A now-iconic image emerged from the Washington Navy Yard shooting Monday: A civilian helping a blind colleague exit the building to safety.
As bullets flew, civilian employee Omar Grant took his unidentified co-worker’s arm and led him out of the building. A photo capturing the moment was posted by Yahoo! News reporter Chris Moody on Twitter.
“As soon as we got outside the cafeteria doors into the hallway, we saw people panicked, running for the exits,” Grant told TODAY’s Carson Daly in an Orange Room phone interview Tuesday. “They were shouting. I couldn’t make out exactly what they were shouting, but I knew it was something serious. I told my colleague there that we were going to get out of the building, and I was going to help him because normally he’s got somebody with him there, and this morning he was all by himself.”
Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old civilian contractor, is suspected of killing 12 people before he was shot dead by police.
Grant, an IT technician who works in network support at the Navy Yard, described the scene as civilians and military first heard the gunfire.
“I heard the first two shots while I was in the atrium near the cafeteria where I saw my blind colleague also,” Grant said. “After we heard the first two shots, we were wondering where the noise came from because sound echoes and travels there in an atrium area. You go up from the first floor of the building all the way up to the fifth floor. I proceeded to take his arm and led him into the cafeteria, and people started wondering as they also heard gunshots.
“We heard three more shots while we were inside the cafeteria and then we saw the alarms go off to evacuate the building.”
U.S. Navy Commander Tim Jirus was warned about the danger by a stranger.
“He came up behind us and was talking to me, basically saying, ‘Hey, there’s a shooter in your building,’’’ Jirus told TODAY. “Then I heard two more shots, one of them hit him, he went down in front of me, and then I took off from there.”
Alexis was an employee of “The Experts,” a subcontractor to a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy/Marine Corps intranet network, according to Hewlett-Packard spokesperson Michael Thacker.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic events at the Washington Navy Yard,” Hewlett-Packard said in a statement. “Our thoughts and sympathies are with all those who have been affected. Aaron Alexis was an employee of a company called ‘The Experts,’ a subcontractor to an HP Enterprise Services contract to refresh equipment used on the Navy Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) network. HP is cooperating fully with law enforcement as requested.”
Alexis had been suffering from paranoia, sleep disorder and hearing voices in his head, U.S. law enforcement officials told the Associated Press. He had been receiving treatment for his issues by the Veterans Administration since August, officials said on condition of anonymity.
In 2004, Alexis was arrested for allegedly shooting at a vehicle in a “black-out fueled by anger,” according to court records. His father told police that Alexis had “anger management problems” and was stressed from being “an active participant in rescue attempts of September 11th, 2001,” according to the arrest report.
by Mary C. Curtis
As Ben Jealous prepares to step down from his leadership post at the end of this year, there is no question that he brought stability and visibility in his five years as the president and CEO of the NAACP.
Now, as members and observers give Jealous a proper celebratory sendoff, they are also looking to the future of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. How is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909, tackling 21st-century challenges and what is its relationship with other civil rights organizations?
There is still much work for the NAACP in a nation where, with its help, progress has been made but where inequality remains. Many issues look familiar. For example, at this year’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, voting rights and income inequality battles topped the agenda in 2013, as in 1963. However, some tactics and players had changed.
At the Aug. 24 “Realize the Dream” event the weekend before the official anniversary with President Obama in attendance, tens of thousands gathered on the National Mall to hear speeches by Jealous and others.
It was, however, the Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network (NAN) – a host alongside the NAACP and others – center stage at the Lincoln Memorial. Sharpton walked arm in arm during the march with U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia — a young SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) leader when he spoke in 1963 — and Martin Luther King III.
The two organizations with different histories have worked together on events. Both have weighed in on racial profiling, recently in the response to the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., and subsequent acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting.
In a Miami rally that was part of 100 NAN-led events across the country, Tracy Martin, Trayvon Martin’s father, appeared with Bishop Victor Curry, president of the South Florida chapter of NAN and director of the southeast region. In the past, Curry served two stints heading the Miami-Dade NAACP, the last term ending about a year and a half ago, he told theGrio.
“I have nothing but respect for the NAACP,” Curry said, praising its longevity. “Being around over 100 years, that says a lot about the organization. But I think sometimes a discouraging aspect of working with an organization that has been around that long, sometimes it becomes top heavy.”
He said, “Before you can get things done in your local branch you go through so many different layers of leadership, and by the time you get approval from everybody the situation you’re dealing with on the ground has almost passed.”
“That was what was refreshing with me from Reverend Sharpton,” Curry said. “He gives his chapter presidents a lot of leeway to deal with what’s going on in their communities.”
In his first time as head of the Miami-Dade NAACP, Curry, who pastors two Baptist churches and is president, general manager and talk-show host at a radio station, said the national sent him a letter telling him to “cease and desist” his on-air criticism of the organization’s position — in the aftermath of a rash of police shootings — not to reconsider a decision to hold its convention in Miami Beach.
“We needed the NAACP to think about not coming,” he said. “Instead of them wanting me to discuss it they told me to shut up. I’m on the ground; I’m having to bury these young men. For the national to do that that kind of hurt me.” When the federal government subsequently indicted 11 police officers, Curry felt a measure of vindication.
National Action Network, founded in 1991, says in its mission statement that it “works within the spirit and tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to promote a modern civil rights agenda.” Curry said he favors that “preacher-friendly” tradition, “birthed out of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
Curry said he spoke with longtime friend Sharpton about working together. Sharpton’s MSNBC show Politics Nation provides a Monday-to-Friday cable megaphone. Though NAN has chapters throughout the nation, its personality is tied to Sharpton, its founder, and his swift reaction to controversies.
“You don’t try to stifle that,” said Curry. “You ride the wave. You strengthen the organization so that when it’s time for these others chapters to fly, they can fly.” He said, “I believe NAN is strong enough and has enough strong chapter leaders.”
Mississippi Field Secretary Medgar Evers was murdered for his civil rights organizing in 1963; his widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, became the third woman to chair the NAACP in the 1990s. Some say it is time for another woman to lead the group.
“Most people don’t understand what the NAACP has always understood, and that is that movements come from the bottom up, not from the top down,” Rev. Dr. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP president, told theGrio. The organization initiated and has led “Moral Monday” demonstrations — noted for the diversity of the thousands who participated — which continue to protest a conservative wave of legislation enacted by Republican super-majorities in the state legislature.
“When you become president of the NAACP, you don’t have to field an organization in North Carolina, you have one. You don’t have to field an organization in Mississippi, there already is one, with leadership that gives their lives to this work voluntarily. … That’s been the power and the consistency of it,” he said. “President Jealous was able to put forward a vision to expand on an already strong foundation.”
“Sometimes people mistake deliberation for slowness,” Barber said. “The NAACP is deliberate when it gets involved in an issue. We’re not a helicopter organization; we don’t just pop in and pop out. In North Carolina, we didn’t just have a march, we started a movement.”
He said the North Carolina group’s activism goes back years, when Democrats were in office, “pushing through same-day registration, early voting and Sunday voting and the Racial Justice Act, more money for education, standing up against voter ID when it first came up, suing over redistricting and building relationships with our coalition partners.”
After arrests at the first Moral Monday, “it sent a signal to people we already had relationships with — over 13 weeks, 1,000 arrested. That didn’t happen because a William Barber popped into North Carolina, gave a speech and popped out. It happened because the NAACP has a history of grassroots, branch-up work.”
Barber said, “No human organization is perfect. But very few organizations can look at its [sic] track record and say every major victory we’ve ever won on the national and the state level bettered America.” After Jealous, “whoever is CEO,” said Barber, “male, female, young, old, whomever God sends, first thing is they become not so much a CEO but the leader of the largest volunteer civil rights program in the world.”
In telling its history, which includes the names W.E.B. Du Bois, Rosa Parks and Charles Hamilton Houston, the NAACP acknowledges occasional friction with groups that advocated more direct action. “Although it was criticized for working exclusively within the system by pursuing legislative and judicial solutions, the NAACP did provide legal representation and aid to members of other protest groups over a sustained period of time,” the group’s website says.
Curry, of NAN in Miami, said, “I’m not naïve. I know back in the day, all of the civil rights organizations weren’t always on the same page. They were mature enough to put aside their difference for a greater cause.” He said, “I think it’s going to take all of the organizations working together in order to keep the powers that be [with their] feet to the fire.” He also said he is a big William Barber fan.
Barber, who has been a guest on Sharpton’s MSNBC show, said, “The true reality of the first March on Washington is that Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph insisted and demanded that people not be stuck in their egos — whether it be organizational ego or whether it be personality ego. What we must understand, particularly in the south, is you cannot have social, political and economic victories without fusion politics.”
As was the case 50 years ago, when leaders of a host of civil rights groups, from the National Urban League to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP and others shared the stage and the job of challenging the country to live up to its promise of equal rights for all, the job is still big enough to keep different organizations plenty busy.
For now, those organizations are planning their next steps, separately and together.
On Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, in Birmingham, Ala., at 10:22 a.m., a bomb exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church. The blast, erupting from the church’s east side, sprayed mortar and bricks, caving in the building’s walls.
Of the nearly 200 congregants inside, attending Sunday school classes and preparing for the 11 a.m. service, about 22 were injured. But perhaps most notably, four little girls — three 14-year-olds and one 11-year-old — were killed, putting the bombing among the most well-known and heartbreaking tragedies in the fight for civil rights in America’s Deep South.
In a bittersweet irony, the Birmingham church bombing catapulted the civil rights movement to a new stage, and ultimately helped influence the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the immediate effect of the deaths, in the face of vaunted American ideas like justice and liberty, was to reveal a country that had refused to take an honest look in the mirror.
For centuries, society had relegated African descendants to second-class citizenship, and as a result, created a complicated perception of black physicality. The subjects of fear and fascination since their first interaction with Europeans, blacks, over time were dehumanized and subjected to unjust treatment as a result.
“Black bodies are complex signs that represent something both appealing and repulsive for the society in which we dwell,” Anthony B. Pinn explains in his essay, “DuBois’ Souls: Thoughts on “Veiled” Bodies and the Study of Black Religion.”
The images that circulated right after the Birmingham church bombing not only put the hypocrisy of American liberty into the spotlight, it also humanized African-Americans. But while the pictures of the destruction that killed the four girls helped fight the long-held perception at that time that black bodies are less-valuable, it is a battle that still carries on today.
Chains Of The Past
One main reason it was possible for Ku Klux Klansmen Robert Chambliss and his accomplices to carry out the bombing was the sociological tension created by centuries of American slavery, said Sherwin Bryant, associate professor of African American Studies and History and director of the Center for African American History at Northwestern University.
“Western modernity has largely been at war with black subjects,”
Bryant told The Huffington Post. “It has mostly been at war with, and seeking to subjugate and dominate, people of African descent.”
The institution of slavery ultimately developed a need for white colonists to establish dominance over black bodies, which largely still exists today, he said. Race and racism are byproducts of that slavery.
“Slavery had everything to do with, first and foremost, a kind of social and political status that one had, or more precisely was denied in the colony,” he said. “What happens in Atlantic slavery is slavery becomes tethered, almost exclusively, to Africans and the very idea of blackness and particular kinds of labor, the very kinds of labor that no one would want to do. So as those things become practices tethered to blackness and African descendants, or black bodies, there you begin to see the way in which slavery was a part of making race.”
But the abolishment of slavery and the end of the Reconstruction Era created a kind of anxiety among whites about the position of power, he said. That resulted in a desire to control the activities of African-American citizens through acts of terror.
“What you have cropping up, after the federal government sort of abandons black Southerners, you basically have white vigilante violence that begins to emerge to subjugate blacks,” Bryant said. “There’s a certain attempt to subjugate and keep black folks in place, and one of the main ways that was attained was through black terror.”
Empathy v. Embarrassment
Examples of this terrorism ranged from calling a grown black man “boy,” or refusing to call a married black woman “Mrs.,” to violent rapes and lynchings — or the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. But how does society justify such inhumane treatment? The answer lies in whether the victim is seen as a human being.
“Racism is the most powerful force that can completely erase the humanity of human beings,”
Dorothy Roberts, a law and sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, told The Huffington Post. “It’s a perverse sickening combination of very deeply embedded assumptions and experiences, but also the stake that people have in their privileges.”
These psychological effects of racism made it possible for large groups of whites, women and children included, to gather to watch lynchings — a horrific scene captured in photos throughout history and recounted in James Baldwin’s fictional stories in “Going to Meet the Man.”
“The only way they could do that is if they didn’t see that person as a human being,” Roberts said. “Torture is the end result of racism. That one human being can torture and justify it because they don’t see that victim as a human being, and racism makes it possible to do that.”
But the lack of empathy among those crowds is a far cry from the feelings that photos from the church bombing evoked in Americans nationwide. Those dark images and what they represented were in stark contrast to the droves of whites who stood with black activists fighting for equality.
As images of brutality against peaceful protesters and unjust killings circulated both nationally and internationally, pressure mounted for the U.S. to respond. However, Bryant said he’s unsure whether empathy played a larger role than embarrassment during the civil rights movement.
“One of the things that really helped the civil rights movement to break through, was the fact that the United States was fighting a war against fascism around the globe and yet at the same time treating its black citizens as less than human,” he said.
“So being embarrassed and called out on the world stage, that sort of inconsistency, questions of human rights violations being raised on the world stage, that is what began to help turn the tide for civil rights. I don’t think that it was ’empathy,’ but a particular kind of shaming, or showcasing the absurdity of liberty, the absurdity of the American democracy and the ways in which the black experience actually gives lie to that kind of rhetoric and discourse.”
“That has been our reality, empathy has not been our reality.”
“We All Did It”
In the aftermath of the bombing, the city of Birmingham and then-Alabama Gov. George Wallace feigned attempts to track down the perpetrators. But to many proponents of the civil rights movement, the suspects were only a small part of a much bigger problem.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told Wallace the young girls’ deaths were partly the governor’s fault.
“The blood of four little children … is on your hands,” he said. “Your irresponsible and misguided actions have created in Birmingham and Alabama the atmosphere that has induced continued violence and now murder.”
The day after the bombing, the Milwaukee Sentinel published a story effectively scolding the nation, saying that “the Birmingham church bombing should serve to goad the conscience. The deaths … in a sense are on the hands of each of us.”
Also the day after the bombing, a white Alabama lawyer, Charles Morgan Jr., delivered a speech against prejudice and injustice at a lunch meeting of the Birmingham’s Young Business Men’s Club, and was forced to leave the city as a result.
Four little girls were killed in Birmingham yesterday. A mad, remorseful worried community asks, “Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white?” The answer should be, “We all did it.” Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it.
In 1963, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley became soldiers in a war they didn’t fully understand, and died for a cause beyond the reach of their young minds.
But the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, and the deaths of four innocent little girls forced Americans to confront the ideology that black lives were not as valuable as white lives — something the nation still grapples with today.
“You might argue that we won the war, but we lost the peace in some ways. Many of the civil rights gains have been gutted and marginalized, and it really is difficult to get a handle on where we are,” Bryant said. “There’s a way in which white privilege continues under a veneer of black liberty.”
by NBC New York
Kenneth Thompson, a lawyer best known for representing the maid in the sex assault scandal involving former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn, won the Democratic nomination for Brooklyn district attorney Tuesday, unseating longtime prosecutor Charles Hynes.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday night, Thompson was leading with 55 percent of the vote.
Hynes has the support of the GOP but says he won’t run as a Republican. There are no other major party candidates in the general election.
Thompson, 48, is a former federal prosecutor who tried the brutal police attack on Abner Louima in 1999. Since going into private practice, he has represented victims of a 2007 steam pipe explosion in midtown Manhattan and Sherr-Una Booker, the woman at the center of a domestic violence scandal that caused serious political damage to then-Gov. David Paterson, who eventually dropped plans to run for a full term.
But Thompson became known around the world as the lawyer representing Nafissatou Diallo, the maid who accused Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her in a Manhattan hotel room in May 2011. The case fell apart amid questions over her credibility. While Thompson was lauded for his steadfast defense of the maid, he was criticized for blocking prosecutors from speaking to her, and for allowing her to reveal her identity in a television interview before the investigation had been completed.
Thompson takes over one of the nation’s largest district attorney’s offices — it sees more than 1,500 new cases a week and handles more than 80,000 per year.
By BOB JOHNSON
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Demetrius Newton, a civil rights attorney who represented icons like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. before becoming the first black person to serve as speaker pro tem of the Alabama House, has died. He was 85.
Rep. John Rogers of Birmingham, a longtime friend of Newton, says he was notified by the lawmaker’s family that Newton died Wednesday morning after a long illness.
Gov. Robert Bentley served for eight years with Newton in the Alabama House.
“He was a fine gentleman, and we had a strong mutual respect for each other. He will be greatly missed, not only by his own constituents – but also by the entire state of Alabama,” Bentley, a Republican, said.
Newton was former city attorney for Birmingham and had served in the Legislature since 1986. He was speaker pro tem from 1998 until 2010.
He was a polite man who often had a kind word for legislators and lobbyists when he passed them in the Statehouse hallways. The normally noisy House chamber would often grow quiet when Newton rose to speak.
Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn said Newton was so well-respected that even when Republicans took over the majority, the newly elected Caucus unanimously agreed that he should retain his seat in the front row of the Chamber, a seat normally reserved for members of Leadership.
“Rep. Newton was a true gentleman and I considered him to be a great friend for the 15 years that I had the honor of knowing him,” Hubbard said. He said Newton was “an intelligent, fair, and kind man as well as a respected and knowledgeable legislator who fought for his district. His 27 years of service to the Alabama Legislature and his incredible impact on the Civil Rights movement will forever be a powerful part of Alabama history.”
In the Legislature, he was an outspoken critic of Alabama’s 1901 Constitution, which he described as too long and out-of date.
Newton pushed for years for lawmakers to write a new constitution.
Before he was elected to the Legislature, Newton was known as the attorney for some of the people arrested during demonstrations in Birmingham. Southern Christian Leadership Conference president emeritus and CEO Charles Steele said Newton played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement.
“He was very close to the movement. What was done in Birmingham set the tone for the rest of the nation,” said Steele, a former Alabama state senator.
Democratic State Rep. Alvin Holmes said the state lost “a great public servant” with the death of Newton.
By Dr. Ron Daniels
As of this writing, President Obama is frantically pleading with Members of Congress, the American people and heads of state of other nations to follow his lead in “punishing” the Assad regime in Syria for unleashing chemical weapons on his own people. Having drawn a “red line” in the sand regarding the use of chemical weapons, Obama apparently feels obligated to attack Syria as a matter of personal and national pride even if it means going it alone — a blunder which could damage his presidency. It is difficult to resist pointing to the irony of this President standing where Martin Luther King stood in 1963 to extol the virtues of this great apostle of peace while obviously contemplating a unilateral and ill-advised military strike against a nation that poses no direct threat to the United States. Similarly, it was ironic to hear the President at a press conference in Sweden, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize, feverishly attempting to drum-up support to bomb Syria.
Ironies aside, individuals, the United States and the world should take seriously the use of chemical weapons. They are so horrific in terms of the inescapable pain, suffering, and excoriating death they inflict that the vast majority of nations have banned them since World War I. But, there are several issues which should deter President Obama from launching a military strike against Syria. First, despite the “evidence” that has been presented that chemical weapons were used, it’s still not clear exactly who in fact used them. I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but something about this incident does not pass the “smell test.” Granted Assad is a ruthless dictator, but is he totally insane? Why would he order the use of chemical weapons against his people when U.N. inspectors were in the country? No one has been able to answer this question to my satisfaction.
However, even if Assad gave the order to use what are almost universally condemned as banned weapons, the United States cannot be the “good cop” on the world scene, self-appointing itself to punish bad actors. There are lots of bad actors in the world, and unfortunately other atrocities occurring in the world as well – the millions of Africans who have been killed in Congo is a case in point. The U.S. and its allies do not seem to feel much urgency about this human calamity. Moreover, while Syria’s use of chemical weapons is a violation of international law, there is no identifiable threat to the U.S. that justifies a unilateral strike; you can’t break international law to enforce international law!! And, China and Russia’s obstructionism in the U.N. Security Council notwithstanding, there appears to be no appetite among the Arab League, America’s Western allies or Third World nations to form a “coalition of the willing” to punish Assad. Hence, Obama is standing virtually alone in his singular determination to defend America’s “word” on the international stage. This stance clearly flies in the face of his pledge as candidate Obama to abandon unilateralism in favor of multilateralism as an axiom of U.S. foreign policy. In addition, many who supported Obama also saw him as the anecdote for the kind of muscular, testosterone approach represented by George Bush. It appears those perceptions were inaccurate.
Finally, and of paramount importance, the American people seem to have learned something from the costly and ill conceived wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war in Iraq was launched as an egoistic exercise by George W. Bush based on the outright lie that an already militarily defanged Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Afghanistan has proven to be an enormously costly nation-building commitment, despite the fact that Osama Bin Laden is dead and the claims that Al Qaeda has been decimated. The words and warnings of Dr. King should have reverberated through President Obama’s consciousness as he praised him on August 28th on the national mall. These wars have been like a “demonical destructive suction tube” draining trillions of tax payer dollars from addressing critical human and infrastructure needs in this country.
Given the State of Emergency in America’s “dark ghettos,” Black people in particular should have no use for a billion here and there dispensed to defend America’s ego. Indeed, the biggest threat to America’s stability and security today is massive inequality; the desperate plight of low wage workers; the kind of individual and structural racism that led to the tragic death of Trayvon Martin; Stand Your Ground Laws that encourage vigilantism with Blacks being the primary victims; Supreme Court decisions severely diluting affirmative action and decimating the Voting Rights Act of 1965; and, voter suppression laws calculated to undermine Black voting power. These are the “clear and present dangers” President Obama should be focused on, not a “lone ranger” style incursion into the quagmire in Syria!
(New York, NY)— Education for a Better America (EBA) and National Action Network (NAN) will partner with the City of Philadelphia and Community College of Philadelphia to host a Higher Education Awareness, Dropout Prevention, and Health Initiative on September 14th from 10:30am to 4:00pm in the Great Hall on the campus of the Community College of Philadelphia. Rev. Sharpton will speak at 2:00 p.m. The event will feature workshops on college and career readiness, health and wellness, and breaking down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as well as remarks from National Action Network President Reverend Al Sharpton, U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, and School District of Superintendent Dr. William Hite among others. There will also be a talent showcase and fashion show hosted by Sharpton Entertainment.
According to EBA Board President Dominique Sharpton: “the event in Philadelphia is part of a nationwide effort to increase the pursuit of post-secondary education, increase civic engagement, prevent school dropouts, and promote health and wellness across the country. We want to help bring the community together to deal with the current education crisis. The city has great programs like ‘Get Healthy Philly’ and ‘Philly Goes to College’ that need to be maximized at a time like this.”
The event is especially critical in Philadelphia given that many schools opened on September 9th with no guidance counselors or staff to support dropout prevention or the college admissions and financial aid process. This is troubling given that a high school dropout out is twice as likely to be unemployed and the majority of new jobs that will be created over the next decade will require some type of post-secondary education. EBA’s Higher Education, Dropout Prevention, and Health Initiative, which will go to Washington, DC on September 22nd, and Compton, California, on September 28th, serves as an opportunity to rise above politics and bolster the connection between communities, schools systems, and colleges in order to help close the opportunity gap in the United States.
The public education crisis in the city of Philadelphia is concerning to community members and educators and due to the school district’s 304 million dollar deficit, the School Reform Commission in Pennsylvania voted in March to close 23 schools in Philadelphia. Additionally, nearly 4,000 district employees including guidance counselors, teachers, assistant principals and other school-based staff were given layoff notices. Adding insult to injury, the U.S. House of Representatives slashed $961 million from the education budget this Spring.
School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite initially asked for the state for $60 million, the city for $120 million, and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for $133 million in the form of various concessions in order to fill the $304 million shortfall. After months of intense negotiations and battles over the deficit, the city of Philadelphia recently announced that it would borrow an additional $50 million just to be able to open the schools at a bare minimum level of operation.
According to EBA, the school district should not have to go to drastic measures just to meet bare minimum needs but the focus should be on closing the achievement gap, graduating college and career ready students, and attacking the city’s dropout crisis.
by Joy-Ann Reid
Call it “afro-mentum.” Call it the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Either way, Bill de Blasio’s sweeping victory in the New York Democratic primary for mayor is a hint of change progressives can believe in.
De Blasio won every age group, religious faction and income group, both men and women, and every borough, to take just over 40 percent of the vote, technically enough to avoid a run-off, though second place finisher Bill Thompson is not done fighting yet.
He won among women and gay voters, despite the presence of a gay, female contender, Christine Quinn, the city council leader, who was seen as too close to Bloomberg — and in every borough, and every pocket of the city with the exception of some enclaves of the very rich like the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, which sided with Quinn (though she did lose Chelsea, one of the city’s oldest and wealthiest neighborhoods.) He tied Bill Thompson, the only African-American in the race, overall at 42 percent of the vote, by winning black women 47 percent to 37 percent, and losing among black men 49 percent to 36 percent. And he won Hispanic men and women, white women with 36 percent, and 46 percent of white men. For Democratic primary voters, at least, de Blasio was the ultimate uniter.
And he ran an unabashedly progressive campaign, vowing to raise taxes on the rich, end the emphasis on “stop and frisk” policing, stopping a string of community hospital closures and working to make New York housing more affordable for ordinary people — an anathema to a city overtaken by mass gentrification over the last 20 years. For that, he was rewarded with a commanding 50 percent of the vote of very liberal voters, and 34 percent of those describing themselves as “somewhat liberal.” He lost moderate voters to Thompson by 3 points.
More importantly, de Blasio’s independence, and the inability of the big city papers, his well-funded rivals and their institutional backers, or the Michael Bloomberg media and cash machine to stop or even slow his late and sudden rise, signals a potential end to a period in the Big Apple’s history dominated by two pugnacious mayors who put the city squarely in the service of the rich, and who cast all of the blame for the city’s ills on squeegee men and black teenagers. Or to put it in Bloombergian terms, it’s the rich people who pay the bills, people, so all you 47 percenters bow down and say thank you.
De Blasio, the city’s public advocate, triumphed with a great deal of help from his attractive, mulch-cultural family: his African-American wife, Chirlane (which couldn’t have hurt him with black women voters), their adorable, confident and quirky daughter Chiara, for whom Tuesday was her first chance to vote, and particularly their son Dante, with his tremendous, picture-perfect and sky-high Afro. Dante was getting major credit on Twitter on election night, with Washington Post columnist Charles Blow tweeting before the final returns came in that the father might have to extend his curfew indefinitely.
Many credit the campaign commercial starring the 15-year-old with permanently turning the tide for de Blasio. Dante became the physical embodimentof the change his father could deliver — after all, as a young black man, he was precisely the kind of person Michael Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly’s prized “stop and frisk” regime was likely to target, before it was knocked down by a federal judge this month, sending Hizzoner directly off the wall.
Beyond the aesthetics of his family, it was de Blasio’s first-out-of-the gate declaration of opposition to “stop and frisk” that likely helped him most with black voters, who de Blasio won last night according to exit polls,
For Thompson, the city’s former comptroller, Tuesday was his second bitter pill in five years — he lost to Bloomberg for mayor in 2009. Thompson joined the anti-stop and frisk bandwagon, with a surprise statement on Trayvon Martin at a black church in August, but his commitment to ending the practice seemed half-hearted (and tainted by his strong support from the police union), as did his candidacy, which lacked the charisma New Yorkers are accustomed to.
From Fiorello LaGuardia who reigned during the New Deal era, to John Lindsey, who in the mid-1960s doubled as a Good Morning America guest host, to the string of colorful mayors who led during the racially divisive years between the late 1970s and 1990s, including the pugnacious Ed Koch, the city’s first and (so far) only black mayor, David Dinkins, and the divisive Rudy Giuliani, who kicked off the “stop-and-frisk” era with the nightmare for black New Yorkers known as “Giuliani Time,” Gotham prefers its mayors with personality. (As someone who lived in New York City during “Giuliani time,” I can attest that “personality” is no substitute for decency, and that era is not missed by many African-Americans.)
De Blasio triumphed by presenting the clearest contrast to Bloomberg, whose grandiose, authoritarian style has worn many New Yorkers out, even as he gets praise for standing strong on national issues like gun control. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Bloomberg had a genuine de Blasio meltdown, accusing the candidate of running a racist campaign just for showing his kids’ faces on TV, proving to any doubters that de Blasio’s real crime was to be the most un-Bloomberg of them all, and giving many progressives even more reason to support him.
Without a big, overarching issue to cloud the race — the crime surge that swept Giuliani past David Dinkins and into Gracie Mansion in 1994, or the 9/11 terror attacks that rocked downtown Manhattan and helped keep City Hall in Republican (turned Independent) hands with Bloomberg in 2002, New York voters were free to vote purely on personality and issues. And progressives can feel heartened that the most authentically liberal candidate won.
Clearly, the race isn’t in the bag — since de Blasio’s progressive stances could send wealthy liberals among the city’s dominant Democratic voters into the arms of the Republican candidate, Joe Lhota, who ran the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (think subway, and then try and feel good about him), and was an aide to Giuliani (ditto). But Lhota got fewer primary votes on the Republican side than Anthony Weiner, who finished fifth.
Bloomberg could choose to throw the platinum-veneered kitchen sink at de Blasio in the general election to try and push Lhota through, though that could further aide de Blasio among New Yorkers who are ready to wrest the crown and scepter out of King Soda Ban’s grasp. And Bloombergian bloviating, if it’s of the quality of his “race” and stop and frisk comments, could actually be the best thing that ever happened to the de Blasio campaign.
So while it’s not over, de Blasio’s primary success signals the possibility of a progressive New York that’s moving on from the ritual humiliation of black men, the fixation on terrorism, and the serial displacement of ordinary working people in favor of the Wall Street barons in top hats. It feels like the ordinary city dweller might actually have a shot, and a friend in City Hall.
Maybe that’s a pipe dream, but watching that attractive, multi-racial family standing on stage celebrating victory in the Democratic primary Tuesday night, it sure felt like afromentum
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