U.N. Experts Seem Horrified By How American Schools Treat Black Children

Cross-Posted from Huff Post Black Voices
Written by Rebecca Klein

Broken and dirty hallway resizedAmerican schools are hotbeds for racial discrimination, according to a preliminary report from a group of United Nations experts.

The U.N.’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent traveled around the U.S. last month to learn more about the various structural barriers and challenges African-American face. The group, which plans to release its full report in September, has given the media its preliminary findings, including several recommendations about reducing inequality in the U.S. education system.

The overall findings — which touch on topics of police brutality, school curriculum and mass incarceration — are bleak. African-Americans tend to have lower levels of income, education and food security than other Americans. This reflects “the level of structural discrimination that creates de facto barriers for people of African descent to fully exercise their human rights,” says the group’s statement.

Such gaps start early in life, the U.N. notes. Students of color are more likely than white children to face harsh punishments, such as suspension, expulsion and even school-based arrests. These disciplinary actions can lead to a phenomenon called the “school-to-prison pipeline,” by which children get pushed out of the education system and into the criminal justice system.

The U.N. experts also expressed concern about mass school closures, which typically target predominantly black neighborhoods, as has been the case in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia. Experts note high levels of school segregation, which “appears to be nurtured by a culture of insufficient acknowledgement of the history of enslavement and the Jim Crow Law.”

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From Civil Rights to Human Rights, Black Community Control Now!

NETFA_UNPoliceA United Nations Working Group preliminary report on human rights violations against Black America advocates Black community control of police. That’s the general position of Pan African Community Action, one of the groups that testified before the UN experts. Community control of police would shift power, enforce democracy and allow folks to re-imagine community security as “a social force to actually protect and serve” Black people.

This UN presence marks another important step forward to obtaining true independent oversight and justice for many who have lost their families to anti-Black police terrorism.”

Now that the fact finding visit to the U.S. by the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent is over and their preliminary findings seemingly catalog an endless list of racial discriminations and repression by the U.S. state, the struggle of African/Black people must gear up for a next phase. Certainly this UN Working Group (WGEPAD) has been to the U.S. on the same mission before and cited similar issues although but not as extensive and bone chilling.

In 2010 the particular members of this Working Group were different, and as would follow so too were the members of this delegation. Today the WGEPAD is chaired, and this delegation was led, by Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France, daughter of the late revolutionary psychiatrist, philosopher, intellectual Frantz Fanon. Ms. Fanon-Mendes-France is well established in her own right in the fields of international law, conflict resolution, as well as on racism and discrimination. In 2009, she received the Human Rights Award by the Council for Justice, Equality and Peace.

This time the WGEPAD’s visit came on the heels of a series of non indictments following the brutal murder of Black women, men, children, and queer and transgender African/Black people by U.S. police. The visit began January 19, ended the 29th and was to examine the oppressive conditions of Black people living in the U.S. In February 2014, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2015-24 the International Decade of People of African Descent and this UN presence marks another important step forward to obtaining true independent oversight and justice for many who have lost their families to anti-Black police terrorism and is seen as something more than the ineffective federal investigations.

The WGEPAD included an explicit call for reparations for Black people.”

It is no small victory that this time –unlike in 2010– within their preliminary findings released at a press conference on January 29th, 2016 the WGEPAD included an explicit call for reparations for Black people, alarm at and call for urgent remedy for the rampant killings of Black people by police with impunity. The findings also embraced the radical community call for community control over police saying, “Following the epidemic of racial violence by the police, civil society networks calling for justice together with other activists are strongly advocating for legal and policy reforms and community control over policing and other areas which directly affect African Americans.”

The Working Group recommends that “Community policing strategies should be developed to give the community control of the police which are there to protect and serve them. It is suggested to have a board that would elect police officers they want playing this important role in their communities.”

While WGEPAD appreciated the grassroots community’s push to have control over the police, they are still not as clear on the issue and the particulars as our movement must be. We must be clear that people of African descent in the U.S. are a domestic colony and that the police are NOT here to protect and serve us. That is to say our treatment in this country reflects the outlook and policies the U.S. government and the Western world practice against all African people globally.  The treatment of African/Black people in the U.S. is a direct extension of a colonial subject status in relation to white society and the police are an occupying force for political control by the capitalist class.

One need only examine the historical development of the modern U.S. police. The earliest form of the modern American police lies in the brutal Southern slave patrols legislated through the slave codes that started in South Carolina in 1712. “The plantation slave patrols, often consisting of three armed men on horseback covering a ‘beat’ of 15 square miles, were charged with maintaining discipline, catching runaway slaves and preventing slave insurrection,” according to The Iron Fist and The Velvet Glove; An Analysis of the U.S. Police.

“People of African descent in the U.S. are a domestic colony and that the police are NOT here to protect and serve us.”

This comprehensive 1975 study by the Center for Research on Criminal Justice goes on to explain that “in the North and West, the police institution evolved in response to a different set of race and class contradictions.”  There they originated as private security to protect the property of capitalist, to break up worker strikes, and prevent worker protest for fair working conditions.

In present day, while their form has been expanded and their image spun by media and public relations departments, the essential function of police remains to enforce the will and protect the power of those in charge.

In practice this means that police officers’ main priority is to protect the wealthy and their property from oppressed Black communities, the homeless population and anyone that doesn’t conform to the ruling class.

With Community Control Over Police the priority of police becomes protecting all human beings, not just the wealthy and their buildings. This is a call for Community Control Over Police as a means of shifting power, enforcing democracy, deconstructing the historic relationship between the police and the Black Community and reimagining a social force designed to actually protect and serve it’s population as policy, not as a meaningless slogan.

The WGEPAD report must now be seen as a window of opportunity toward intensified grassroots organizing for Community Control Over Police, what this can look like and the steps it will take to win it. Some organizations like the DC based organization Pan-African Community Action (PACA) have begun to do just that.

“PACA is also calling for a non-elected and randomly selected civilian board from the ranks of the community itself to exercise full community control over police.”

Between now and the September 2016 release by the WGEPAD of their full and final report Black organizations need to intensify the struggle to build a powerful movement led by the most impacted of our communities. The struggle continues. Organizing around the WGEPAD visit wasn’t done because Black liberation rest in the hands of the UN. It was done to expose the domestic contradictions in the U.S. Empire on a world stage. It was done to forge practical relationships between local and national forces. It was done to spread in the Black community the idea that we have an inseparable connection to African people all over the world.

For its Justice 4 Zo campaign PACA is calling for an independent dual track investigation, conducted by the United Nations or the Organization of American States, into both the death of DC resident and 27 year old educator Alonzo Smith by special police and the social and economic conditions that lead to the disproportionate stops, arrests and deaths of Black people at the hands of the police. PACA is also calling for a non-elected and randomly selected civilian board from the ranks of the community itself to exercise full community control over police, including the budget that is allocated, setting priorities, policies and the hiring and firing of individual police officers.

This year’s visit by the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was historic and empowering. But the struggle to build African/Black power in the U.S. led by the most impacted in our communities continues.

Pan-African Community Action says, “This new 21st century belongs to African/Black people. This decade is the decade of organized African/Black resistance. Forward then to Community Control. Community Control NOW! Tomorrow, the United States of Africa.”

Netfa Freeman is an organizer in Pan-African Community Action, the Events Coordinator at the Institute for Policy Studies, and radio producer and host for Voices With Vision on WPFW 89.3 FM, Washington DC.

D.C. Statehood, the Minimum Wage and a Guided Tour

12572990_10153922035683928_8389963611622489478_nThis year, District residents will have the opportunity to vote on a ballot initiative that would raise the minimum wage from $10.50 per hour to $15 per hour. As one of the nation’s most progressive and most expensive cities, the initiative is likely to pass. But if the Republican Congress decides that the District doesn’t deserve a $15 per hour minimum wage, for whatever reason, then we won’t have it.

That’s the way it works when you live in a federal district under the jurisdiction of the United States Congress, an institution not particularly well-known for its vigorous defense of civil and human rights. You can have a population larger than Wyoming, have more residents in the military than 31 other states and pay twice the national average in federal taxes and still have your voter initiative overturned by elected representatives who make make it very clear that they don’t represent District residents. No one with voting rights in the United States Congress represents District residents.

So, it is no surprise that D.C. natives and long-term residents get hot under the collar when you bring up statehood. Most people who live outside of the District just don’t get it. Which is insanely frustrating because like any other civil rights issue, there will be no movement forward unless anger over the District’s lack of representation spreads nationwide. As District residents by definition do not live next door to Nevada residents or Pennsylvania residents, etc., there’s little hope of spreading the cause.

Cincinnati-based artist Mary Clare Rietz is trying to change that with Outside/In: Perspectives on DC Statehood (a guided walk). This event is an opportunity for those who want to learn more about the statehood issue and those who know all about the statehood issue to get together and exchange ideas.

Outside In Perspective on DC Statehood

This event is FOR DC RESIDENTS.  It will be opportunity for D.C. residents to meet with artists from outside of the region who are actually interested in working for D.C. Statehood. So if you have the time this weekend, please show up.

International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers


The Empathy Gap and Western Responses to Extremist Violence

Statue of LibertyIn the wake of the most recent attack on Paris, citizens across the globe are in mourning over the lives lost in the attack, which the extremist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) have reportedly claimed was their doing.

People across the globe are demonstrating their mourning for those who were killed or injured in Paris via social media (Facebook users laying a transparent French flag over their profile pictures, which has been criticized) and the organizing of vigils and rallies.

Seeing people in sincere grief over the lives lost in Paris gives me hope that we are slowly, but surely, becoming a more empathetic, humane global community.

However, I find it difficult to witness these actions alongside the lack of recognition and/or awareness Western nations have for the lives of people who aren’t living in wealthy, Western nations.

This past summer, 147 people were killed at Garissa University College in Kenya by Somalian extremist group, al-Shabaab. Despite global coverage of this tragedy, the outcry in response to the horrors committed in Kenya paled in comparison to flood of sorrow and solidarity given to the citizens of Paris.

What do these differing responses, to very similar tragedies, reveal about who we as Westerners are able and/or willing to empathize with? And what is the cause of our imbalanced ability to empathize?

More recently, the attacks in Beirut, Lebanon, which resulted in the reported deaths of 47 people, received a significantly smaller amount of attention than the attacks in Paris as well.

In an article on her website Aphro-ism, Black feminist vegan, Aph Ko, writes about how we’re taught to associate humanity with Whiteness and being white; meaning, within a white supremacist perspective, white people are the only people on the planet who are complete human beings.

Backing up Ko’s assertions are studies in race and empathy; it has been proven that, generally, white people have a limited ability, or inability, to empathize with PoC.

In large part, a stunted ability to empathize has much to do with an inability/unwillingness to completely acknowledge the humanity of the other person/people. And the West has a long history of devaluing the humanity of people in the Middle East and Africa.

In a piece published on Quartz, Emma Kelly condescendingly asserts that, while news media actually did give coverage to the attacks in Kenya and Beirut, the lack of outcry stems from news media consumers’ lack of Western attentiveness to international news.

While I don’t completely disagree with Kelly’s argument (mainstream Western media ignores many, many international tragedies), I do add that part of Western media consumers’ lack of attentiveness to the plights of people in Africa and the Middle East stems from a lack of empathy as well.

And, while I don’t believe empathy is a panacea for global injustice, I do believe apparatuses for injustice would be less difficult to overcome if people were genuinely interested in doing the work of justice for everyone.

If we are unwilling to interrogate and expand our own empathic capacities, than those in power who clearly have stunted empathic capacities will continue to exploit, subjugate, and domineer. This said, even while critiquing those who are blatantly misusing their power, it is critical that everyone remain vigilant in holding themselves accountable and avoid seeking out scapegoats to assuage feelings of guilt.

Of course, a lack of empathy doesn’t completely explain Western citizens’ responses to this most recent wave of extremist violence, however, it is of utmost importance to expand our empathic capacities as people across the globe are being facing extremists violence in the face of broader injustices.