department to seek out those students and get them the help that they need, even if it is extremely specialized attention that cannot be provided at the same institution.

Is mental health an important issue that ought to be addressed, by both education and healthcare professionals? Of course. Is bullying a significant problem, which takes a toll on the mental health of young people? Yes, definitely.

Neither of these things, however, are responsible for the 17 children who were murdered in Parkland.

Easy access to guns did that. Period. 

Any attempt to deflect this discussion away from guns is a willful evasion of the violent truth. Don't get played.

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In the meantime, we learned yesterday that justice is not forthcoming for another victim of gun violence. Prosecutors in Louisiana will not charge the officers who murdered Alton Sterling: 

State Attorney General Jeff Landry’s decision not to charge the officers followed the Justice Department’s announcement in May that there would be no federal civil rights charges against the officers because of insufficient evidence. “This decision was not taken lightly,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said during a news briefing Tuesday morning. He added: “I know the Sterling family is hurting. I know that they may not agree with this decision.” The decision drew condemnation from civil rights activists who note that, more than three years after the unrest in Ferguson, Mo. brought national attention to police killings, the number of officers prosecuted for fatal shootings remains vanishingly small.

In the meantime, here's The Los Angeles Times with a gun trafficking story:

Two Gardena police officers have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of using their position to acquire firearms and illegally selling more than 100 of the weapons to others, including a convicted felon. Det. Carlos Miguel Fernandez, 42, Officer Edward Yasushiro Arao, 47, face a combined five felony counts, including conspiring to deal in firearms without a license, according to the indictment unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court. In one 2017 sale, Fernandez knew he was selling to a straw buyer who wasn't the actual person getting the gun, according to the indictment. The person who eventually received the weapon was a convicted felon banned from possessing firearms.

I juxtapose these two articles, because we need to understand that our criminal justice system is doing very little to solve our problem of gun violence ... and I would argue that an increased police presence is exacerbating the problem, by contributing to the cycle of violence.

Gun violence will not be solved by being nicer to people, or putting more cops on the street, or making schools look more like prisons.

We will stop gun violence when we get rid of most of the guns.

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In other news, Linda Brown - of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case - died this week. Josh Stewart of Citizen Ed did a roundup of articles and statements, reflecting her legacy as the namesake of America's most significant attempt at racial desegregation.

The bravery required of Brown and her family was stunning, and it's humbling to remember that their efforts happened so recently in our history. And it's depressing to remember that, despite their heroism, our schools and neighborhoods are more segregated now than they were in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision.

Have a thoughtful day ...

Monday Reading List: Voices and Images from the March for Our Lives

I went down to Washington DC on Saturday for the March for Our Lives, and I was blown away by young people who spoke. Here is Naomi Wadler, just 11-years-old, who led the walkouts at her elementary school:

Alex King and D'Angelo McDade talked about their experiences living in in Chicago, while connecting the current fight again gun violence to the Civil Rights struggle:

Edna Chavez, who organizes young people in Los Angeles, lost her brother to gun violence:

Christopher Underwood - also just 11-years-old - lost his brother to gun violence six years ago:

There were dozens of marches around the country, attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Whenever possible, I encourage you to listen to the actual words of the young people who spoke at those events, and not the sanitized versions that get processed through the political pundits.

While at the March, I spent some time snapping pictures, many of which I shared throughout the day on the Instagram feed.

I took a bunch more photos, some of which are on Instagram, at both my personal page (@juscohen) and at the page of the #PoliticizeMyDeath campaign (@politicizemydeath). 

I will be posting more pictures throughout the week, so please keep checking back!

In the meantime, take some time today to view and/or read the speeches from the students. Trust me, it's worth your time.

Have a great, and inspiring, week!

Friday Reading List: Student Voice, Gun Violence, and School Discipline

Brittany Packnett is at Mic with a great video, explaining the privilege inherent in much of the gun violence debate:

“White privilege is walking out of your school in protest of gun violence and not being met with any consequences,” Packnett said. “White privilege is staging a walkout for gun control and having colleges and universities say that you will not be punished and your admission won’t be changed, when the same was not happening for Ferguson and Baltimore school walkouts. White privilege is being able to open carry without fear of retaliation. White privilege is the knowledge that your race will never add any additional weight to what you have to carry around all the time.”

By focusing on mass shootings as an organizing principle, the gun violence prevention debate ends up excluding many voices, namely those of children of color who are affected by daily handgun violence. Not to mention, people who are victims of domestic and police violence.

There is some evidence that the March for Our Lives, which will happen on Saturday, has taken this criticism into account. Here's Jen Kirby of Vox with an explainer:

Thousands of people are expected to rally in Washington, DC, this weekend for a March for Our Lives protest to advocate for gun control. Thousands more will join them at other marches in cities large and small across the country. Their motto is #NeverAgain. This march, happening Saturday, March 24, at noon Eastern time in DC, marks the second big push of teenage activism against gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Close to a million students stood up and streamed out of classrooms across the country last week as part of the National School Walkout. The protest honored the victims of the Parkland shooting one month ago and called on lawmakers to pass gun control legislation.

I will be at the march in DC tomorrow, and I will be tweeting live from my personal twitter account.


In addition, I will be taking over the Citizen.Education Instagram tomorrow with live footage of the march, so be sure to check that out as well!

Speaking of Citizen Ed, head over to twitter to check out the highlights from last night's #KidsNotCriminals conversation about school discipline. 

The conversation included a wide range of voices, including parents, teachers, students, and policymakers. Be sure to check out the questions, and if you have answers or reflections, please share them, using the hashtag!

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday Reading List: Our Culture is Broken

Yesterday, an unarmed man was killed in his own backyard in Sacramento. Here's the New York Daily News:

Sacramento police fatally shot a 22-year-old black man holding a cell phone that was mistaken for a weapon. Stephon Clark was in the backyard of the home he shared with his grandparents and some of his siblings when he was killed, Clark’s brother told the Sacramento Bee. The police department said officers were responding to a report that someone was breaking car windows nearby. The suspect was described as a 6-foot-1 man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and dark pants hiding in a backyard.

When we talk about gun violence in this country, it tends to come on the heels of a mass shooting. It's important to remember, though, that sometimes gun violence is perpetrated by the state itself. Sadly, the deployment of said violence happens in a structurally racist context, wherein a disproportionate number of the people killed by the state are black men.

That said, there was ALSO a mass shooting at a school yesterday! Here's The Baltimore Sun on the events at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland:

The suspected gunman, 17-year-old student Austin Wyatt Rollins, was pronounced dead hours later at a local hospital. Two teenage students were being treated for their injuries — one, Jaelynn Willey, was in critical condition — and a school resource officer who fired at the gunman was unharmed ... The entire incident played out in less than a minute at 7:55 a.m. in a hallway at Great Mills, a school 90 miles south of Baltimore that enrolls about 1,600 students.

These events have become so commonplace that we are no longer shocked when a high school student goes on a rampage against his own peers. We are relieved, actually, to learn that only several students were shot.

Our culture is broken.

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Shaun King of The Intercept found a bit of silver lining yesterday, though, in his coverage of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner:

Across the country, talking the talk of criminal justice reform has gotten many people elected as DA. Once in office, their reforms have often been painfully slow and disappointing. Krasner was the first candidate elected who publicly committed not just to intermittent changes, but a radical overhaul ... In his first week on the job, he fired 31 prosecutors from the DA’s office because they weren’t committed to the changes he intended to make ... Next, Krasner obeyed a court order to release a list of 29 officers from the Philadelphia Police Department that were on a “do-not-call list” — meaning that they were so tainted that they would be considered unreliable as witnesses.

That Krasner's actions are so revolutionary is an indication of the health of the criminal justice system, but change has to start somewhere. King goes on to describe Krasner's internal memo, which outlines policy changes in the department:

If you live in the US northeast, you might be trapped inside today, due to the snowstorm. There are worse things to do than read Krasner's memo in its entirety.

Have a safe day ...