DC Displacement of the Poor: They Do What They Can Get Away With

Cross-Posted from Sociology in My Neighborhood: DC Ward Six
Written by Johanna Bockman

As many of you know, there is much discussion about the future of the DC General homeless shelter. This morning, the Post’s Petula Dvorak stated, “Developers are salivating over D.C. General. It’s a huge property with plenty of potential. So there’s no question that it will be shut down and sold. That part of the plan no one is worried about.” Mayor Gray is rightly calling to rehouse those at the DC General shelter before closing it, but his plan is based on an unfounded belief that private apartment owners will now come forward and house the hundreds of families at DC General at rents far below market rates. Thus, in the interests of “salivating” developers, hundreds of homeless people are going to be displaced again? DC General is District property and could be renovated, maybe even employing homeless or near-homeless workers, if the District wanted to do so. However, developers and homeowners in the area are working hard for the “revitalization” of the DC General area, which they see as requiring the removal of their homeless neighbors. The deterioration of DC General is required as proof of the need for “revitalization.”

Photo by Empower DC

A few weeks ago, I went to a great panel discussion, “Racism in the New DC,” organized by Empower DC, which spoke to these issues from a very refreshing perspective. The speakers were three public housing residents working to maintain public housing and public schools in DC (Marlece Turner, D. Bell, and Shannon Smith), as well as Dr. Sabiyha Prince (the author of African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, DC), Ron Hampton (a former police officer and activist against police abuse), and Post columnist Courtland Milloy.

The main takeaway from the panel discussion was that institutional racism (not individual racist people but a racist system) works based on the idea that brown and black people do not deserve as good things as white people do. Improvements in the city are made for white people both because they often have more money and also because they are seen as deserving better things, like better schools and better services.

I asked the panel about a recent Post article that had said that, “Almost 10 years after the District vowed to assure low-income residents in four areas that they wouldn’t be displaced if their neighborhoods were revitalized,” the District decided that this was “overly optimistic.” The District was considering a policy change to “no longer guarantee that residents have a right to stay in their neighborhoods, and the promise that existing public housing won’t be demolished until a new building is constructed to replace it would be abandoned.” Empower DC and others have been warning people about these false promises for some time.

So, I asked the panel, is this a new policy? or is this a statement of what the District was already doing? Courtland Milloy immediately said, “They do what they can get away with.” He explained that, when District officials made these promises, they had to to make their redevelopment plans and the destruction of public housing palatable. Earlier, Milloy had stated that we need to acknowledge institutional racism and that these “revitalization” policies are in the interest of property owners and not in the interests of the homeless and other poor DC residents.

How can we change the situation in which “They do what they can get away with”? As a start, we might recognize that the journalist’s statement “So there’s no question that it [DC General] will be shut down and sold. That part of the plan no one is worried about” is not a statement of fact but rather a statement supported by those who are interested in this outcome and “can get away with” it. It is a political statement in the battle over space in the District. The next step would be to support a range of policies, including permanent public housing and permanent affordable housing in the District.

DEPOSITIONS BEGIN IN DC SCHOOL CLOSURES CASE

Posted on behalf of Empower DC

School Closing Lawsuit Prep

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, February 10, 2014

CONTACT: Parisa Norouzi, Empower DC (202) 234-9119 x 100

DEPOSITIONS BEGIN IN DC SCHOOL CLOSURES CASE

Chancellor among key government witnesses to be deposed, public invited to submit questions

Depositions of key government officials have begun in the case against the closure of DC public schools. 

The case of Shannon Smith et al Vs Kaya Henderson et al was filed last March by members of Empower DC as part of an effort to stop the closure of 15 DC Public Schools in low income communities of color.  After a hearing on May10th, Federal court Judge Boasberg did not grant a temporary injunction and the closure of 13 DC Public Schools was allowed to go forward last fall, however the court has yet to issue a final ruling on the merits of the case and litigation on the issue continues.  The Judge upheld the plaintiff’s core complaints, saying in his opinion “..the parents and guardians have alleged sufficient facts to state claims of discrimination under the three civil-rights provisions at the heart of their case: the Equal Protection Clause, Title VI, and the D.C. Human Rights Act.”

Today, as civil rights attorney Johnny Barnes prepares to depose Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson under oath on February 21st, Empower DC launched a call for the public to submit “Questions for Kaya.”  People impacted by the closures or others with information pertaining to the inner workings of DCPS are invited send in questions via twitter (to @empowerdc), email (to Daniel@empowerdc.org) or by calling an anonymous phone hotline (202-234-9119 x 106).

 Communities throughout the nation have mobilized to fight the closure of dozens of public schools, predominately in low income communities of color, in cities including Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore.  To date, Empower DC’s suit is the first in the nation to have withstood dismissal and entered the discovery phase. 

 “We have begun pouring through thousands and thousands of internal DCPS documents and emails received during discovery,” said Attorney Barnes. “The content provides a window into the infrastructure that was responsible for decision making within DCPS. We look forward to these depositions with expectations that we will learn even more about that which motivated the closing of schools.” 

“In this case Empower DC exemplifies David going against the Goliath of not just DCPS and the District government, but the large, powerful and wealthy network including the likes of the Waltons and the Gates’ who drive privatization-based school reform throughout the country,” said Parisa Norouzi, Executive Director of Empower DC.  “It is no secret to us that there is more then meets the eye with regard to public education in DC.  Being the nation’s capital we have been used as a laboratory for the so-called “reform movement.  The proceedings of our lawsuit will bring that to light.”

 Empower DC’s members continue their campaign to save community schools, and the neighborhoods that depend upon them.  “Our members never gave up their fight,” continued Norouzi.  “The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that a court is empowered to order that schools be reopened, where discrimination has been found.  We continue to believe that it is possible schools like Ferebee-Hope Elementary will be reopened at the end of this fight – as would be the fitting tribute to the parents and students who have been champions for their community.”


D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray Faces Hostile Crowd in Debate on Education

Cross-posted from the Washington Post
By Aaron C. Davis and Emma Brown

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) chose a debate on education Monday night to make his campaign debut alongside council members, a restaurant owner, a former State Department official and others trying to keep him from a second term.

He could have picked an easier place to start.

Before a packed auditorium at Eastern High School of teachers, union leaders and activists — many of them upset with Gray’s current schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson — Gray was welcomed with a question that immediately put him on the defensive.“What is your criteria for selecting a chancellor?” asked President Elizabeth Davis of the Washington Teachers’ Union, which sponsored the forum.“Our chancellor is a person who understands the importance of working with teachers,” Gray began, eliciting a smattering of boos and groans.“She was the first appointment that was made in my administration.” More groans.As Gray got around to the heart of his response, the bell rang and he was cut off.“When you look at the results, our test scores have gone up . . . .”

Gray’s voice trailed off. He set down the microphone and returned to his seat.

It was as good as it got for the rest of the night.

The hostile crowd showed that the city’s long-beleaguered school system — and tense negotiations with its teachers union — could complicate the incumbent mayor’s reelection narrative that the city’s schools have improved under his watch.

During Gray’s three years in office, the District’s public school system has recorded rising scores on standardized testing, and Gray has highlighted those achievements as evidence of his seriousness about education reform. He would continue on that path if reelected, he said.

But in holding up test scores as the barometer of success, Gray has exposed himself to the charge that he has abandoned his skepticism of reform from his 2010 campaign. Then, he said test scores were not the largest measure of success — helping to attract the strong backing of the Washington Teachers’ Union.

On Monday, upstart candidates including restaurateur Andy Shallal, the owner of Busboys and Poets, and Reta Jo Lewis, a Democrat and former State Department official, drew the biggest applause, indicting both Gray and members of the council who seek to replace him for alienating parents and teachers amid a forceful push for school reform.

Shallal criticized mayoral control of the schools, which was authorized in 2007, saying that it has led to untenably high teacher turnover and “changed the way we put the public in public schools — people have become more disenfranchised, disaffected and disrespected.”

He also took aim at the city’s support for school choice, in which many children face long odds to win admission by lottery to the most sought-after schools.

“I don’t want to play Russian roulette with our kids,” he said. “Every single kid deserves a good education.”

Lewis drew hoots of support when she declared that, since the D.C. Council granted then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty power to take over the ailing school system, too many “secrets” have been kept about school management.

Key Elements of School Closure Lawsuit Move Forward

Posted on behalf of Empower DC

Case Brought by Empower DC Alleges Discriminatory Impact of School Closures, Group Granted Discovery as Litigation Continues

Yesterday, Federal Court Judge James Boasberg found that plaintiffs have established sufficient facts to allow the bulk of their case alleging discrimination in the city’s pattern of public school closures to move forward. 

The case of Shannon Smith et al Vs Kaya Henderson et al was filed last March by members of Empower DC as part of an effort to stop the closure of 15 DC Public Schools in low income communities of color.  After a hearing on May10th, Judge Boasberg did not grant a temporary injunction and the closure of 13 DC Public Schools was allowed to go forward this fall, however the court has yet to issue a final ruling on the merits of the case, which has now survived the city’s motion to dismiss and will be litigated further. 

Communities throughout the nation have mobilized to fight the closure of dozens of public schools, predominately in low income communities of color, in cities including Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore.  To date, Empower DC’s suit is the first to have withstood dismissal, a point highlighted by Constitutional Law Professor Jamin Raskin, a member of the group’s legal team.

“This will be the first time that a federal court addresses evidence showing that a school system closed majority African-American schools as a response to under-enrollment when it never closed majority white schools as a response to under-enrollment. In this case, thousands of African-American and Hispanic students face school closings east of the River and only two white students find themselves in the same situation. Equal Protection simply does not permit government to impose discriminatory and selective burdens on minority communities even in pursuit of otherwise lawful objectives,” said Raskin. 

In his 30-page opinion, Judge Boasberg dismissed some of the plaintiffs’ claims including those relating to compliance with the city’s statute requiring notice and input from Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, as well as those relating to disability laws.  However all claims were dismissed without prejudice, a judgment which signifies there has not been a ruling on the merits of the claim and the claim could be brought in another court.

The key claims of the lawsuit have been upheld by Judge Boasberg, meaning that the plaintiffs provided sufficient evidence for litigation on those to continue.  As a result, plaintiffs will be able to move forward with the discovery process during which the defendants, Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Mayor Vincent Gray, will have to make documents and data available to the plaintiffs.

The Judge’s opinion states, “The Court agrees with the District on the bulk of the Plaintiff’s claims. Nevertheless, the parents and guardians have alleged sufficient facts to state claims of discrimination under the three civil-rights provisions at the heart of their case: the Equal Protection Clause, Title VI, and the D.C. Human Rights Act.”

Attorney Johnny Barnes, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, stated, “We are not unhappy with this decision. While the Court dismissed, without prejudice, many of our claims, it left the heart of the case in place. We plan to vigorously litigate the equal protection, disparate treatment and D.C. Human Rights violations aspects of the case in the weeks and months to come. We look forward to probing the minds of those District officials who undertook the school closings which the Court indicated on the face of the facts merits deeper inquiry. While we continue to believe that the ANC notice and citizen participation counts of our Complaint are strong, notwithstanding the dismissal, without prejudice, we shall likely pursue those purely local matters in another court in a case already pending. We are pleased that we were able to present a brief that caused the central theme in our case to continue — unconstitutional discrimination in the closings — while every other lawsuit filed across the Country has not met with the same success.”

Empower DC’s members continue their campaign to save community schools, and the neighborhoods that depend upon them.  “Our members never gave up their fight,” said Parisa Norouzi, Executive Director.  “The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that a court is empowered to order that schools be reopened, where discrimination has been found.  We continue to believe that it is possible schools like Ferebee-Hope Elementary will be reopened at the end of this fight – as would be the fitting tribute to the parents and students who have been champions for their community.”

The Judge’s ruling is available at http://www.empowerdc.org/uploads/Memo%20Opinion%2010%2010%2013.pdf.

A Lesson in Systemic Racism, Part II: ALEC, School Closures, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline

The previous post, entitled “A Lesson in Systematic Racism: Stand Your Ground, the NRA, and the American Legislative Council (ALEC),” examined the connection between the untimely death of Trayvon Martin and the powerful lobbying groups that made laws like “Stand Your Ground” possible. This post expands on the previous one by highlighting ALEC’s connection to school closures and the privatization of education.

Arlington, VA – On Thursday, July 18, 2013, a coalition of faith, labor, education and anti-gun violence groups staged a rally at the newly relocated headquarters of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC gained notoriety last year after the revelation that it was instrumental in writing the “Stand Your Ground” law used in Florida and other discriminatory legislation. In light of the recent not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman, the protesters demanded the repeal of Stand Your Ground (aka “kill at will”) in Florida, aiming to change the system that killed Trayvon Martin.

In addition to seeking justice for Trayvon, speakers at the event drew attention to the corporate influence ALEC has on government. By bringing together business leaders and state lawmakers to write laws before they are even passed, ALEC ensures the advancement of a corporate agenda at the state level. This affects everything from worker’s rights to safety net programs. Speakers at the event talked about how ALEC’s laws perpetuate school closures, low wage jobs, and gun violence.

Josh Horwitz, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence:

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“With the George Zimmerman trial we saw that now what was once murder is no more. Saving human life is not valued. That’s not Virginia values, that’s not American values, and that’s not legal values. Instead of sitting upstairs and drinking wine and eating snacks and celebrating their move to Virginia, ALEC and the corporations that support it should humble themselves and work as hard as they can to repeal the stand your ground laws before one more kid is killed.”

Brendan Fischer, Center for Media and Democracy (publisher of ALECexposed.org):

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“This is much more than ‘Stand your ground.’ It includes efforts to push voter ID to make it harder to vote. Efforts to prohibit cities from banning ammunition or banning dangerous machine guns. They’ve also pushed harsh sentencing laws like ‘three strikes you’re out.” At the same time that they were pushing private prisons, which, as more people were flowing into prison, the profits were increasing for private prison industries like Correction Corporation of America, which just happen to be ALEC members. Not surprisingly, these bills do have a disproportionate impact on people of color.  And you are probably not surprised to know that many of the people who are in these ALEC meetings deciding to adopt these bills and spread them around the country, are White.”

Sabrina Stevens, American Federation of Teachers (AFT):

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“When we look at organizations like ALEC, especially what they have done to our entire society, that comes into classrooms every day. So, whether it’s children who are tired because they are struggling to find a place to live with their parents who don’t get paid enough, whether it’s people who because of the three strikes laws and other that they’ve helped to pass that make it easier to incarcerate people than to let them vote. All of those things show up in our classrooms. And then, they exploit that perception of failure to create even more excuses to profitize and privatize schools. Those schools in turn don’t hold teachers or the companies accountable for actually tracking students, keeping track of where they are. They do make a lot of profit. And we end up with undereducated children who are fed right into the school to prison pipeline. We have to say no. We have to stand up to this.”

ALECexposed.org lists detailed information about how ALEC has led the fight to de-fund public schools and privatize education:

“Through ALEC, corporations, ideologues, and their politician allies voted to spend public tax dollars to subsidize private K-12 education and attack professional teachers and teachers’ unions by…promoting voucher programs…segregating students with disabilities…setting up low-income students for failure in college…[and] undermining teacher’s unions.”

We’ve seen this at the local level here in DC through past and current public school closures. At the national level, school closures are happening across the country in major cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York. It’s clear there is a concerted effort from the right to end public schools as we know them. It’s clear that ALEC is instrumental in these efforts. And it’s clear that these policies disproportionately affect low-income students and families, particularly communities of color.

DCPS School Closure by Racial/Ethnic Make-up of Affected Neighborhood

Discrimination can happen on a variety of levels; from personal, interpersonal, to structural or systemic. Structural violence is defined as an “avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs.” By advocating policies that systematically disenfranchise communities of color (i.e. education, healthcare, nutrition), ALEC perpetuates structural violence and systemic racism. Like the map above illustrates all too well, today’s racism comes in the insidious form of policies that target traditionally oppressed communities.

The murder of Trayvon Martin shows how children are often the casualties of the laws promoted by ALEC. Not only that, kids are not getting access to the education they deserve because of the laws that ALEC advocates. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1967 “The United States is the biggest purveyor of violence in the world today.” In 2013, the U.S. remains as violent as ever, both at home and abroad. It may be true that ALEC is the biggest purveyor of structural violence in the US today. It has to stop.

Visit ALECexposed.org to learn more about the fight against ALEC, and register for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington to realize Dr. King’s dream for the future.