Tag Archives: Trayvon Martin

“Mis palabras” – perspectives on police brutality by a young writer

28 Oct

This is a guest post by a high school student in Seattle, describing how police arrested her partner with guns drawn outside her school.  She reflects on this incident in the context of recent waves of police brutality and anti-Black violence in Ferguson and across the country.  

Mis palabras

I have come to an ending point in life on how everything is and has changed. I remember when I was younger, I used to want to be a cop, but now we all don’t like them. Why? Because they are not doing their job.

How are they not doing their jobs? This is how. They go out shooting people for no reason, For example Mike Brown got shot. I feel like it was because he was a black male. To the cops all black people are bad, so if you’re black and you make a mistake, you’re going to deal with them.

Also Trayvon Martin got shot for no reason and police did nothing to the guy who shot him. Who has more say? A black kid or a white guy, of course we all know the answer to that. I feel that police are going around doing this because they think they are better than anyone. Bet you if they take the badge off they would be everyday people like us.

Recently Vonderrit Myers was shot in St. Louis because someone had called the police and told them he had a gun. Once again, he had no weapon. He was just going to buy a sandwich and he purchased it. Another life taken for no real harmful reason, all because they thought to see a gun.

In Louisiana, a 22 year old man named Victor White was arrested, handcuffed behind his back and put in a police car. The police said that he shot himself in the back while he was handcuffed. In the final review of the body, they had said that the gun shot went through the front of his chest, not the back. The police had tried to hide that they had shot him. We won’t know the truth I am guessing, they can say something but the police will be the only ones to know, right?

All of them are black males. To me its discrimination. It makes me think what if I was black would I be walking around scared to get shot, to be worried about my every move, not able to feel safe in my own community? We have cops going around thinking they can just come and shoot people and make it seem like they’re the good guys, that they did it because of danger. No, that’s not right. Can I come in any police’s face and feel like I’m in danger and shoot them, will I have a word to say I was in danger and get away with it? I don’t think so….

Something just happened in my school, a place where I felt safe and we are supposed to feel safe to come. It is no longer a safe place for me. They took some one I care for, my partner, my best friend. The way they took him was the worst. I won’t be able to forget that they had cops everywhere, guns pointing at him. And I bet you they did all this because they thought he had a gun too because he is black, because they felt danger. He is a young man that had done nothing wrong. To come to my school and arrest him in that way… I think to myself every night what if it was his life next? What if they would have shot him just because he was black? That’s what it’s all about now in my opinion.

When I’m alone, I always think to myself what would the world be without the cops? Would it be better or would it get worse? In my opinion, I think it would be better because I can do a better job than they do. I would be able to keep my community a safe place, making sure I don’t discriminate based on your color. I sit back and think how it was back in the day when slavery was happening, how black people had no rights to defend themselves. Is it happening again? Are we going back to something that was worked so hard on to have black people be safe and have rights?

By: Katherin Arana

Fate of Horace Mann, Class Sizes to be Debated at School Board on Weds

17 Aug

There are a number of important issues that will be debated at the Seattle Public Schools Board on Wednesday (the 21st) at 4:00PM at the John Stanford Center  (2445 3rd Ave., Seattle).  Please come out and show your support!

Teachers’ will likely be speaking in favor of smaller class sizes, in the context of the teacher contract negotiations currently going on.   The Seattle Educators Association (the teachers’ union) held a rally last week protesting district proposals to raise class sizes.  The district is claiming they need to do this in order to deal with the space crunch as enrollment in the district increases.  The union is saying they should find other ways to deal with the crunch.   As a teacher who works with youth who have dropped out of Seattle Public Schools, I can say that one of the main reasons my students often cite for why they dropped out was large class sizes and teachers being too busy to provide them with the support they needed to learn. We need small class sizes, and teachers and students should not have to sacrifice because of poor planning on the part of district administrators.

The space crunch is the same justification the district is using to try to move Black community members out of the Horace Mann building, where they have been developing educational programs for youth from the Central District community, called the Africatown Community Innovation Center (ACIC).  We had posted last week about the struggle over the future of the Horace Mann building, and supporters of the ACIC are mobilizing to attend the board meeting on Weds (see below for the call to action).

If you’d like to speak, here’s how you can sign up (info from the district website):

To sign up for public testimony, members of the public should e-mail boardagenda@seattleschools.org or call (206) 252-0040 and give their legal name, telephone number, e-mail address, and the topic they would like to address. 

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Here is a call to action that supporters of the More 4 Mann campaign put out regarding the future of the Horace Mann building:

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/MORE-4-MANN/195014030579354

Website: http://umojapeacecenter.com

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A Seattle community is actively trying to protect its children from the school to prison pipeline. 

mann_school_01

 

They need your help Wed. 8/21 to stand with them at a Seattle School Board Meeting.

 

The black community around the Horace Mann Building at 24th and Cherry will attend a school board meeting with the Superintendent Banda in attendance at 4:00 pm to bring their plans and intentions.

Continue reading

Parents and Students Self-Organize At the Horace Mann School Building

12 Aug

Africatown Horace MannOn Thursday Aug 8th, I attended a packed meeting at the Horace Mann school building on 24th and Cherry in the Central District of Seattle.  People gathered to discuss the fate of this building, which the African/Black community has turned into a vibrant educational facility called the Africatown Community Innovation Center.

Over the course of the summer, various organizations such as the Umoja P.E.A.C.E Center and the Amistad School have reinvigorated this dormant building, and have welcomed parents, educators, and youth from the community to organize programs in the school, teaching everything from how to raise bees to how to program computers.

At the meeting, youth of all ages spoke about the benefits of these programs, and how they were learning vital skills they would not be able to learn anywhere else, including in Seattle’s mainstream public schools.   They also spoke about the sense of confidence, pride, and self-awareness they found learning from folks who understand them and where they’re coming from.

Parents spoke about how they had struggled to find culturally relevant summer programs for their kids, and had eventually decided to pool their resources to create their own programs at Horace Mann.  They described the building as a “village” where they could collectively support each other raising their kids to face all the challenges Black youth face in this racist society.

All of this is a testament to the creativity, resourcefulness, intelligence, and self-activity of the Black community in the historic Central District.  It reminded me of a point that my friend John Garvey made –  students are able to learn better when there is trust between parents, youth, and the school itself.

It was clear from this meeting, that such trust does not currently exist between this group of parents and the leadership of the Seattle Public Schools.

Wyking Garrett, who chaired the meeting, reminded everyone of the urgency of the issues of the table, considering that the Seattle Public Schools are currently being investigated by the federal government for racism against Black youth.  Black students are three times as likely as white students to be suspended from Seattle schools.

Parents and educators who spoke had various perspectives on how their efforts to build the Africatown center relate to the issue of racial equality in the public schools as a whole.  Seattle Public Schools superintendent Jose Banda and several other SPS staff sat in the front of the room listening to the various speakers who addressed them. One person put the issue pointedly: “We believe you want to educate our youth.  We are not confident you know how to educate our youth.”  Omari Tahir-Garrett,  a former teacher in the district,  outlined a long history  of corruption and racism in SPS, situating the current efforts to build the Africatown Community Innovation Center as part of a much longer struggle against white supremacist institutions that  have systematically denied an education to Black youth.  He held a banner honoring Trayvon Martin.   Other community leaders spoke about how the programs in the Horace Mann building could be pilot programs, examples of what is possible, which could then be spread into the public schools themselves.

Port worker Leith Kahl read this statement from the African-American Longshore Coalition supporting the Africatown center.  He also emphasized that public education itself was started in meetings like this one; people who had been denied an education by the system organized themselves to educate their youth, and launched a movement demanding free education for all.  He said that Horace Mann was part of that movement, and ended by asking “What would Horace Mann do?”

The very existence of the Africatown Community Innovation Center poses these questions to any observant listener.  However, the contradictions are sharpened by the fact that the bureaucrats who run Seattle Public Schools want to take the Horace Mann building away from the community.  In a recent letter, they had imposed an August 15th deadline, saying that the community needed to be out of the building by then.   As superintendent Banda reported on Thurs night, they plan to renovate the building so that Nova can reoccupy it. (Nova is an alternative school that serves a majority white student body) .

In his attempt to explain why it is necessary to displace Black students to make way for white students, Banda described an elaborate Tetris game of funding and management.  He said that Seattle Public schools are facing growing enrollment, and overcrowding.  He said Nova needs to be moved from its current location so that  location can be expanded as a middle school, to take the pressure off of the currently overcrowded Washington Middle School.  SPS reps encouraged the parents and educators present to find private funding to pay rent to house their programs elsewhere.

In response to these points, Wyking Garrett pointed out that Nova is a commuter school; its students are not primarily from the Central District, they come from all different neighborhoods and are used to commuting long distances.  In contrast, the Africatown Community Innovation Center primarily serves people from the immediate neighborhood.  Another person emphasized that the community was not going to leave the building – period.  He said that he’d be willing to aid superintendent Banda in pressuring Olympia or the corporations for more funding to deal with overcrowding, but that this problem could not be solved by displacing the Africatown Community Innovation Center.

This is all happening in a neighborhood that has rapidly gentrified, going from majority black to majority white in recent decades.  Black parents and community members are attempting to reverse the tide of displacement of Black people from the neighborhood by focusing their programs at Horace Mann, in the heart of the Central District, turning it into a Black/African community hub.

One of the white SPS administrators completely ignored this context, and the long history of  community struggles around education and gentrification in the neighborhood when she said that the Africatown community had “not been present yet” when SPS had developed its multi-year plan for the neighborhood schools.   She flippantly disregarded community members’ attempts to defend their neighborhood from displacement when she suggested the programs in the Horace Mann building could just be parceled out to other schools as after-school programs.

This is typical of bourgeois Seattle thinking, where everything can be redesigned at whim to fit some  abstract macro plan for “development”, ignoring the wishes, desires, and concrete, real-life activities of everyday people, especially Black people, who actually live in this city.  The histories of entire communities become “not present” in the imaginations of these bureaucrats.  And these are the people we entrust to run a school system that is supposed to teach history to our kids!   If they can’t even recognize what’s been going on in the Central District in recent years, how many other aspects of Black and African life will they erase from their history books?

In this technocratic, bureaucratic Seattle, everything  becomes standardized, from the architecture of the condos and the coffee shops that move in, to the pacification plans of the police who defend them, to the curriculum and testing in the schools where Black students are three times as likely to be expelled.   And of course, it’s not just Seattle, the same problems are going on in different ways across the country and around the world.  Capital colonizes everything it touches.

As a teacher who is forced against my will to implement these bureacrats’ “plans”, it was particularly interesting to watch the district administrators stumble  over themselves, attempting to answer basic questions from such a well-organized and thoughtful community.   They  try to count and measure everything via standardized tests and rubrics.  And yet, it seems like they simply had not accounted for the possibility  that folks from the Black community might have their own, well-organized plans.  They seemed  overwhelmed by the militancy and resolve of people in the room.  As a teacher who interacts with young intellectuals from this neighborhood on a daily basis, I was not at all surprised – I was cheering folks on.

I’m sure the administrators are now working overtime to prevent the outcome that was in the back of everyone’s mind in that meeting – the possibility of the community refusing to leave the building.  This would mean that if the SPS officials want them out, they’d have to rely on the police to try to force them out, and the Seattle Police are not exactly a popular institution these days, especially in the Central District.  Of course, if it comes to that, all of the contradictions of race, class, gentrification, differential suspension rates, etc. would come right into the forefront of Seattle politics.  It might be hard to start the school year with business as usual.

In the end, Superintendent Banda offered to delay the eviction until the 31st, and to form a task force to negotiate with Wkying and other community members about the fate of the building.

Of course, this does not resolve anything, it simply gives each side more time to organize and prepare for the next encounter.  Whatever the outcome of that encounter, it will have historic implications for anyone connected to education in this city.  The Africatown Community Innovation Center has already become a  focal point for the community to self-organize, to figure out how to challenge racism throughout the schools and to brainstorm concrete alternatives to the forms of teaching and institutional organization that are failing Black students.  The community that has gathered there seems intent on making sure this project is not repressed or dispersed, and teachers, parents, and students throughout the district should support their efforts.

High School Students Self-Organize

2 Aug

Here is a video of the Youth for Justice rally that high school students in Seattle organized last week, in the wake of the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. This video shows some great spoken word poetry and hip hop; in several of their poems, students spoke about the school system and how it needs to change.

Unfortunately the video only covers the beginning of the rally, not the end where students lead an un-permited march through the streets and a blockade of a major downtown intersection. They defied several police dispersal orders and engaged a crowd of onlookers coming out of their jobs and out of the mall. There were no arrests, probably because the police realized that to arrest such a defiant group of people, they’d have to mace them – and it would look really bad to mace a bunch of youth of color in front of a crowd of onlookers with cameras, especially in the midst of all the anger about Trayvon Martin’s murder.

This rally was unique because it was youth led and it was militant. It wasn’t simply a matter of adults organizing and facilitating it, then prioritizing youth voices. It was a matter of youth organizing and facilitating it, and deciding which adults they would allow to speak during the open mic. Often when there are defiant actions like this, some activists will claim that those who disobey police orders are putting youth of color at risk. Noone said that this time around, because the action, from beginning to end, was clearly lead by youth of color themselves.

Several of my friends were remarking how the youth were better organized than many adult organizations, and they were able to invite the crowd to participate without letting adults take over or talk down to them.

Teachers: how can we teach in ways that support this kind of student self-organization, instead of thwarting or coopting it?  I am out of town right now visiting family, but I will share my insights on this question when I get the chance.  In the meantime, if anyone has thoughts, please feel free to share them in the comments.

The Speech I Gave at the Youth for Justice Rally

24 Jul
Youth for Justice Rally

Youth for Justice Rally

The Youth for Justice rally today was amazing!  Over 100 high school students in Seattle came together in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin.  They also expressed solidarity with the ongoing prison hunger strike, and  demanded an end to ICE Holds. (ICE holds are when  the King County jail holds prisoners to be deported; inside their chambers, the County Council was debating whether to drop this policy, while we rallied outside).

The students were better organized than many adult activists, and they spit some powerful poetry expressing a sharp analysis of the system we live in, including the education system.  Their solidarity and care for each other was moving, especially since it crossed racial lines.   The mainstream media coverage doesn’t really do it justice – if the youth share their experiences, poems, speeches, or videos of the rally, I’ll post them here.

In the meantime, here’s the speech I gave, calling for teacher-student solidarity in the struggle against white supremacy:

I am a public school teacher.  And there are some politicians out there who think that my role should be to stand up in front of you and list a bunch of  facts about history.  They want me to make you write these  down so you can regurgitate them back  on a standardized test.  If I don’t do that, they will try to get me fired.  What  those people don’t understand is that truth is not in a textbook or a test, it is out here in the streets.  Truth is here in your poetry and your courage and your unity. It is here in the fact that you are not simply learning history, you are making it.

So I am not going to stand up here and lecture you.  In fact, you are the teachers, and I am and the student.  Because what I’ve learned from you today is that solidarity is alive.  It is not just an idea or a slogan, it is here in your words and your actions.

  In the California prisons, the Black and Latino gangs have declared a truce so they can strike against the prison guards who deny them an education and torture them in solitary confinement.   You have taken that spirit of solidarity from the prison yards into your neighborhoods, your classrooms, and here into this park.   I see  non-Black youth here supporting Black youth who are being targeted by the George Zimmermans of the world.  And I see non-immigrant youth here supporting immigrant youth who are being targeted by La Migra, and the ICE holds that the politicians up there enforce.   This is the kind of solidarity we need to tear down white supremacy and to replace it with freedom.

You’re giving me hope that we can build that kind of solidarity between students and teachers. We all know that Black youth are 3 times as likely to be expelled from Seattle public schools as white students.  If you all decide you want to fight that, some of us teachers will get your back.  We all know that they are cutting funding for education and youth programs, while they’re spending 210 million on a new juvenile detention center to lock ya’ll up.  If you want to fight that, we will get your back.    We all know they are trying to deport immigrant youth who they label gang members, and we know that they put that label on you simply because of who you kick it with at school.  If you want to fight that, we will get your back.

Teachers across the country are fed up with this system.  Seattle teachers successfully boycotted the MAP test this spring and defended a teacher at the Center School when he was transferred for teaching anti-racist curriculum.   So if they try to  get us fired for teaching about the Black Panthers or the Chicano movement, will you get our backs?    If we demand smaller class sizes and enough time to build caring relationships in the classroom, will you get our backs?

This, right here, is where the real learning happens, not on some scantron bubble test.   We make the road by walking it.  We write the story by living it.  And together,  we can tear down all the borders and prison walls that divide us.

Trayvon Martin and the Badass Teachers Association

22 Jul

I recently joined the Badass Teachers Association.  The BAT Facebook forum exploded rapidly over the past few weeks, drawing together thousands of teachers who want to fight back against the corporate education “reformers”.  These politicians and think tanks, who should be called “deformers”,  are setting us up to fail by imposing new centralized standards while  at the same time cutting crucial resources we need to teach.   I’m happy to see that teachers are tired of this, and that we are starting to organize ourselves to fight back.  I’m happy to see we’re done playing the role of passive, obedient professionals, and instead we’re ready to act like badass workers.  This puts us in good company:  it puts us on the side of badass truckers, longshore, warehouse, and fast food workers who have been fighting back recently.

Badass longshore workers face down EGT, a company pushing for corporate waterfront reform (aka unsafe working conditions, and more corporate control of workers on the job)

Badass longshore workers face down EGT, a company pushing for “corporate waterfront reform” (aka unsafe working conditions, and more corporate control of workers on the job)

However, to build a movement of badass teachers,  we will need to break through the wall that has held back so many  labor movements in the past: the wall of institutionalized racism, or systemic white supremacy.  White supremacy  divides working class people, giving some of us unearned advantages over others, and making some of us complicit in the oppression of others.  This weakens the overall struggle of the working class for freedom and creativity.  Instead of fighting back against the capitalist system that is controlling us, white supremacy prompts us to go home at the end of the workday thinking “at least I’m not Black” (or Latino, or Native, or…. )

White supremacy can only be broken down through action.  When a mostly white jury found George Zimmerman not guilty for the murder of  Black teenager Trayvon Martin, thousands of people took to the streets.   Imagine what it would be like if workers built off of this energy by  shutting down business as usual, saying “if you are going to kill our youth, we will refuse to work”.   This is how the West Coast prisoners have responded to  injustice; why can’t we do the same?  Of course, a strike action would take serious coordination and organization, and I hope that networks like the Badass Teachers Association can start laying the groundwork for that within our schools.

However, judging from the Facebook debates, not all of the Badass Teachers are on the same page about the need for this kind of solidarity.  Some suggested that talking about race, rather than racism itself, is the source of the divisions among us.

The whole discussion about Trayvon had started because some  teachers were posting heartfelt questions about how they could help their students process these traumatic and racially charged  current events in the classroom.  Others were emphasizing that many of their students could be the next Trayvon if we don’t take action to challenge the racism that lead to his murder.  However, in response to these genuine expressions of solidarity, other teachers argued that talking about Trayvon or about the underlying racial issues is a distraction from fighting the corporate education reforms.

I strongly disagree with that last perspective, and I posted this statement explaining why:

 Some people on here are asking why issues of race are relevant to badass teachers. Here’s one answer. Teachers are under attack by corporate education deformers like Gates, Broad, the privatizers, etc. One of their main strategies is to rally working class communities, including working class Black communities, against teachers. They do this by pointing out how the public schools reproduce class and race inequality in society – what they call the “achievement gap”. The thing is, our schools DO reproduce inequality and everyone knows it. The corporate “reformers” have no effective solution to that problem – they will simply scapegoat us for it, in order to deflect popular anger away from them. But they will succeed at doing that if we remain complacent in the face of all the inequality in our schools. So if teachers want to defeat the corporate attacks on us and our schools, then we can’t simply defend public education as it currently exists . We need to fight to transform it. We need to directly confront institutionalized racism and white supremacy, in our schools and in the larger society. Joining our students in making sure they don’t become the next Trayvon Martins is part of that.

That’s one more reason why I’ll be out there on Tuesday joining with students who are rallying to make sure they are not the next Trayvon.  If we are going to be badass teachers, we need to act like badass fighters against all forms of oppression, including the white supremacy that is devouring the lives of our students and communities.

Youth Rally For Trayvon and the Prison Strikers

18 Jul

This week people have taken to the streets in mass protests across the country, furious that George Zimmerman was acquitted after killing Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager in Florida.   High school students in Seattle are moving this struggle forward by organizing their own rally on Tuesday, the 23rd, at 1:30 in front of the King County Courthouse.   They are pointing out that Trayvon’s death is part of a racist system, the same system that denies them a meaningful education.  By taking action they are learning through practice, and making history instead of just taking tests about it.  They are also teaching the rest of us that this generation is tired of being imprisoned, miseducated, and gunned down.  Like the prison hunger strikers, they are showing it is possible to come together across racial, communal, and neighborhood lines.

1003150_1394139197472221_1337673584_nHere is the call to action they posted on their Facebook page:

We the youth are deciding to come together in solidarity to protest on the behalf of trayvon martin and against the other injustices of the system. We the youth of color are profiled by police, we are more likely to get arrested and go to jail then finish high school, and our families are scared for our safety. We are tired of every obstacle that stands in our way. We are looked down on as the minority but together we are the majority. We are asking for other youth and adults to come together in solidarity to help protest with us. Not just for trayvon martin but for other youth that may have lost their lives. All races, ages, and neighborhoods are welcome to come!! We were inspired by the strike at the California and the Green hill prisons and we participated in the rally at the King County prison.

It is significant that students are making connections between the West Coast prison hunger strikes and the struggle against racist vigilantes like Zimmerman, seeing both the prison system and violence by individual vigilantes as obstacles to their growth.  I have been surprised that more people are not making these connections.  One of the students involved in organizing this rally also did her own hunger strike last week, in solidarity with the striking prisoners.

One student also wrote:

Youth in my community are devastated about the many injustices of our system. people think that just because we are young we have no say or even care about what goes on in our justice system, we are labeled as a minority but together we are the majority. I believe that if we come together and make our voices heard we will make a bigger statement of how serious we really are. Treyvon Martin, john t Williams these are not the only injustices. if you want to stand up for human rights don’t be afraid to fight. There is going to be a cypher session and poetry will be read. This page is for youth to organize, adults we would like for you to stand with us because this is not over we demand justice. come support us justice for everyone.

Please spread the word, and if you can, please print out the flyer above and pass it out.  Thanks!