On Free Speech

Re: Conor Friedersdorf, the Christakis family, Mizzou, and Yale

I feel like many people who are talking about “Free Speech” right now are a little confused about what the first amendment says. Given that I teach U.S. history, I thought I’d help clarify. When I consider my first amendment rights, I consider countries like Syria in 2011, where if I spoke out in opposition of the government, I would likely be tortured or killed– by the government. I think of countries like Iran, where if I practiced a faith other than the state religion, there would likely be serious repercussions– from the government. I think of the essential nature of a free press and how we struggled to understand what happened in Ukraine two years ago because it was so hard for the press to get in. I consider many of my students, who are in the U.S. because they fled oppressive regimes that lacked the rights our first amendment provides. I even consider some of the black students at Yale, Howard, and Mizzou, who have tried to say their piece and now are receiving threats of death and violence. That is not okay. Nor is hate speech. Nor is assault. These are all clearly elaborated upon within the U.S. legal code and court precedents. We don’t have to worry about a slippery slope, because everything is clearly defined for us.

So let’s set boundaries– as long as we are not talking about direct threats, hate speech, assault/other illegal action, or government repression of ideas, I want to make this clear: if you say something, and someone criticizes you for saying it, no one is limiting your free speech rights. That is exactly what open dialogue is. If you say something particularly stupid about your work in a public fashion, and your boss finds out, you may lose your job for being stupid. But no one is limiting your free speech rights. If you say something racist (mildly, subtly, sort of, or overtly), and someone says, “You know, that was racist,” STILL, no one is limiting your free speech rights.

You may be particularly sensitive to the R-word. Or to the F-word. Or to other people’s anger and pain. It may make you uncomfortable. Or you may feel like someone yelling at you (even if she did receive a death threat from which it was your responsibility, in your job description, to protect her) shows that she is rude, out of line, unhelpful to the cause, immature, or contrary to the way things should go. You can think that. You can even say that. And you will probably receive a firestorm of opposing articles written by some brilliant people, telling you why they think what you think is so problematic. Maybe you will learn a little bit about how sometimes the things that seem the least racist are the things that are most insidious and problematic. Maybe you will learn about the experiences of people of color in America. Maybe you will learn about what part of the narrative you missed. Maybe you will just deeply dislike being criticized.

And still, hooray! We all are practicing free speech. So let’s move on to some better questions and try to make this movement truly productive and culture-changing:

(a) What is racism like, and why didn’t I see it in that one instance? Is it possible that I am blind to the racism that I think I am against? Why didn’t I fully believe my peers of color about their experiences? Why do I struggle to trust their words and opinions? Why does their pain make me uncomfortable? What historical backgrounds and biases do I need to understand? Where can I find out more?
(b) What do white people need to do and learn, and how do white people need to change, in order to change racist cultures in America? How can I be a part of that?
(c) How can people in power on these campuses do more not only to protect their students of color, but to understand them (and their experiences) better, and through that understanding, naturally increase how welcome and at home they feel?

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Reparations Convert

This piece is technically in response to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “A Case for Reparations” (The Atlantic), which is a long but important and compelling read. But it’s also sort of in response to his most recent piece, and so many of my friends’ recent facebook posts, and it’s sort of an extension of my previous post.

– – – –

rep·a·ra·tion –  repəˈrāSH(ə)n/

noun

  1. the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.
  2. the compensation for war damage paid by a defeated state.

I’m not sure when I started to believe in reparations. Or, perhaps I should say, when I started to realize that reparations were what I believed in.

I recall thinking when I was younger that reparations seemed like a crazy idea. How could you even count how much to pay, or navigate who to pay back, for damage done so long ago? And who is to say that whoever you give money to now really needs that money? You can’t just write a check to people based on their skin color and claimed history; how will you prove things? How will you prevent cheating? Is money even going to make up for damage done? Doesn’t that elevate money itself to a level that it doesn’t deserve? Plus, who ever heard of the government giving people checks based on who they were at birth? It’s a ridiculous idea, barely worth pondering. And no one would ever vote for it. The number of people who would call out ‘unfair!’ is overwhelming to think about, like a kindergarten class gone wrong.

But my idea of reparations was too small.

Reparations could be a check given to a certain set of people. It’s not a bad idea necessarily. Research on programs like GiveDirectly show that giving cash to people– one year’s income, no stipulations, and no corruption– goes a long way to helping alleviate suffering and helping alleviate poverty. But that’s a tough sell, and tougher to implement.

But maybe there are other forms of reparations.

Reparations could also mean providing 1.5x the school funding to a child whose great grandparents were forbidden to read by the state, providing an extra stipend for books to a child whose father has a greater likelihood to be behind bars, and providing extra childcare support to children whose parents in general are less likely to earn enough money because of state policies. These are not hard things to calculate, and they don’t even need to be done individually– they can be done by zipcode (sadly). Reparations is deciding to build monuments and memorials for important events and people in Black History (**Please note: pretty much everything in this blog post could be said about the native American community as well, and prisoners of American internment camps, not to mention victims of foreign imperialist tendencies. I’m only focusing on the black community as a continuation of my previous post). Reparations is the government stepping in to keep an extra eye on police departments and hold them accountable for inter-race relations. Reparations is food stamps, job programs, anti-recidivism re-entry programs, drug rehabilitation programs, health care, and homelessness support– anything made to give a leg up and help families and communities recover from government policies that have done them damage. Reparations is having counselors, financial advisors, and support systems available to people who have suffered psychological trauma historically and have never had access to stable financial management tactics before. Reparations is (as in India’s case, for example) sometimes having quotas for leadership positions with seats from the oppressed community.

Reparations is also providing financial damages compensation to families who have suffered from wrong done by an unjust criminal justice system. Reparations is providing an accessible legal avenue to fair damages compensation for families whose homes, property, and livelihoods have been taken from them for no legitimate cause in the last 3-5 generations, as records can be uncovered.

Reparations is protecting voting rights. It’s also protecting running rights- making sure that anyone who has an interest in running for government office also has the financial ability to try.

Reparations is rewriting the national narrative, and our children’s history textbooks. Reparations is saying sorry.

Reparations is so that my students whose parents can’t read, who now have special needs, still have a way to give a better life, better education, and better abilities to their children. And reparations is so that my Yale classmates, future leaders of this country, understand that wrongdoing and injustice has a cost, and even our people and our government will be held accountable for paying that price. We need the people at the bottom of the food chain a chance to move up and the people at the top to better understand the consequences of their choices.

I started this post by anticipating there will be cries of ‘that’s not fair!’ as soon as any reparations program is suggested. (Of course, there are many minorly implemented reparations programs already in place in many cities and states across the country, some of which can become replicable models.) But I suppose the truth is that I’ve come to believe that a set of nation-wide well-implemented reparations programs is in fact the only fair thing.

Reparations gives us a clear rationale for doing the right thing. I can imagine the conversation: Why social welfare programs? How could that be American? In a country where all people are born equal, why are some people getting treated differently? Well, because of history. Because we are a country who deeply understands equality and fairness and because we know well the disadvantages and unfair treatment of the past, and we are willing to fix that through proper legal avenues and a fair trial system. We are willing to face our history and all of its violence and damage and we are willing to pay to make tomorrow better. And we know whatever the cost, it will be worth it to all of us, because then we will be a country that actually has values, that honestly gives all people a fair chance, and that can stand unashamed and unhidden from its past mistakes. We are a country of justice and equality: this is what it means to be America. Plus, it’s practical. Reparations would help nurture strong families, communities, and inner city economic ecosystems. It would make our schools better, our national image better, and our communities much safer. America is falling rapidly in the international rankings of respect and power. Now is the time to step in.

Any reparations program would be both complicated and expensive. It would require commitment, good leadership, and a whole lot of government time and money. But it is long overdue, and I fear the alternative will be far more costly. If we let the generational damage of government-endorsed mistreatment of people in the past to continue to fester, our country will become weaker — economically, morally, educationally, and in terms of community and family structures. We are letting people’s pasts & ancestry dictate their futures; the exact opposite of what the movement for race-blindness intended.

Plus, we tried a reparations program once before, and it worked brilliantly (though no one ever seems to remember the first few years of Reconstruction). I think it’s worth trying again.

And I know I’m focusing a lot on Black Americans right now, but I think that we owe reparations much more widely. Native Americans should be on the list, as should any interned Japanese people during WWII, perhaps others I haven’t thought of. I don’t know that reparations is the right term for the VA situation, but I’m also pretty concerned about veterans too. In all these cases, government policies and programs actively did damage to people, which is the essence of reparations. I don’t know what we owe the wider world, but I suspect if we got that far, our national debt to citizens of other countries would grow heavier with shame and apologies. These questions will need to be solved.

But I’m still not sure how we can avoid the backlash. Who needs the KKK when you have Donald Trump’s homophobic, xenophobic, racist rhetoric? Such fear wins votes. That is, after all, how Hoover came to power.

So someone else is going to have to take care of the branding. And w’ll need to set clear standards for the programs to ensure that they are provided only to the people who merit and need them. Because there will be such strong opposition, the programs will need to be clean, efficient, effective, and well-marketed. There will be no room for mistakes.

But those implementation questions are for another day.
I’m just saying that I have come around. Ta-Nehisi Coates, you got one.

Things We Take Down: Thoughts on Charleston & Burned Black Churches

I.

The confederate flag a few weeks ago, much like homophobia a few years ago, has fallen out of favor with a broader American public that practically never interacts with the subject at hand. In an awkward, “oh, that’s what we’re supposed to do now?” moment, people, politicians, and TV talk show hosts have jumped on board the train to get rid of the confederate flag in Southern states.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a confederate flag in person. I didn’t even know some Southern governments were allowed to fly the flag. But if it’s important to my friends of color, then I can jump on the train. I will never experience what they experience regarding that flag, so I submit to their expertise and preferences.

It’s not that I’m a particular fan of the confederate flag. My students and I go through what it means each year and I tell them, “Those of you who can’t pass as white should be careful if you see this flag somewhere.” You are a foreign, violent object to many people. They may not like you there. I leave unsaid the things that could happen but we’ve already talked about Emmitt Till and when their fascination with his swollen, disfigured face wears off, a few of them drop their heads and think of their own streets and grieve. They recognize that Emmitt is not a spectacle but a commonality, a pattern. Just one media-baptized dot on the number line.

II.

Sometimes I wish I could give a class to white women about walking alone on streets. “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them,” I’d say. Like we talk about snakes and spiders, we can explain the inherent terror of racism.

III.

I have traveled abroad. I know the protection white American skin can give; it’s practically bullet proof when anyone of a different race or class is carrying the gun. There are exceptions of course, but privilege of language and nationality and race are real as air. White people like ghosts: scary as hell. Racism is hellish, and it haunts us all. That’s what oppression does– it seeps invisibly through the walls and is always unwelcome and both expected by memory and unexpected in the moment.

It makes the oppressors into environmental factors, a sort of natural disaster crashing down on the oppressed. We either play a storm or a survivor– but every one of us loses our humanity in the system.

IV.

I wonder when white people tell me they are afraid in certain neighborhoods or of certain people: if the imagination is such a powerful force for evil, can it be harnessed for good? Then I think of Othello, whose imagination was strong enough to murder innocence itself, and the imagination seems like an unruly, dangerous thing. I don’t know if we are ready to play with imaginations. We may accidentally burn something down in the process.

And this week, enough has been burned down.

V.

We all want a cause to get behind, a battle to fight. When tragedy hits, whether it’s Michael Brown or Sandy Hook or Charleston, there must be something to do. Grieving is harder than action, and protesting is easier than problem solving. Unless the action is to grieve and the solution is to protest? When so much is wrong, I’m not really sure what is right. Jon Stewart’s utter despair at the news of Charleston nonetheless gave way to a side comment that the racist gunman did his work on streets named after racists with the confederate flag flying high over the state capitol. We’ve grabbed on to his side comment as our banner cause, desperate for redemption.

There is a collective frustration. Why is this still a thing? Why are we still stuck here when we should be fighting other fights? And I think of when I was in India last summer and my friend explained that one of India’s biggest struggles is balancing the ideas of people in cosmopolitan, metropolitan areas with their less educated, less well-off, countryside counterparts. And then I worry because I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation about politics with a Republican, much less with the average poor rural white American, and I wonder if there are sound barriers I cannot see all around me and if I, too, am living in a bubble.

The flag is an important symbol and Obama’s moral accountability call for its removal is on point. I only worry that it is becoming a diversion, a misdirection, a settling, a channeling of our frustration not just at Dylan Roof but at each other and ourselves, that we are still here and we can’t seem to get anything done but maybe we could just get this one thing done. Just one good thing.

Are our standards for redemption so low?

VI.

It’s so easy to dismiss racism as someone else’s problem. Of course this would happen in the south, they are racist there. Of course this would happen, they still fly the confederate flag there. What is wrong with those southerners? What is wrong with those republicans? What is wrong with those conservatives? What is wrong with them, them them?

But I have a friend who says Maine is one of the hardest places she ever lived, because of racism. Eric Garner was in New York, and I teach in a Title I school in Boston. I have a friend who can speak to racism in Iowa, another friend who can speak to racism in Illinois, and friends who can speak to racism in California and Chicago. I know Florida personally, we all watched the aftermath of Katrina, and we didn’t need Donald Trump to tell us that there are problems near our Southwest borders. It’s everywhere. It’s metastasized.

That my concern with the flag. Bree Newsome can’t be our only heroine. The confederate flag can’t be the only thing we take down.

VII.

Fighting racism is becoming like a game of laser tag. We point at each other, shoot, fire, and score… but then everything resets and we keep playing and nothing changes. Or maybe we just aren’t looking for the changes? Does confirmation bias work even when we are looking for injustice?

Despair seems as wretched an enemy as racism some days.

VIII.

Sometimes I think about wars. In wars, people lose their lives for a cause. Those who die are heroes who have gone down fighting. There was an era of patriotism– around the time of WWII for example– when people fought for their countries, and for morality. It is simple when you have a villain to take down, good guys and bad guys, and lives to save, even if the narratives are a bit questionable in retrospect.

But like our postmodern morals, our postmodern wars are more complicated. Battles don’t always look like battles, soldiers don’t always mean to be soldiers, and good guys and bad guys are often the same guys.

So many lives have been lost, and each time we rally together, because we want our children and fathers and brothers and sisters to have died for a cause and not in vain. We want them to be worth something. We want the monuments of their lives to be new laws that leave legacies for generations to come. Police cameras, police brutality accountability, a better criminal justice system.

We wage our funerals as fights in the streets and on facebook walls and iPhone screens and we repeat the names like a new Black National Anthem. Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin…, are you singing? Are you remembering?

But there are too many names to remember. The lyrics are too complicated. Is anyone singing with us?

And a mixture of grief and fury and despair bleeds out underneath our words, written in the lines on our shaking hands and shaking heads.

Hope is hard. We fight small fights so we don’t lose it.

IX.

My job as a schoolteacher is to create community, to build culture. Every September I carefully set up the classroom. I arrange desks, decorate with posters, buy materials. What are the rules? What quotes and images will I put up? Who will sit together? What will I encourage? How will I introduce us to each other? What will I demand from my students and how will I get them to rise to the occasion?

And when I think about this I wonder if the way we decorate our cities and our halls of state maybe does say more about who we are and what we believe than we like to admit. Maybe it does shape our hearts, and maybe at the end of the day, our hearts direct our actions. Maybe we must demand from each other something better than we have.

Kirsten Gillibrand likes to say that politicians are “out of touch.” Maybe we all are out of touch.

Maybe if the walls of the Capitol building were lined with photographs of kitchen tables and classrooms across America, different decisions would be made. Maybe if Black Lives Matter flags flew from windows all across suburbia, they would indeed start to matter. Maybe if we protected and rebuilt each others’ houses of worship we’d have someone to pray to about all this. Maybe if the criminal justice system never became old news, if stories and narratives and footage of families and humans being wrecked by the mess gruesomely lined our streets, we might do something more urgently.

As if we were in a war. We just need a press desk to shell out the stories.

IX.

Bree Newsome is a hero, and the police officer in Jacksonville who decided not to shoot a black man when protocol allowed it might be one too, and I think there are more. I’ve decided not to limit the label.

Like soldiers, everyone fighting for good can be a hero. Heroes coming out of the woodwork. The hero next door. It’s just a word. If it works, I’ll take it. I’ll give it.

It was just a flag.

It was more than a flag.

X.

So we watch Bree Newsome’s civil disobedience, an act of moral courage to refill hope. The poet in me screams Yes!

But the pragmatist in me screams Wait! You’re not asking for enough!

I worry. I wait. There’s so much more we need to take down.
I keep my mouth shut.

A Teacher’s (Infuriated) Response to the NYC Police Union President

(Originally Posted on Facebook 12/21/14)

Union presidents are dangerous beings: they claim to be the mouthpieces of their members and vomit propaganda without nuance in the service of political interests. Yet union members cannot speak up or speak back to protest, because it is the union that protects our jobs. If I can project the frustration and horror I’ve felt at things my own union leader has said, I know I am not the only one who is horrified by the NYC police union head. How terrible that one man would use his power to escalate the polarization of a people and use two men’s death as a time to point fingers of accusation and blame; his reaction is downright irresponsible. The media shouldn’t have even given him the time of day. I am waiting still for a leader who knows how to admit that everything is not okay, who knows how to say that there is a time to grieve. The assassination of two police officers is an awful thing, and grieving is the only thing this moment calls for.

What truly infuriates me is that no adult leader should blame protests or ask them to be silenced. Grow up. I’ve had protests happen in my classroom– students have groaned or whined, or raised their hands and explained why they disagree with the plan, or they have stood up and left the room in frustration, or put their heads down in boredom. If I feel offended, I keep it to myself. Instead, from all of these, I gather key information: my leadership is not helping students learn; I need to change. Protest is a form of communication that helps leaders understand the true nature of things. Protests should never be blamed or silenced; they must be heard.

Plus, these are not protests we should be silencing. If you think so, you need to listen more carefully– or you need to take a deep breath and open your eyes to the state of the world as it truly is. These are good protests. As I understand, the protests following Trayvon Martin’s, Mike Brown’s, and Eric Garner’s deaths have only ever called for an increase of everyone’s humanity: that police officers would be their fullest, most just, held-accountable selves; that white America would understand the historical political nature of their privilege; and that black America could be their free-est, safest, respected and equally treated selves. All three of these are good things. Yes, the protests express rage and fear and grief and concern, but the only changes they have called for are those of accountability. The protests have never called for a war or senseless revenge; those are the emotional outbursts of a people who are scared that they are screaming into a soundproof box.

Reason the protests are good, part one:

White people who understand their own privilege are less afraid and reactionary about issues of race. I remember a time when if someone called me racist I couldn’t sleep for days I was so freaked out. I lived in fear of being called a racist. Now if it happens I grieve, but I don’t worry. (a) it’s true. I benefit loads from being white, and I have tons of blind spots to this day. (b) i’m growing and so is everyone else. (c) being subject to racism probably hurts a lot more than being called a racist hurts my pride.

Reason the protests are good, part two:

Anyone who has intelligence and some creative problem-solving ability should appreciate good accountability; it is what pushes us to do a more excellent job and to be our better selves. Everyone should want it: banks, police officers, teachers, soldiers, presidents, leaders. Children love it– if they follow rules or do their homework or finish a book, they want to be seen in that, rewarded for that. And if they don’t, they’re looking to see if anyone’s watching. Humans need accountability.

I know a little something about being in a job about which many unqualified people have strong opinions. I know what it’s like to have a union leader make you a pawn in a battle, to wake up one morning and discover on the news that there is a supposed war on your profession because politicians are trying to hold you accountable and only adding pressure to an already impossible job. It sucks. Being in the midst of it sucks. Maybe in a hundred years when good teaching is figured out and how to fire bad teachers is figured out and how to assess what a teacher does is figured out… maybe then it’ll be awesome. But I live with it now, because I know it pushes me to be better in some way. As a teacher, many people hold me accountable– including my students and their classroom forms of protest; this makes me nervous sometimes, but it also makes me much more excellent at my job and much more proud of what I accomplish. It also means the children in my care are much better cared for. They are unlikely to be abused, intentionally or inadvertently. I understand that every day I push myself to be better, that I am not working in a vacuum, that anyone could walk in at any time and ask me what I’m doing and why… and I need to be able to answer. [Can the protesting go wrong? Absolutely. Just ask a teacher in a suburban school wrecked by parent-incited grade inflation. Some people just suck.]

Police officers cannot be responsible for facing what they do every single day and only holding themselves accountable; that’s why it’s so important that those indictments happen– not to punish individuals, but so that next time there is an event in the pattern, a police officer will know that he is being seen and needs to be his best self, even when he is tired, scared, or in a power battle. That still small voice that someone will hold you accountable for your actions and that this is a Black man so he deserves extra honor and respect in a country that has historically denied it to him may be the difference between choking a man to his death and stepping back to ask a question and going on your merry way.

Police officers already have too much power and stress without adequate oversight and emotional health support. Their jobs are incredibly difficult and emotionally straining, and because we aren’t providing what they need, people are losing their rights. In the last year I have seen news in which police officers tell the media to stop watching something (breaking the first amendment), break up legal assemblies with force (breaking the first amendment), search and seize from people’s cars without warrants (breaking the fourth amendment), and use excessive force and brutality on people without warrants or trials (breaking the fifth, sixth, and eighth amendments). We have those rights in this country because they make our lives just and worth living. If police officers do not feel that anyone overseeing them believes in the protection of our rights, they have very little reason besides their own integrity to do so. That’s just not enough. We need the protection of both ourselves and our rights from our police officers, and we need the police officers who are doing so to be congratulated and honored.

Many people like to point fingers at teachers, to shove children who are dealing with so much more than figuring out the thematic implications of Othello into my classroom and tell me to teach them without so much as an extra penny to help. I’ve scrounged mp3 players for kids with print disabilities from my church friends, raised money for classroom books from my college friends, and funded snacks and food and decorations and everything myself. I have three and a half 60 minute planning periods a week to plan five days of two different classes and grade 50-90 pieces of daily work and accommodate over 20 children with disabilities. Is that a joke? No. But it is an exercise in impossibilities. Will all my children learn this year? Sadly I do not know. I am still figuring out how to teach a true tenth grader next to a student who cannot write more than a sentence independently and cannot read at more than a kindergarten level. Multiplied by 4 classes with about 20 kids a class and a 75% attendance rate, and you understand that I am, even with an Ivy league education, a masters degree, and some accountability, in over my head.

I suspect many police officers feel the same. They too are caught in a system that sets them up to fail, that strains them beyond ability. We all need accountability, and we all need more help. Like teachers, police officers too need better resources– not weapons of war, but clear communication and emotional health support and well-designed accountability… and probably a lot of other things too.

Public service in a country with as brutal and unjust and horrifying a history of ours is heart-wrenchingly difficult. I don’t even know the half of what my students face at home, the debt they’ll have to pay off, the pain they’ve already acquired, the struggles whose shoulders they stand upon. I know police officers see this too. I am on one side of my students and they are on the other. We are both in a survival mode of sorts. I wish I knew them and I knew what was going through their heads right now. I bet they too are grieving each day.

In the end, these protests are a cry for justice in a country that every day is being exposed as a more and more unjust place: evil exists here, right in the midst of many good people doing wonderful things.

In the midst of thousands of amazing teachers, there are truly terrible teachers who do awful things to children. In the midst of incredible soldiers, some abuse their power and do awful things to foreign civilians. In the midst of a brilliant intelligence system and an incredibly powerful and effective military, some people are still so cowed by fear that they choose to resort to torture, and then lie about it. In the midst of thousands of heroic police officers, some do not know their own fears and discriminatory tendencies. In the midst of so many wonderful business leaders who want to improve the world and provide satisfying work and products for people, there are some who have become consumed by greed.

We have evil here, and it is only by seeing it and letting it be seen that it will be burned away. We need these protests. We all need them to be heard. And we need leaders who can pause in their pontifications and political power plays and realize that right now, we need to grieve. For Rafael Ramos, Wenjian Liu, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and everyone else whose humanity has been lost in all this. This hurts.

A policy response to the Missouri Governor

(Originally posted on Facebook 8/19/14)

Forgive me a not-so-brief policy thought. The Missouri governor says, “If we’re going to achieve justice, we first must have and maintain peace.” But I really think he’s got it wrong! It’s the opposite. If he wants peace, first, he needs to create justice. Ferguson doesn’t need a curfew! Ferguson, like most of Black America, needs a vast selection of serious policy changes to pass, and to pass immediately.

So, if anyone is actually looking to ‘calm Ferguson down’, you could try the following:

1. Repeal the War on Drugs and reign in the militarization of police and corporate takeover of prisons, specifically:

– Forbid mandatory minimum sentencing.

– Forbid police from keeping goods and cash seized in drug busts.

– Do not award greater funds to police forces with larger drug teams. Instead, award police teams greater funds that have the safest neighborhoods with the fewest arrests and fewest incarcerations and the best community relations.

– Forbid police teams from owning equipment designed for the military, and reallocate those funds towards supporting re-entry and eliminating recidivism.

– Hold policemen and departments accountable for racial bias and racial profiling

– Change policies that slant drug charge sentencing in a way that is biased against people of color (specifically regarding cocaine and marijuana).

– Diversify police forces and give police adequate, quality training in cross-cultural communication and U.S. Racial History.

– Ask the court to strike down the ridiculous mandate that disallows racial bias claims made against any law in the drug war.

– Increase sentencing for perjury & bribery by policemen, judges, and other people who may use dishonesty in the criminal justice system.

– Make prisons state-run and remove the bids for prison contracts by private companies whose interests oppose the state’s.

2. Over-fund poor and minority-heavy schools with extra staff and resources

– Adjust curricula across the nation to respect and incorporate more non-white authors

– reign in over-testing, especially in younger grades, and ensure that tests are designed to prevent flooring (showing what students know, rather than labeling them as failures or not) and that tests are useful measures of information, not arbitrary evaluation tools.

– provide, en masse, high quality remedial reading programs in elementary and middle schools across the country

– desegregate school systems, including district-to-district segregation

3. Provide extra support for single-parent and non-traditional families in food, housing, and work benefits. Also, provide better funding for foster care systems and create teen jobs programs in urban centers to give teenagers meaningful work and occupations, preferably programs which incorporate both peer community and mentorship elements to limit the influence of gangs, drugs, and illegal activity on teen lives.

4. Create national monuments that honor Black Americans who are not MLK or Rosa Parks.

5. Lastly, the NAACP could partner with the President’s Office to create an accountability system that grades police departments, court systems, and their communities on the safety of African Americans and people of color in those communities, as well as their departments’ adherence to the 4th and 8th amendments. The (hopefully financially significant) awards from this grading system could be publicized nationally until police departments and municipal criminal justice departments are extremely aware of Black community issues and the way policies affect them.

Just some ideas…

Though really, you should take Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander, and Jonathan Holloway and just put them in a room together. I’m sure they’ll do a better job than me on this.

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COMMENT added later:

I debated whether or not I wanted to add something similarly uniting at the end of my post, but I actually decided against it, and I do want to explain why. I actually think you’re right; if we take actions that benefit Black America as a community, we are benefiting our entire country. All of us are better for it. However, Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, compares the current situation of Black America (in the war on drugs) as reminiscent of a caste system. It isn’t simply one people group being oppressed by another– it is becoming generationally ingrained and solidified and the possibility of moving between social strata is actually being reduced as long as our current policies continue. I just returned from India, so my Indian history is fairly refreshed at the moment, and what I know about Indian history is that they made unprecedented progress on dismantling their caste system by doing two things: (a) Having a person of privilege and not of the oppressed group (Gandhi) being the main vocal supporter of change for the members of the caste (in this case, the Untouchable caste, as well as women). and (b) being willing to provide policy changes that specifically benefit only the caste group, much like a reparations strategy. In India, they refer to something called ‘reservations’, in which members of the Untouchable caste, for example, are given special access to certain government positions. The government and historians keep track of the progress of the caste in moving into mainstream society. What I take from this is that (a) white people like you and me need to be a whole lot more vocal about seeing change happen for the Black community and (b) our country also needs to be willing to treat the Black American community as a special case,–because they have inherited a legacy of caste-like oppression– and therefore, it is okay for us to create policies that benefit specifically them, without any uniting language, simply because that is just. I would like nothing more than for white people to stand up to Congress and say, ‘please pass this law for America’s black community, not because it’s going to benefit all of us, but because it’s going to benefit them, and right now, that is the right thing to do.’ I really do want it to be okay to use racial (not racist) language, as opposed to race-blind language, in the policy arena. I fear that as long as we stick to only those policies that stand up under race-blind language, the policies will be inadequate to deal with our racial system. We live in a country of people of different races, and those races are important to people, as well as to our history. While I was raised believing race blindness was the moral thing to do, I have since come to believe that white America’s denial of our racial past only seems to perpetuate racially disparate outcomes today. In Alexander’s book, for example, an entire section is devoted to the unbelievable fact that it is actually impossible for a lawyer to take a case to court claiming that a law related to the war on drugs results in racially biased outcomes. You actually cannot claim that in court, which is where unifying language can go terribly, horribly wrong. So, yes, I do happen to agree that benefiting Black America with better policy would benefit all of us. But I want to be ready to say that even if it doesn’t benefit me, even if it doesn’t affect me at all, I still want to benefit Black America with better policies. Hope that explains my thinking.