The Play’s the Thing December 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Criminal Justice, Education, Poverty, Race, Racism, Torture.
Tags: august wilson, chris hedges, education, incarceration, poverty, prison, prisoners, Race, racism, roger hollander, solitary confinement, theatre, torture
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Posted on Dec 15, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
|AP/Ted S. Warren|
|Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson in his Seattle neighborhood in 2003.|
By Chris Hedges
I began teaching a class of 28 prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey during the first week of September. My last class meeting was Friday. The course revolved around plays by August Wilson, James Baldwin, John Herbert, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Miguel Piñero, Amiri Baraka and other playwrights who examine and give expression to the realities of America’s black underclass as well as the prison culture. We also read Michelle Alexander’s important book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Each week the students were required to write dramatic scenes based on their experiences in and out of prison.
My class, although I did not know this when I began teaching, had the most literate and accomplished writers in the prison. And when I read the first batch of scenes it was immediately apparent that among these students was exceptional talent.
The class members had a keen eye for detail, had lived through the moral and physical struggles of prison life and had the ability to capture the patois of the urban poor and the prison underclass. They were able to portray in dramatic scenes and dialogue the horror of being locked in cages for years. And although the play they collectively wrote is fundamentally about sacrifice—the sacrifice of mothers for children, brothers for brothers, prisoners for prisoners—the title they chose was “Caged.” They made it clear that the traps that hold them are as present in impoverished urban communities as in prison.
The mass incarceration of primarily poor people of color, people who seldom have access to adequate legal defense and who are often kept behind bars for years for nonviolent crimes or for crimes they did not commit, is one of the most shameful mass injustices committed in the United States. The 28 men in my class have cumulatively spent 515 years in prison. Some of their sentences are utterly disproportionate to the crimes of which they are accused. Most are not even close to finishing their sentences or coming before a parole board, which rarely grants first-time applicants their liberty. Many of them are in for life. One of my students was arrested at the age of 14 for a crime that strong evidence suggests he did not commit. He will not be eligible for parole until he is 70. He never had a chance in court and because he cannot afford a private attorney he has no chance now of challenging the grotesque sentence handed to him as a child.
My stacks of 28 scenes written by the students each week, the paper bearing the musty, sour smell of the prison, rose into an ungainly pile. I laboriously shaped and edited the material. It grew, line by line, scene by scene, into a powerful and deeply moving dramatic vehicle. The voices and reality of those at the very bottom rung of our society—some of the 2.2 million people in prisons and jails across the country, those we as a society are permitted to demonize and hate, just as African-Americans were once demonized and hated during slavery and Jim Crow—began to flash across the pages like lightning strikes. There was more brilliance, literacy, passion, wisdom and integrity in that classroom than in any other classroom I have taught in, and I have taught at some of the most elite universities in the country. The mass incarceration of men and women like my students impoverishes not just them, their families and their communities, but the rest of us as well.
“The most valuable blacks are those in prison,” August Wilson once said, “those who have the warrior spirit, who had a sense of being African. They got for their women and children what they needed when all other avenues were closed to them.” He added: “The greatest spirit of resistance among blacks [is] found among those in prison.”
I increased the class meetings by one night a week. I read the scenes to my wife, Eunice Wong, who is a professional actor, and friends such as the cartoonist Joe Sacco and the theologian James Cone. Something unique, almost magical, was happening in the prison classroom—a place I could reach only after passing through two metal doors and a metal detector, subjecting myself to a pat-down by a guard, an X-ray inspection of my canvas bag of books and papers, getting my hand stamped and then checked under an ultraviolet light, and then passing through another metal door into a barred circular enclosure. In every visit I was made to stand in the enclosure for several minutes before being permitted by the guards to pass through a barred gate and then walk up blue metal stairs, through a gantlet of blue-uniformed prison guards, to my classroom.
The class, through the creation of the play, became an intense place of reflection, debate and self-discovery. Offhand comments, such as the one made by a student who has spent 22 years behind bars, that “just because your family doesn’t visit you doesn’t mean they don’t love you,” reflected the pain, loneliness and abandonment embedded in the lives of my students. There were moments that left the class unable to speak.
A student with 19 years behind bars read his half of a phone dialogue between himself and his mother. He was the product of rape and tells his mother that he sacrificed himself to keep his half brother—the only son his mother loves—out of prison. He read this passage in the presentation of the play in the prison chapel last Thursday to visitors who included Cornel West and James Cone.
Terrance: You don’t understand[,] Ma.
Terrance: You’re right. Never mind.
PauseTerrance: What you want me to say Ma?
Terrance: Ma, they were going to lock up Bruce. The chrome [the gun] was in the car. Everyone in the car would be charged with murder if no one copped to it …
Terrance: I didn’t kill anyone Ma… Oh yeah, I forgot, whenever someone says I did, I did it.
Terrance: I told ’em what they wanted to hear. That’s what niggas supposed to do in Newark. I told them what they wanted to hear to keep Bruce out of it. Did they tell you who got killed? Did they say it was my father?
Terrance: Then you should know I didn’t do it. If I ever went to jail for anything it would be killing him … and he ain’t dead yet. Rape done brought me into the world. Prison gonna take me out. An’ that’s the way it is Ma.
Terrance: Come on Ma, if Bruce went to jail you would’uv never forgiven me. Me, on the other hand, I wasn’t ever supposed to be here.
Terrance: I’m sorry Ma … I’m sorry. Don’t be cryin’. You got Bruce. You got him home. He’s your baby. Bye Ma. I call you later.
After our final reading of the play I discovered the student who wrote this passage sobbing in the bathroom, convulsed with grief.
In the play when a young prisoner contemplates killing another prisoner he is given advice on how to survive prolonged isolation in the management control unit (solitary confinement, known as MCU) by an older prisoner who has spent 30 years in prison under a sentence of double life. There are 80,000 U.S. prisoners held in solitary confinement, which human rights organizations such as Amnesty International define as a form of torture. In this scene the older man tells the young inmate what to expect from the COs, or correction officers.
Ojore (speaking slowly and softly): When they come and get you, ’cause they are gonna get you, have your hands out in front of you with your palms showing. You want them to see you have no weapons. Don’t make no sudden moves. Put your hands behind your head. Drop to your knees as soon as they begin barking out commands.
Omar: My knees?
Ojore: This ain’t a debate. I’m telling you how to survive the hell you ’bout to endure. When you get to the hole you ain’t gonna be allowed to have nothing but what they give you. If you really piss them off you get a ‘dry cell’ where the sink and the toilet are turned on and off from outside. You gonna be isolated. No contact. No communication.
Ojore: ’Cause they don’t want you sendin’ messages to nobody before dey question some of da brothers on the wing. IA [internal affairs officers] gonna come and see you. They gonna want a statement. If you don’t talk they gonna try and break you. They gonna open the windows and let the cold in. They gonna take ya sheets and blankets away. They gonna mess with ya food so you can’t eat it. An’ don’t eat no food that come in trays from the Vroom Building. Nuts in Vroom be spittin’, pissin’ and shittin’ in the trays. Now, the COs gonna wake you up every hour on the hour so you can’t sleep. They gonna put a bright-ass spotlight in front of ya cell and keep it on day and night. They gonna harass you wit’ all kinds of threats to get you to cooperate. They will send in the turtles in their shin guards, gloves, shank-proof vests, forearm guards and helmets with plexiglass shields on every shift to give you beat-downs.
Omar: How long this gonna go on?
Ojore: Til they break you. Or til they don’t. Three days. Three weeks. You don’t break, it go on like this for a long time. An’ if you don’t think you can take it, then don’t start puttin’ yerself through this hell. Just tell ’em what they wanna know from the door. You gonna be in MCU for the next two or three years. You’ll get indicted for murder. You lookin’ at a life bid. An’ remember MCU ain’t jus’ ’bout isolation. It’s ’bout keeping you off balance. The COs, dressed up in riot gear, wake you up at 1 a.m., force you to strip and make you grab all your things and move you to another cell just to harass you. They bring in dogs trained to go for your balls. You spend 24 hours alone one day in your cell and 22 the next. They put you in the MCU and wait for you to self-destruct. An’ it works. Men self-mutilate. Men get paranoid. Men have panic attacks. They start hearing voices. They talk crazy to themselves. I seen one prisoner swallow a pack of AA batteries. I seen a man shove a pencil up his dick. I seen men toss human shit around like it was a ball game. I seen men eat their own shit and rub it all over themselves like it was some kinda body lotion. Then, when you really get out of control, when you go really crazy, they got all their torture instruments ready—four- and five-point restraints, restraint hoods, restraint belts, restraint beds, stun grenades, stun guns, stun belts, spit hoods, tethers, and waist and leg chains. But the physical stuff ain’t the worst. The worst is the psychological, the humiliation, sleep deprivation, sensory disorientation, extreme light or dark, extreme cold or heat and the long weeks and months of solitary. If you don’t have a strong sense of purpose you don’t survive. They want to defeat you mentally. An’ I seen a lot of men defeated.
The various drafts of the play, made up of scenes and dialogue contributed by everyone in the class, brought to the surface the suppressed emotions and pain that the students bear with profound dignity. A prisoner who has been incarcerated for 22 years related a conversation with his wife during her final visit in 1997. Earlier his 6-year-old son had innocently revealed that the woman was seeing another man. “I am aware of what kind of time I got,” he tells his wife. “I told you when I got found guilty to move on with your life, because I knew what kind of time I was facing, but you chose to stick around. The reason I told you to move on with your life was because I didn’t want to be selfish. So look, man, do what the fuck you are going to do, just don’t keep my son from me. That’s all I ask.” He never saw his child again. When he handed me the account he said he was emotionally unable to read it out loud.
Those with life sentences wrote about dying in prison. The prisoners are painfully aware that some of them will end their lives in the medical wing without family, friends or even former cellmates. One prisoner, who wrote about how men in prolonged isolation adopt prison mice as pets, naming them, carefully bathing them, talking to them and keeping them on string leashes, worked in the prison infirmary. He said that as some prisoners were dying they would ask him to hold their hand. Often no one comes to collect the bodies. Often, family members and relatives are dead or long estranged. The corpses are taken by the guards and dumped in unmarked graves.
A discussion of Wilson’s play “Fences” became an exploration of damaged manhood and how patterns of abuse are passed down from father to son. “I spent my whole life trying not to be my father,” a prisoner who has been locked up for 23 years said. “And when I got to Trenton I was put in his old cell.”
The night we spoke about the brilliant play “Dutchman,” by LeRoi Jones, now known as Amira Baraka, the class grappled with whites’ deeply embedded stereotypes and latent fear of black men. I had also passed out copies of Robert Crumb’s savage cartoon strip “When the Niggers Take Over America!,” which portrays whites’ fear of black males—as well as the legitimate black rage that is rarely understood by white society.
The students wanted to be true to the violence and brutality of the streets and prison—places where one does not usually have the luxury of being nonviolent—yet affirm themselves as dignified and sensitive human beings. They did not want to paint everyone in the prison as innocents. But they know that transformation and redemption are real.
There are many Muslims in the prison. They have a cohesive community, sense of discipline and knowledge of their own history, which is the history of the long repression and subjugation of African-Americans. Most Muslims are very careful about their language in prison and do not curse, meaning I had to be careful when I assigned parts to the class.
There is a deep reverence in the prison for Malcolm X. When the class spoke of him one could almost feel Malcolm’s presence. Malcolm articulated, in a way Martin Luther King Jr. did not, the harsh reality of poor African-Americans trapped in the internal colonies of the urban North.
The class wanted the central oracle of the play to be an observant Muslim. Faith, when you live in the totalitarian world of the prison, is important. The conclusion of the play was the result of an intense and heated discussion about the efficacy and nature of violence and forgiveness. But by the end of a nearly hourlong discussion the class had unanimously signed off on the final scene, which I do not want to reveal here because I hope that one day it will be available to be seen or read. It was the core message the prisoners wanted most to leave with outsiders, who often view them as less than human.
The play has a visceral, raw anger and undeniable truth that only the lost and the damned can articulate. The students wrote a dedication that read: “We have been buried alive behind these walls for years, often decades. Most of the outside world has abandoned us. But a few friends and family have never forgotten that we are human beings and worthy of life. It is to them, our saints, that we dedicate this play.” And they said that if the play was ever produced, and if anyone ever bought tickets, they wanted all the money that might be earned to go to funding the educational program at the prison. This was a decision by men who make, at most, a dollar a day at prison jobs.
We read the Wilson play “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” The character Bynum Walker, a conjurer, tells shattered African-Americans emerging from the nightmare of slavery that they each have a song but they must seek it out. Once they find their song they will find their unity as a people, their inner freedom and their identity. The search for one’s song in Wilson’s play functions like prayer. It gives each person a purpose, strength and hope. It allows a person, even one who has been bitterly oppressed, to speak his or her truth defiantly to the world. Our song affirms us, even if we are dejected and despised, as human beings.
Prisoners are given very little time by the guards to line up in the corridor outside the classroom when the prison bell signals the end of class. If they lag behind they can get a “charge” from the guards that can restrict their already very limited privileges and freedom of movement. For this reason, my classroom emptied quickly Friday night. I was left alone in the empty space, my eyes damp, my hands trembling as I clutched their manuscript. They had all signed it for me. I made the long and lonely walk down the prison corridors, through the four metal security doors, past the security desk to the dark, frozen parking lot. I looked back, past the coils of razor wire that topped the chain-link fencing, at the shadowy bulk of the prison. I have their song. I will make it heard. I do not know what it takes to fund and mount a theater production. I intend to learn.
George Zimmerman, Not Guilty: Blood on the Leaves July 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Florida, Race, Racism.
Tags: Criminal Justice, florida racism, george zimmerman, jelani cobb, justice, Race, racism, racism history, trayvon martin, US racism, zimmerman not guilty, zimmerman trial
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Roger’s note: add WWB (walking while Black) to DWB (driving while Black) to the list of booby trapped “crimes” that Black Americans face every day. After being stalked and harassed, young Trayvon Martin is found guilty (posthumously) by a 5/6 White jury of assaulting Zimmerman to the point where he (young Trayvon, walking home from buying some snacks) “justifiably” had his young life snuffed out . Trayvon was not unarmed, according to the Zimmerman defense, the sidewalk was his weapon. It would be laughable if it were not truly disgusting. The shameless defense lawyers went to the ridiculous extreme of showing the jury a slab of concrete sidewalk. Virtually every African American lives in an Alice in Wonderland world of execution first, trial later. SHAME.
The not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial came down moments after I left a screening of “Fruitvale Station,” a film about the police-shooting death of Oscar Grant four years ago in Oakland. Much of the audience sat quietly sobbing as the closing credits rolled, moved by the narrative of a young black man, unarmed and senselessly gone. Words were not needed to express a common understanding: to Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin, the seventeen-year-old he shot, fit the description; for black America, the circumstances of his death did.
The familiarity dulled the sharp edges of the tragedy. The decision the six jurors reached on Saturday evening will inspire anger, frustration, and despair, but little surprise, and this is the most deeply saddening aspect of the entire affair. From the outset— throughout the forty-four days it took for there to be an arrest, and then in the sixteen months it took to for the case to come to trial—there was a nagging suspicion that it would culminate in disappointment. Call this historical profiling.
The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty. During his cross examination of Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, the defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked if she was avoiding the idea that her son had done something to cause his own death. During closing arguments, the defense informed the jury that Martin was armed because he weaponized a sidewalk and used it to bludgeon Zimmerman. During his post-verdict press conference, O’Mara said that, were his client black, he would never have been charged. At the defense’s table, and in the precincts far beyond it where donors have stepped forward to contribute funds to underwrite their efforts, there is a sense that Zimmerman was the victim.
“The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty.”
O’Mara’s statement echoed a criticism that began circulating long before Martin and Zimmerman encountered each other. Thousands of black boys die at the hands of other African Americans each year, but the black community, it holds, is concerned only when those deaths are caused by whites. It’s an appealing argument, and widespread, but it’s simplistic and obtuse. It’s a belief most easily held when you’ve not witnessed peace rallies and makeshift memorials, when you’ve turned a blind eye to grassroots organizations like the Interrupters in Chicago, who are working valiantly to stem the tide of violence in that city. It is the thinking of people who’ve never wondered why African Americans disproportionately support strict gun-control legislation. The added quotient of outrage in cases like this one stems not from the belief that a white murderer is somehow worse than a black one but from the knowledge that race determines whether fear, history, and public sentiment offer that killer a usable alibi.
The thousands who gathered last spring in New York, in St. Louis, in Philadelphia, in Miami, and in Washington, D.C., to demand Zimmerman’s arrest shared a narrative and an understanding of the past’s grip on the present. Long before the horrifying images of Martin lying prone and lifeless in the grass ever made their way to Gawker, he’d already begun inspiring references to the line about “blood on the leaves” from Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Those crowds were the response of people who understand that history is interred in the shallowest of graves.
Yet the problem is not that this case marks a low point in this country’s racial history—it’s that, after two centuries of common history, we’re still obligated to chart high points and low ones. To be black at times like this is to see current events on a real-time ticker, a Dow Jones average measuring the quality of one’s citizenship. Trayvon Martin’s death is an American tragedy, but it will mainly be understood as an African-American one. That it occurred in a country that elected and reëlected a black President doesn’t diminish the despair this verdict inspires, it intensifies it. The fact that such a thing can happen at a moment of unparalleled political empowerment tells us that events like these are a hard, unchanging element of our landscape.
We can understand the verdict to mean validation for the idea that the actions Zimmerman took that night were those of a reasonable man, that the conclusions he drew were sound, and that a black teen-ager can be considered armed any time he is walking down a paved street. We can take from this trial the knowledge that a grieving family was capable of displaying inestimable reserves of grace. Following the verdict, Sybrina Fulton posted a benediction to Twitter: “Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control.” The Twitter account of Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, features an image of him holding Trayvon as a toddler, a birthday hat perched on the boy’s head. At the trial, they sat through a grim procession of autopsy photos and audio of the gunshot that ended their son’s life. No matter the verdict, their simple pursuit of justice meant amplifying the trauma of their loss by some unknowable exponent.
There’s fear that the verdict will embolden vigilantes, but that need not be the concern: history has already done that. You don’t have to recall specifics of everything that has transpired in Florida over the past two hundred years to recognize this. The details of Rosewood, the black town terrorized and burned to the ground in 1923, and of Groveland and the black men falsely accused of rape and murdered there in 1949, can remain obscure and retain sway over our present concerns. Names—like Claude Neal, lynched in 1934, and Harry and Harriette Moore, N.A.A.C.P. organizers in Mims County, killed by a firebomb in 1951—can be overlooked. What cannot be forgotten, however, is that there were no consequences for those actions.
Perhaps history does not repeat itself exactly, but it is certainly prone to extended paraphrases. Long before the jury announced its decision, many people had seen what the outcome would be, had known that it would be a strange echo of the words Zimmerman uttered that rainy night in central Florida: they always get away.
Rosa Parks, Now and Forever January 31, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, History, Race, Racism.
Tags: amy goodman, Civil Rights, e.d. nixon, history, jium crow, mandela, montgomery bus, naacp, pete seeger, Race, racism, raymond parks, roger hollander, rosa parks, we shall overcome
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On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., thus (Photo: Alabama Dept. Archives and History)
launching the modern-day civil-rights movement. Monday, Feb. 4, is the 100th anniversary of her birth. After she died at the age of 92 in 2005, much of the media described her as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker. But the media got it wrong. Rosa Parks was a first-class troublemaker.
Professor Jeanne Theoharis debunks the myth of the quiet seamstress in her new book “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.” Theoharis told me, “This is the story of a life history of activism, a life history that she would put it, as being ‘rebellious,’ that starts decades before her famous bus stand and ends decades after.”
She was born in Tuskegee, Ala., and raised to believe that she had a right to be respected, and to demand that respect. Jim Crow laws were entrenched then, and segregation was violently enforced. In Pine Level, where she lived, white children got a bus ride to school, while African-American children walked. Rosa Parks recalled: “But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.”
In her late teens, Rosa met Raymond Parks, and they married. Rosa described Raymond Parks as the first activist she had ever met. He was a member of the local Montgomery NAACP chapter, and, when she learned that women were welcome at the meetings, she attended. She was elected the chapter’s secretary.
It was there that Rosa met and worked with E.D. Nixon, a radical labor organizer. Rosa Parks was able to attend the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, in 1955. The school was a gathering place for activists—black and white together—committed to overcoming segregation, and for developing strategies and tactics for nonviolent resistance to it. It was there that Pete Seeger and others wrote the song “We Shall Overcome” as the enduring anthem of the civil-rights movement.
When she met Nelson Mandela after his release from prison, he told her, “You sustained me while I was in prison all those years.”
When Rosa Parks died, she was the first African-American woman to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda. I raced down to Washington, D.C., to cover her memorial service. I met a young college student and asked her why she was there standing outside with so many hundreds of people listening to the service on loudspeakers. She said proudly, “I emailed my professors and said I won’t be in class today; I’m going to get an education.”
Rosa Parks has much to teach us. In fact, she and other young women had refused to give up their seats on the bus before Dec. 1, 1955. You never know when that magic moment will come. This Feb. 4, the U.S. Postal Service will release a Rosa Parks Forever stamp, a reminder of the enduring mark she made. Rosa Parks was no tired seamstress. As she said of that brave action she took, “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
U.S. is the Worst Police State in the World – By the Numbers August 31, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Race, Racism, Torture.
Tags: afrrican americans, american gulag, glen ford, police state, Race, racism, roger hollander, solitary confinement, torture, us prisons
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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
There’s no getting around the fact that the United States is the Mother of All Police States. China can’t compete in the incarceration business. With four times the U.S. population, it imprisons only 70 percent as many people – about the same number as the non-white prison population of the U.S. Even worse, 80,000 U.S. inmates undergo the torture of solitary confinement on any given day.
U.S. is the Worst Police State in the World – By the Numbers
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“The American People of Color Gulag is as large as the entire prison population of China, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.”
When U.S. corporate media operatives use the term “police state,” they invariably mean some other country. Even the so-called “liberal” media, from Democracy Now to the MSNBC menagerie, cannot bring themselves to say “police state” and the “United States” without putting the qualifying words “like” or “becoming” in the middle. The U.S. is behaving “like” a police state, they say, or the U.S. is in danger of “becoming” a police state. But it is never a police state. Since these privileged speakers and writers are not themselves in prison – because what they write and say represents no actual danger to the state – they conclude that a U.S. police state does not, at this time, exist.
Considering the sheer size and social penetration of its police and imprisonment apparatus, the United States is not only a police state, but the biggest police state in the world, by far: the police state against whose dimensions all other police systems on Earth must be measured.
By now, even the most insulated, xenophobic resident of the Nebraska farm belt knows that the U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world. He might not know that 25 percent of prison inmates in the world are locked up in the U.S., or that African Americans comprise one out of every eight of the planet’s prisoners. But, that Nebraska farmer is probably aware that America is number one in the prisons business. He probably approves. God bless the police state.
For the American media, including lots of media that claim to be of the Left, it is axiomatic that China is a police state. And maybe, by some standards, it is. But, according to United Nations figures, China is 87th in the world in the proportion of its people who are imprisoned. China is a billion people bigger than the United States – more than four times the population – yet U.S. prisons house in excess of 600,000 more people than China does. The Chinese prison population is just 70 percent of the American Gulag. That’s quite interesting because, non-whites make up about 70 percent of U.S. prisons. That means, the Black, brown, yellow and red populations of U.S. prisons number roughly the same as all of China’s incarcerated persons. Let me emphasize that: The American People of Color Gulag is as large as the entire prison population of China, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.
“Solitary confinement beyond 15 days at a stretch crosses the line of torture.”
However, police states must be measured by conditions behind the bars, as well as raw numbers of inmates. And, by that standard, the American Gulag is even more monstrous.
Civilized people now recognize that solitary confinement is a form of torture. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, reports that solitary confinement beyond 15 days at a stretch crosses the line of torture, yet, as Al Jazeera recently reported, it is typical for hundred of thousands of U.S. prisoners to spend 30 or 60 days in solitary at a stretch. Twenty thousand are held in perpetual isolation in so-called supermax prisons – that is, they exist in a perpetual state of torture. Studies now show that, all told, 80,000 U.S. prisoners are locked up in solitary on any given day.That’s as many tortured people as the entire prison system of Germany, or of England, Scotland and Wales, combined.
If that is not a police state, then no such thing exists on planet Earth.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to Black Agenda Report.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Chavis Carter case: Police chief’s past causes skepticism among black Jonesboro residents August 3, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Race, Racism.
Tags: alexis garrett stodghill, chavis carter, Civil Rights, jonesboro arkansas, justifiable homicide, michael yates, police racism, police shooting, Race, racism, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: this is nothing new. It has been open season since Reconstruction for racist police and others murdering Afro Americans. Let’s wait and see what happens. It will not surprise me if at the end of the day the killing or Chavis Carter whose hands were cuffed behind his back is confirmed as a suicide (if Houdini could have done it, why not Mr. Carter?); or, if it turns out it was a cop who shot him, justifiable homicide.
Twenty-one-year-old Chavis Carter was visiting the town of Jonesboro, Arkansas when he died from a gunshot wound to the head, while seated in the back of a police cruiser. Police ruled Carter’s death a suicide, but the fact that his hands were cuffed behind him during the incident has raised doubts about the officers’ account. The controversy surrounding the case has caused the local black community in Jonesboro to question police chief Michael Yates — already unpopular with African-Americans — about his department’s explanation, and to unearth disturbing details from Yates’ past.
“How does a person who is handcuffed — when the police found him he still had his hands cuffed behind his back — commit suicide? That’s been the big question,” Rev. Perry Jackson, the president of the Jonesboro NAACP, told theGrio.
- Police chief admits: shooting scenario ‘defies logic’
- Details of the Chavis Carter Case
- Read the police report
- Complete theGrio coverage: the Chavis Carter Case
“So to add to the stigma he has of being unfair to the minority population,” Jackson added of Yates’ reputation, “people are really questioning what’s really going on. That’s the mood in the black community.”
Jackson said Carter’s parents denied that he was suicidal. “I’ve met with the mother and I’ve met with the father, Teresa Carter and Charles Douglas,” Jackson said of visiting them in Carter’s native Mississippi. “As far as their reactions, they don’t believe that their son committed suicide. According to his mother, he’s just not that type of person who would kill himself. His father said it as well.”
These perspectives reinforce the lack of trust that many in Jonesboro’s African-American community have in Yates, who Jackson says has done little to reach out to them. “I personally think that if Chief Yates would do more as far as community relations, Jonesboro would probably be a better place to live, but I don’t think he’s really willing to work with the public,” he said.
Black leaders in Jonesboro also attest to Yates ignoring calls to increase diversity within the police force; a dismissal that stings more sharply now that an African-American man has died while under arrest and under unusual circumstances.
The Jonesboro police department has confirmed to theGrio that of the 149 officers on the force, only three are African-American. Dr. George Grant, co-chair of the Diversity Coalition of Jonesboro, has been working to change that for over a year. ”Our position was that this was not satisfactory,” Grant told theGrio. “That is not representative of the diversity in the community.”
Jonesboro has about 68,000 residents. Census data shows that the city experienced a population growth of 21.2 percent between 2000 and 2010, many of whom Rev. Jackson says were African-Americans. As of 2010, the city’s black population was 18.4 percent of the total. Currently, blacks make up only 2 percent of the police force.
“Last September, we addressed the city council in Jonesboro about the lack of diversity in the police and fire department,” Grant said. ”We made presentations to the city council, and we came back and made recommendations on ways to improve access to those jobs in the police and fire department, and they have not responded.”
Yates responded to emails from theGrio requesting comment, by sending a summary of applicants, test results and potential new hires to the department, dated April 2012, but did not directly address the Diversity Coalition’s allegations. Civil rights leaders in Jonesboro see the dearth of people of color among police as a potential source of problems, which Carter’s death might be evidence of.
“I think it’s a problem because of the lack of diversity within the police department, and the fire department,” Rev. Jackson added. “But the chief of the fire department — we’ve been a little bit better able to work with him than Chief Yates. Our Hispanic population is also growing in this area. We need to get more minorities in the police department. Not just being secretaries and things like that, but working the streets.”
Grant, who is also an active member of the NAACP in Jonesboro, is disturbed by what he calls Yates’ lack of action in addressing the alarm of the black community over Carter’s death, as well as the silence of the mayor and other city officials. TheGrio reached out to the two African-American members of the Jonesboro city council, Rev. Renell Woods and Dr. Charles Coleman. Rev. Woods did not respond to an email, while Dr. Coleman declined to comment. Jonesboro mayor Harold Perrin did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.
“We want to take the city to task when things like this happen. We need to understand why a young man who was 150 pounds, who was handcuffed, would shoot himself — could shoot himself — with a gun, after he’s been searched twice. It’s just not logical. And it’s not physically possible,” Gates asserted. “We’re trying to figure out how that could happen, and how they could expect us to accept that it has happened. This has to be dealt with so that people can start to feel safe in those communities.”
Yates confirmed to theGrio that FBI is reviewing the Carter case.
Distrust of chief stretches back to previous tenure
Grant and Jackson explained that part of the black community’s distrust of Yates stems from allegations that arose when he was the police chief in Americus, Georgia. ”Things that have happened before in his administration of a police department are starting to happen here,” Gates said about Yates’ previous position. “That suggests something for the future. We need to deal with it.”
Yates was the police chief in Americus from May 2001 through April 2004, according to that city’s Human Resources department. Yates voluntarily resigned from the position, but his tenure and departure were both mired in controversy.
John Marshall, who was president of the NAACP while Yates was Americus’ police chief, says he found the leader of the force to be a negative influence. “He is a rogue police chief,” Marshall told theGrio. “We did everything to get him out of here, and it’s been a great relief to have him away from here. But he left a lot of his men that were abusive and violent. And that’s his nature. He’s the worst thing we’ve ever seen.”
Marshall’s strong feelings result from a scandal which pitted the Americus NAACP against Yates when he was chief. Marshall, who is also the owner and publisher of the black newspaper, The Americus Sumter Observer, says the NAACP was working at the time to expose abuses he says Yates’ officers were perpetuating against the black community.
“Basically the conflict we had with him was this. We had an NAACP vice president that used to go to the city council meetings and complain about Yates’ behavior. He was being rough with our citizens. Several of his police officers were beating guys unnecessarily — a lot of abuse,” Marshall alleges.
Yates used unsavory means to return fire, Marshall believes. ”In order to get back at my vice president, [named Craig Walker], he did an illegal background check on this young man and found out that when he was 17 he had [been involved in a robbery],” Marshall told theGrio, adding that Yates “did not follow the proper steps to do that. You are not supposed to do that unless there is a real cause for that kind of search.”
In response, the local NAACP launched a campaign to have Yates removed. Instead, the chief voluntarily stepped down. “They really let him resign and get on out of here, which we were glad of,” Marshall related about the conclusion of the incident.
Nelson Brown, currently an Americus city council member, served under Yates as a commander. “I don’t want to rehash any old wounds. We are trying to move forward,” Brown told theGrio about his time working for Yates.
Yet, Brown believes that he “had some issues with race. He was not good for the department,” Brown said. “When he left the department, it was in worse shape than when he got there, and we managed to recover. He came to our department like he was on a mission. And that mission was not for the growth of the department, nor the community, as a whole.”
Grant and Jackson are among those who say they know Yates left Americus amid serious charges of racism and abuse of power. Yates’ history in Americus has filtered into Jonesboro in the form of rumors among that city’s black inhabitants. TheGrio has requested comments from Yates regarding his side of the story, but so far has not received comment.
Yates’ alleged dismissal of the Diversity Coalitions’ findings have not helped to illuminate his past for skeptical members of Jonesboro’s black community. Now, Carter’s death has worsened already negative feelings about him among some residents.
“So, he comes to Jonesboro and imposes his attitudes on Jonesboro,” Grant said of his perception of Yates’ management style.
Jackson cannot say for certain whether Chavis Carter’s death is an outgrowth of Yates’ leadership, or simply a tragic confluence of mistakes unrelated to his decisions. “I’m still looking into that, so I can’t really answer that,” Jackson said.
For now, the president of the Jonesboro NAACP is focused on the future, and how to help a community and a family that needs support.
The executive board of the NAACP met last night to map out a plan to assist the city and Carter’s family. “There are still problems in terms of race relations in the city. We want to bring it to the forefront, and try to come together as a community, because it’s about speaking out in a non-violent way to make people aware of the issues,” Jackson said.
A vigil is planned for Monday in Jonesboro, which will be co-organized by the NAACP and other area religious and civic groups.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb
Does the Black Political Class Actually Protect or Defend Black People? If Not, What Do They Do? May 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Economic Crisis, Poverty, Race.
Tags: balck leadership, black caucus, black congressmen, black elected officials, black leaders, black mayors, black politicians, bruce dixon, democrats, naacp, president obama, Race, roger hollander, urban league
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By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Do the black political class, our preachers, leading business people, and thousands of appointed and elected officials actually do us much good? Do they protect or defend us? Do they carry our wishes and will to the seats of power. Or do they just “represent” us by merely being there doing the bidding of corporate funders?
Does the Black Political Class Actually Protect or Defend Black People? If Not, What Do They Do?
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Let’s take a trip to an imaginary black America, a place in which black leaders regularly stood on their hind legs to safeguard and protect the interest of their constituents against greedy banksters and institutional racism in the job, credit and housing markets. It’s a pretend world where African American politicians are busily engaged in building and expanding opportunity for all, and leading the fight for peace, jobs, justice, and quality education and participatory democracy. It’s a mythical place where prominent blacks in the business world too, work to create good jobs and stable communities and provide key support to the civic organizations engaged in this work as well.
Imagine that the Katrina disaster had occurred in such an imaginary world. Black America’s best and brightest would have convened hundreds of meetings and workgroups in real and virtual spaces across the country. Urban planners, educators, and professionals of all stripes would have speedily devised just and equitable plans for regional education, transit, agriculture, tourism and more. They would have insisted that the six figure number of black Gulf Coast residents deported to the four corners of the continental US on buses paid for by charitable donations to the Red Cross be returned and put to work rebuilding a just and sustainable region. This single example reveals that such a world, if it did exist would differ so profoundly from the one we know as to be almost unrecognizable.
In the real world that does exist, we now have more than 10,000 black elected officials, from small town mayors and sheriffs up to forty-some reps in Congress and the president. Still, black unemployment, black incarceration rates, foreclosures on black homeowners and the gap between black and white family wealth are at or near all time highs, with not a one of these key indicators moving rapidly in any good direction.
Black faces are found more often than ever in corporate boardrooms. Chevron named a tanker after Condoleezza Rice, one of its longtime board members. In recent years, black corporate execs have run the NAACP, the National Urban League and big-city school systems like Atlanta, where public schools CEO Erroll Davis boasts that he learned all he needed to know about running a school system in his time on the board of BP. Black-owned and operated banks in cities like New York are heavily invested in gentrifying developments that push African Americans out of the five boroughs toward the suburban periphery, or in many cases, back to the South. Some contend that it is the shriveling of urban housing and job markets in places like Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Detroit that accounts for the net flow of black population in the twenty-first century reversing from the north back to the south, something not seen in almost a hundred years.
National black leaders, even with popular winds at their backs were unable to prevent the legal lynching of Troy Davis. Since the freelance killing of Trayvon Martin more than thirty police and vigilante killings of young blacks have occurred, and our leaders can’t point to even the beginnings of any official process on the national level aimed at preventing the next thirty. Like the man whose lower lip brush the ground and whose upper lip caresses the clouds, they are all mouth.
Local black political leaders in places like Columbia SC and Atlanta GA have proved as vicious toward the homeless as any of their white colleagues. Black mayors like Philly’s Michael Nutter have endorsed widespread stop-and-frisk policies that presumptively criminalize black youth, and like his black and white counterparts in City Halls across the land, the mayor of Philadelphia tells parents and children that there is no alternative to the piecemeal destruction of public education, driving it into a crisis whose only solution, we will be told, is privatization. The black mayor of Newark is pushing to privatize that city’s water system, and the black mayor of Atlanta has proposed taxing rainwater that some catch as an alternative to the city’s wate rsupply.
At the 2004 Democratic convention, pointedly held on and constantly referring to the anniversary of King’s 1963 March on Washington, Barack Obama gathered more than 20 African American generals and admirals on stage around him, hypocritically linking their mission with that of the apostle of economic justice and nonviolence. Despite the fact that black America is the most antiwar segment of the US population, Barack Obama has boosted military spending to all time highs, has put more troops in more countries than any of his predecessors, and is waging wars in more countries, including African countries than any president in recent memory.
At that Democratic convention, just like the one in North Carolina this year, the goodie bags and receptions will be held by AT&T, the nuclear industry, GE and GM, Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Insurance, drone manufacturers and “defense” contractors, defending US interests in more than 140 countries. Nobody will be the least surprised when Barack Obama again proclaims himself the president of “clean coal and safe nuclear power.” For the black political class, the road leads to exactly the same destination as their white counterparts.
The Congressional Black Caucus and the CBC Foundation like the careers of most black politicians, and traditional civil rights organizations, from NAN to NAACP, the Urban League, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the National Conference of Black State Legislators, is funded by the generous contributions of actors like Microsoft, Boeing, Lockheed, Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and on and on and on on and on. It’s hard to regard most of the black political class these days as anything but sock puppets for the folks who fund their careers.
The Congressional Black Caucus still stages a weeklong annual celebration of itself and the black political class. A look at its weeklong agenda any time over last few years shows lots of relationship workshops, celebrity meet-and-greets and workshops on how to be a black military subcontractor, a black real estate developer, a movie producer, or a contractor with the Department of Homeland Security. You will search in vain for workshops on how to organize to protect black homeowners and keep them in their homes, how to prevent municipal and state privatizations of transit, education and infrastructures, how to organize unions and strike for better wages and conditions, or sessions how to obtain permanent title to vacant urban land for community agriculture projects.
There are a handful of corporate actors, like Koch Industries and Exxon-Mobil that give exclusively or mainly to Republicans. But these are relatively few, and there are some big players that give mostly to Democrats as well. For the most part however, corporate America is happily bipartisan, with a pronounced bias toward incumbents of whatever party and color, and only too happy to shine on the favorite charities of black congresscreatures in the inner city, or Tom Joyner’s computer giveaways, or pet charter schools in black communities, to name just a few.
President Barack Obama, far from being the exception to this rule, will be standing atop a heap of more than one billion dollars in direct corporate contributions to his re-election campaign this year, in addition to another billion in indirect contributions to super-PACs, state and national Democratic parties, and other channels, even without the nickels and dimes of a diminishing number of hopeful ordinary people.
Since it doesn’t protect us, doesn’t defend our jobs, our homes, our education, our children or our elderly, all that the black political class can do for black people, all they can do to prolong their careers, is to wave in our faces the rancid racism of their Republican colleagues. And that’s what Republicans are —- not their rivals, but their colleagues. Keeping the black conversation focused on what racist s.o.bs these Republicans are is vital to the survival of the black political class. It takes attention away from the fact that black politicians in power, of whatever party, no matter what they say on the campaign trail, pursue roughly the same policies in office, in keeping with the fact that they all have the same funders.
The ideology of the black political class is best described with the clumsy world “representationalism”. It’s supposed to “represent” us, mostly by looking like us, but while not defending our children or elderly, not protecting our families or jobs or institutions, not defending our political gains or the public sector that our advocacy built. And the last thing the black political class will do is argue with militarism or war, even though these penalize black communities and nonwhite people around the world. It is only now, with the ascension of a black president, prominent blacks in all branches of the military, courts and corporate American that the end of the representationalist rainbow can clearly be seen. This is it. This is as good as it gets.
It’s time for something completely different. It’s been a long time since we had black leadership that didn’t depend on corporate America for its funding. But until our people can throw up new leaders and mass organizations whose bills aren’t paid by corporate elites, little will change. It’s time for all of us, and especially for those who would be leaders to let pharaoh go.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Private Prison Corporations Are Slave Traders May 4, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Labor, Race, Racism.
Tags: black incarceation, corrections, corrections corporation, crime, glen ford, mass incarceration, prisons, privatization, Race, racism, roger hollander, slave labor
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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
Crime has been going down for nearly a generation, and the states have finally put the brakes on prison growth in response to the fiscal crunch. But Wall Street prison profiteers see the crisis as an opportunity. The Corrections Corporation of America has offered to buy nearly all the nation’s state prisons. “To ensure their profitability, the corporation insists that it be guaranteed that the prisons be kept at least 90 percent full.”
Private Prison Corporations Are Slave Traders
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“The Corrections Corporation of America believes the economic crisis has created an historic opportunity to become the landlord, as well as the manager, of a big chunk of the American prison gulag.”
The nation’s largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, is on a buying spree. With a war chest of $250 million, the corporation, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, this month sent letters to 48 states, offering to buy their prisons outright. To ensure their profitability, the corporation insists that it be guaranteed that the prisons be kept at least 90 percent full. Plus, the corporate jailers demand a 20-year management contract, on top of the profits they expect to extract by spending less money per prisoner.
For the last two years, the number of inmates held in state prisons has declined slightly, largely because the states are short on money. Crime, of course, has declined dramatically in the last 20 years, but that has never dampened the states’ appetites for warehousing ever more Black and brown bodies, and the federal prison system is still growing. However, the CorrectionsCorporation of America believes the economic crisis has created an historic opportunity to become the landlord, as well as the manager, of a big chunk of the American prison gulag.
The attempted prison grab is also defensive in nature. If private companies can gain both ownership and management of enough prisons, they can set the prices without open-bid competition for prison services, creating a guaranteed cost-plus monopoly like that which exists between the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex.
“If private companies are allowed to own the deeds to prisons, they are a big step closer to owning the people inside them.”
But, for a better analogy, we must go back to the American slave system, a thoroughly capitalist enterprise that reduced human beings to units of labor and sale. The Corrections Corporation of America’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission read very much like the documents of a slave-trader. Investors are warned that profits would go down if the demand for prisoners declines. That is, if the world’s largest police state shrinks, so does the corporate bottom line. Dangers to profitability include “relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws.” The corporation spells it out: “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.” At the Corrections Corporation of America, human freedom is a dirty word.
But, there is something even more horrifying than the moral turpitude of the prison capitalists. If private companies are allowed to own the deeds to prisons, they are a big step closer to owning the people inside them. Many of the same politicians that created the system of mass Black incarceration over the past 40 years, would gladly hand over to private parties all responsibility for the human rights of inmates. The question of inmates’ rights is hardly raised in the debate over prison privatization. This is a dialogue steeped in slavery and racial oppression. Just as the old slave markets were abolished, so must the Black American Gulag be dismantled – with no compensation to those who traffic in human beings.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Tags: abby zimet, Arizona, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, eric holder, Immigration, joe arpaio, police-state terror, Race, racial profiling, racism, roger hollander, Sheriff Joe Arpaio
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The Color of Collaboration
by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org, January 17, 2012
Though the feds, after a three-year investigation, have charged Arizona’s racist thug and Sheriff Joe Arpaio with overseeing the worst racial profiling ever recorded, the nation’s two top (black) justice officials – President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder – say they will “collaborate” with Arpaio to remedy abuses that grossly violate their own guidelines, says a scathing Phoenix New Times story, “Coddling Joe: How Do You Collaborate with A Felon?” Michael Lacey details Arpaio’s history of “police-state terror”: bullying the defenseless by sending out armed, ski-masked, body-armored SWAT teams to arrest drivers with busted turn signals; blatantly destroying a mountain of racist evidence; and finally, defiantly, not exactly quaking in his boots before the federal charges, but, rather, responding with a declaration he “will not cower,” accompanied by 29 pages of “lawyers’ brain vomit, lies, and threats.”
Tags: abby zimet, atlanta school, education, georgia schools, mary elizabeth williams, Race, racism, roger hollander, slavery
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by Abby Zimet
Good job if you got seven. Bad job if you’re a teacher at the Georgia school where third-graders actually got that math question, along with others on slaves picking cotton and kids getting beatings. After two fathers complained, a school official explained, evidently straight-faced, the teachers were “trying to do a cross-curricular activity.” Yeah, and let’s cut even more from school budgets so they can attract even more clueless teachers for our kids.
, Jan 9, 2012 1:45 PM 17:01:53 EST
For an Atlanta elementary school, slavery references plus word problems equals a heap of trouble
Let’s see if you’re smarter than a Gwinnett County third-grade math teacher. If, in the year 2012, an Atlanta-area elementary school asks its students to solve arithmetic problems about how much fruit a slave can pick — and how many beatings he might get in a week — exactly how many rounds of ammunition has that school just fired into its own feet?
In the most misguided attempt at social understanding since Kirk Lazarus donned blackface, Beaver Ridge Elementary School decided earlier this term to shoehorn a little of the antebellum into its math worksheets. “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” asks one. Another posits, “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?” Let’s see … Divide by eight, multiply by seven … got it. The answer is, “Oh my God are you people crazy?”
In a surprise to exactly no one, save the school’s faculty, parents were displeased to discover their children — the majority of whom are minorities – were being grilled on the subjects of slave labor and ass whippings. Apparently at Beaver Ridge, there are four R’s – reading, writing, arithmetic and racism. As one stunned father told local station WSB-TV, “It blew me away.”
In a hasty damage control effort, school official Sloan Roach explained that the questions were part of a “cross-curricular activity” designed to incorporate math and social studies. Another question, for example, touched upon the fine Susan B. Anthony received for attempting to vote. But without context, the word problems make abuse seem as normal as a question about how many pencils are in a box.
The school says it will now more carefully review assignments before handing them out, and the vice principal assures that the worksheets have now been shredded. And in a breathtaking understatement, Sloan admitted to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Saturday that “Clearly, they did not do as good of a job as they should have done. It was just a poorly written question.” Time to compare and contrast, students! “Where’s the party at?” — that’s a poorly worded question. “How many beatings would the slave get?” is a fiasco.
The AJC reports that “62 percent of the school’s students are Hispanic or Latino, 24 percent are black or African-American and 5 percent are white.” But Beaver Ridge’s ethnic makeup is almost irrelevant. The questions would simply be a different kind of horribly wrong were the student body predominantly white.
Were the school’s teachers — who have conspicuously not been identified — being deliberately provocative by setting their questions within a difficult chapter of American history? Likely they were just being stunningly insensitive. As one poster on the AJC website noted, they sure didn’t ask any questions like, “If 20 slaves escaped each day of the month, how many slaves would be free by the end of the month?”
Using social studies as a springboard for math is actually a great idea. And making classroom lessons dynamic with real-world context is a time-tested device to teach children the ways numbers are applied in life. Let’s hope this failure doesn’t stop smart and more sensitive teachers from coming up with creative approaches that, you know, don’t involve beatings. Sadly, too, the whole screw-up reinforces the stereotype of what a poster at the New York Daily News referred to as “the New South [that] still has people who loved the Old South.”
Of course, our kids need to be taught history, especially its most painful aspects. But it doesn’t take a whiz to figure out that the debacle in Georgia would earn a big fat zero from the start. The best it can become now is a teachable moment – for school administrators.