Tag Archives: Rhiannon Giddens

“Defund the Police,” and, “Defund the Billionaires,” Create a Job-Friendly, Equitable Economy for All

In the early 2000’s I was at the New School University listening to Reverend Floyd Flake, senior pastor at the 23,000 member Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral. Reverend Flake served as a member of Congress (1987-97) and is a strong supporter of charter schools.

Flake was critical of public schools, the level of education was sub par, staffs don’t live in the communities and were not engaged with the community. I asked Floyd if he agreed that the police were not engaged with the community, didn’t live in the community and oftentimes unfairly targeted members of the community: he nodded in agreement.  I asked whether Floyd agreed that in addition to charter schools we should have “charter” police departments.

Flake demurred, and his handlers hustled him out of the meeting.

Maybe I was prescient?

In middle class and white communities the police were looked upon as crime fighters protecting the community from the evil doers, in communities of color: feared. In the 1920’s and 30’s crime was rampant; the 18th Amendment, “… the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors … is … prohibited” was widely ignored, Murder Incorporated . operated with impunity, the police both ignored or were complicit.

In communities of color the police have been the foot soldiers of local and state governments since the Civil War. Jim Crow laws abrogated the 13th/14th and 15th amendments, slavery was replaced by peonage and the Supreme Court legitimatized the abrogation of constitutional guarantees.

Between 1882 and 1968 almost 3500 Afro-Americans were lynched,

Today African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at more than five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the rate in five states.

“For white Americans of every ideological stripe—from radical southern racists to northern progressives—African American criminality became one of the most widely accepted bases for justifying prejudicial thinking, discriminatory treatment, and/or acceptance of racial violence as an instrument of public safety.”

”White southerners were hysterical over the threat of ‘social equality’ or what they took to mean the apocalyptic possibility of black men ‘ravishing’ white women and passing on their ‘degenerate’ traits to a “pure” white race”
― Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America

Black people have been 28% of those killed by police since 2013 despite being only 13% of the population.

For many “Defund the Police” is demanding a type of policing that no longer demeans, abuses and kills people of color.

David Kirkland, the Director of the NYU Metro Center, in an eloquent essay rejects our current “toxic system” and urges the replacement by “community protectors.”

To transform toxic systems—systems that devour Black, Brown, and Indigenous bodies, systems that cannibalize communities, systems such as policing that gorge on not only public dollars but also the spines of the very people they are supposed to protect and serve—to transform these systems, you have to starve them. Similarly, if you want to understand what “defund the police” means, you have to understand what funding the police has meant, particularly for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous (BLI) peoples.

 Currently, our progress is shackled by a system too reliant upon police to do things for us that police cannot, should not, and were not designed to do. We need to defund the police so that we can hire and train our own community protectors—a cadre of care workers more apt to service our human needs, to help eliminate the kinds of conditions responsible for acts of desperation that are, indeed, threats against our public safety. We need investments in systems not bent on jailing us, but designed to liberate us through jobs, education, and other social programs that directly empower people. Investing in human freedom as opposed to human bondage is the best use of public funds. As Frederick Douglass said, “It is easier (and cheaper) to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

 On the other end of the spectrum, far, far on the other side of the spectrum Heather McDonald, in the City Journal sees the Defund the Police movement as the erosion of our society, the “breakdown of civilized life,”

 [George Floyd’s murder] has now spurred an outpouring of contempt against the pillars of law and order that has no precedent in American history. Every day, another mainstream institution—from McDonald’s to Harvard—denounces the police, claiming without evidence that law enforcement is a threat to black lives.

These are no longer the warning signs of a possible breakdown of civilized life. That breakdown is upon us. If local and national leaders are unable to summon the will to defend our most basic institutions from false and inflammatory charges of racism, they have forfeited their right to govern. Unless new leaders come forth who understand their duty to maintain the rule of law, the country will not pull back from disaster.

What McDonald fails to understand is our nation is moving towards a “majority/minority nation; the white, male power structure is inexcerably being replaced by the population tides and Afro-American voters are using the power of the ballot box to express themselves.

Defund the police must be accompanied by, as Kirkland writes,

… investments in systems not bent on jailing us, but designed to liberate us through jobs, education, and other social programs that directly empower people. Investing in human freedom as opposed to human bondage is the best use of public funds

 A recent NY Times editorial makes the case, unless people have jobs, unless we attack economic inequality the “power elites” will continue enrich themselves, call it what you will, “historic and continuing racism” is the primary reason for high crime rates in communities of poverty. The police are the foot soldiers; “fighting crime” equates to incarcerating the victims of policies that takes from the many and gives to the few.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt understood that a sustainable improvement in the quality of most American lives required an overhaul of the institutions of government.

“These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America,” Roosevelt said in 1936. “What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power.”

Americans especially need to confront the fact that minorities are disproportionately the victims of economic inequality — the people most often denied the dignity of a decent wage. That inequity is the result of historic and continuing racism, and it should be addressed with the same sense of fierce urgency that has motivated the wave of protests against overt displays of racism

 We need an “overhaul of the institutions of government,” a living wage for all Americans will drive our economy; if we continue to “rob from the poor and give to the rich” our economy will crumble. There is no “invisible hand” protecting our economy, recessions and depressions are man-made disasters.  Maybe Andrew Yang is correct and we need a Universal Basic Income ($1,00 a month for all Americans), I know there is a ticking clock, a time when demonstrations and protests will grow and grow and a time when we will tip into the yawning abyss of an economic Depression, or worse.

Rhiannon Giddens, in a haunting song, “At the Purchaser’s Option,” reminds us of the cruelty of human bondage


Sheltering in Place: Children, Parents and Teachers Coping With (What Could Be) the New Normal

My phone “pinged,” time to confirm my reservation for the April Board of Regents meeting: not this month. Governor Cuomo just extended the state-wide school closing until April 15th, and probably for a lot longer.

Online, or remote learning, has completed its first week in New York City. The enormous undertaking is incredibly complex. I spoke with a supervisor, Zoom meetings with teachers, with the school leadership team, with the superintendent, checking on teacher lessons, contacting parents; the city is using Google Classroom. I asked a teacher: who are the kids who are participating?  S/he said, “About half the kids, others are having trouble getting online, and the kids were a cross section, the high achievers and others.” A start: hopefully it will improve over the weeks or months ahead. Not surprisingly, in addition to an opportunity gap there is a technology gap, the NY Times has a scathing article. (“Locked Out of the Virtual Classroom”)

In one online fifth grade class the teacher began with a yoga session and moved on to research assignments, “What is an endangered species?”  “How do species become endangered?” “How can we protect endangered species?”  How many students are fully engaged?  How long should the kids be online? How much homework? We’re all exploring a new world.

The questions from teachers and parents keep rolling in,

Will Regents Exams be cancelled?

How will grades be determined?

How will schools determine high school graduation?

Is the State waiving student teaching requirements?

Others states set out detailed guidelines, New Mexico.

High school seniors will earn credits and achieve eligibility for graduation by completing a locally designed demonstration of competency, which may include:

  • Passing a locally designed test,
  • Completing a locally designed series of assignments,
  • Achieving a set cut score on a college entrance exam,
  • Demonstrating applied work experience.

The UFT, the NYC teacher union and the Department of Education issued roles and responsibilities “remote learning,”

New York State hasn’t sent out any guidance, one reason, the state budget is due April 1.  What were the major issues a few weeks ago are gone: changes in Foundation Aid, the funding of the CFE lawsuit, state aid; all overwhelmed by an anticipated 15 billion dollar budget shortfall.

The NYS budget will be in the hands of the governor and he will allocate dollars: perhaps monthly or quarterly:  school districts creating tentative budgets.

Will the school districts hold budget votes in early May?

High wealth school district receive dollars primarily from property taxes, low wealth from state aid: how will the state reduce these glaring disparities?

Will school districts face teacher layoffs in September?

Is a billionaires’ tax on the table?

The questions of the moment may be overshadowed by the larger questions; questions that are frightening, while the president talks about “opening” by Easter, world class scientists see a troublesome scenario.

Looking … into the future, what do you anticipate? Will COVID-19 ever disappear?

What it looks like is that we’re going to have a substantial wave of this disease right through basically the globe ….

 And the question then is: What’s going to happen? Is this going to disappear completely? Are we going to get into a period of cyclical waves? Or are we going to end up with low level endemic disease that we have to deal with?

  Most people believe that that first scenario where this might disappear completely is very, very unlikely, it just transmits too easily in the human population, so more likely waves or low level disease.

 A lot of that is going to depend on what we as countries, as societies, do. If we do the testing of every single case, rapid isolation of the cases, you should be able to keep cases down low. If you simply rely on the big shut down measures without finding every case, then every time you take the brakes off, it could come back in waves. So that future frankly, may be determined by us and our response as much as the virus.

Every morning I jump on my bike and take a long, lonely ride, the birds chirping, the wind blowing in my face, in late afternoon, back on the bike, zipping along empty roads, watching the sun glint off the bay ….  spending the day “sheltering in place,” at least I’m getting into better and better shape.

Listen to Rhiannon Giddens, “We Could Fly”


Stay Safe

Listen to Trusted Expert Advice: Coronavirus, Schools, Fear and an Uncertain Future

This was going to be a busy week, meetings, events, every day, planning for events over the next few weeks. My phone began to ping, one by one the meetings/events were postponed and/or cancelled.

An event I was sponsoring, six weeks down the road, after consultation, I postponed.

The NCAA March Madness basketball tournament cancelled; the NBA and the NHL suspending all games, MLB delaying the opening of the season  Broadway dark, and, unfortunately some electeds becoming “experts.”

Wild flucuations in the stock market, down 10%, up 5%. the hedgefunders selling short and buying long and making millions while the rest of us watch our pensions melt away.

The source of all coronavirus advice is the CDC, the federal agency, and their advice on school closing is complicated, basically, case by case.

To quote Mayor de Blasio, “We must separate fact from fiction.”

How to respond to positive tests in schools is complex, and is evolving hour by hour, day by day.

China and Italy did not respond quickly, a major error and allowed the virus to spread.  The extreme measures that we have taken, hopefully, will slow the spread of the virus; experts are warning us that the progress of the virus will proceed for months.

As we test we will find more and more positive tests.

I was speaking with a school supervisor yesterday: he was teaching a kindergarten class: how to wash their hands; hopefully these lessons are being replicated in all classrooms across the city.

Science lessons, by grade, should explain what a virus is; English classes should be reading non-fiction about viruses and epidemics.

When I mentioned this I was told, “We don’t want to unduly scare children.” Knowledge is power: the more we involve the children, teach children, we all know that the “teachable moment” is at the heart of impactful instruction.

“Social distancing:” encouraging “at risk adults, (over 60)” to avoid unnecessary interaction is excellent advice.

To again echo Mayor de Blasio, “No day is like the previous day.”

The economic repercussions:  reductions in budgets, sharp increases in unemployment, businesses closing, are we facing a 1929? a 9/11, 2008?  Or, will the economy bounce back? We have no way of knowing.

No one has any idea, recessions and depressions do not follow a single pattern,

I see tweets and emails, “Close the schools,” “Cancel the state tests,” Cancel the Regents,” as I have said these decisions should reflect the best medical and scientific information, not the loudest voice.

We are entering uncharted waters, we have to sift among the voices, and make decisions that represent the best evidence.

Stay safe, meditate, exercise, hydrate, an opportunity to watch luge, bobsledding and  curling … and try a new recipe.

And listen to fitting music