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Blacks Bear Brunt of School Suspensions

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) –According to a report released last week, 3.5 million K-12 public school students were suspended in the 2011-2012 school year – enough to fill every stadium seat in Super Bowl 1 through Super Bowl 45.

And Black children are bearing the brunt of these excessive suspensions.

The report, “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?,” states, “Demographically, the seven highest-suspending districts all had majority Black enrollment, although the range was from 26 percent to 99 percent Black. Only one [of the seven highest], Taylor, Florida, was majority White, at 67 percent.”

The research, conducted by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, offers a detailed analysis of public school suspension over the last few years, with the data broken down by elementary and high school, district and state, race and gender, and language and learning ability.

In the past two to five years, schools have made a concerted effort to avoid out-of-school suspensions for elementary schoolchildren, though it still happens. The reversal is not happening as fast at the high school level.

Black high school boys are suspended at the highest rate of all groups – 28.4 percent, compared to the 10 percent national average. Black high school girls follow at 17.9 percent (Native American and Latino boys come next, with 15 and 14 percent, respectively). Between 2002 and 2006, the suspension rate for Black girls increased at the highest rate of all groups.

For Black students with disabilities, the rates are even higher – 33.8 percent for Black high school boys, and 22.5 percent for girls – “shocking” enough to suggest that these students’ civil rights are being “unlawfully violated.”

Out-of-school suspensions also feed the racial and economic achievement gap, and have far-reaching effects on future outcomes.

“…higher suspension rates are closely correlated with higher dropout and delinquency rates, and they have tremendous economic costs for the suspended students, as well as for society as a whole,” the report explains.

“Therefore, the large racial/ethnic disparities in suspensions that we document in this report likely will have an adverse and disparate impact on the academic achievement and life outcomes of millions of historically disadvantaged children.”

The starkness of the data has lead schools, administrators, teachers, and parents to believe that Black children must be earning these suspension rates. But an examination of the data at the state and district level shows does not support this belief.

For starters, Black students are enrolled in almost equal numbers in both high-suspending and lower-suspending states. Since 2009, suspensions in the 35 school districts with the lowest suspension rates have continued to decline.

“In other words, readers would be wrong to assume that something about the behavior of Black elementary students requires greater use of suspension,” the report says. “To the contrary, these data, along with several studies that tracked behavior ratings of students as well as disciplinary outcomes suggest that Black students are punished more harshly and more often for subjective minor offenses. Instead, researchers conclude that school policies and practices more than differences in behaviors, predict higher suspension rates.”

In addition to a race and gender analysis of the suspension data, the researchers examined and ranked the data, district by district and state by state. Florida suspends its students more than any other state, both at the elementary and high school levels. Other K-12 high suspending states with high suspension rates in both elementary and high schools were Mississippi, Delaware, Alabama, and South Carolina.

Notably, Missouri is home to three of the highest-suspending school districts in the nation and has the highest Black-White discipline gap. Michael Brown, the unarmed Black teenager killed by a White policeman in Ferguson, Mo., was a graduate of Missouri’s Normandy School District, where students are suspended at a 48.4 percent rate.

The worst districts for Black students in particular are Oklahoma City in Oklahoma, Cahokia CUSD 187 in Illinois, and Greenville Public Schools in Mississippi – where Black kids are suspended at 64, 63, and 59 percent, respectively. In Oklahoma City, that number is 75 percent for Black boys; in Cahokia, it’s 58 percent for Black girls.

There were also districts that have done well in reducing out-of-school punishments, especially among Black children, including: Edgewood ISD in Texas, Richmond County in Georgia, and Lawton County, Oklahoma.

States with large Black populations that have improved over the last few years include Maryland, Pennsylvania, and California.

While excessive school suspension remains a significant barrier to equitable, effective public education for all children – so much so that the Justice Department issued civil rights-based discipline guidelines to schools last year – strides are being made.

The report states, “Although we anticipate that newer data will reveal substantial improvements in some states and districts, there is no question that much more reform is needed if we are to be successful in closing the school discipline gap.”

Blacks Still Underrepresented at all Levels of Politics

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although Blacks have made tremendous improvement in holding elected office since passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, they remain underrepresented at the federal, state and local levels, according to a report scheduled to be released Tuesday by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

“Based on the most recent data, African Americans are 12.5% of the citizen voting age population, but they make up a smaller share of the U.S. House (10%), state legislatures (8.5%), city councils (5.7%), and the U.S. Senate (2%),” the report said.

The 38-page report titled, “50 Years of The Voting Rights Act: The State of Race in Politics,” was produced for the center by four prominent political scientists: Khalilah Brown-Dean, Zoltan Hajnal, Christina Rivers and Ismail White.

Joint Center President Spencer Overton said in a message introducing the report, that there is a heated debate over: How much progress have we made since 1965? How much more work is there to do?

He said, “These are contested questions, subject to ideology and opinion. A study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, for example, shows that on average whites and African Americans differ on the amount of racial progress we have made, with whites now believing anti-white bias is more prevalent than anti-black bias. We have elected an African American president, but studies have shown that some government officials are less likely to respond to inquiries from citizens with seemingly black or Latino names. The questions are also at the core of many ongoing debates about voting rights in the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress, as well as in many states, counties, and municipalities.”

What is not contested is that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the political landscape for African Americans, with the number of Black elected officials leaping from fewer than 1,000 in 1965 to now more than 10,000.

The change was particularly dramatic in the South, where 55 percent of African Americans live.

“Since the 1870s, white elected officials in many parts of the South had used violence, literacy tests, interpretation tests, poll taxes, and other devices to exclude African Americans,” the report recounted. “The Justice Department filed 71 voting rights lawsuits in the Deep South before 1965, but cases were typically complex, time-consuming, and expensive. When a court struck down one type of discriminatory device, local officials simply erected a different device that effectively excluded most African Americans.”

Selma, Ala. and surrounding Dallas County was typical. Deploying rigged tests about the U.S. Constitution and a requirement that voters be in “good character,” as defined by White registrars, a White minority was able to suppress the Black majority.

In 1965, more than half of Dallas County was Black. Of the county’s 15,000 voting-age Blacks, only 156 were registered to vote. By contrast, two-thirds of voting-age Whites were registered in the county. Throughout Alabama, only 19.4 percent of African Americans were registered. In neighboring Mississippi, just 6.4 percent of Blacks were registered.

As part of a massive voter registration campaign in 1965, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and local residents launched a Selma-to-Montgomery March to dramatize the lack of access to the ballot box.

On April 7, in what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” peaceful marchers in Selma were savagely beaten by Alabama State Troopers and local policemen as they attempted to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to begin the 54-mile journey to Montgomery, the state capital.

The merciless beating of children, the elderly and adults was beamed in homes throughout the nation and provided the momentum for President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act into law four months later.

“Only in the wake of the Voting Rights Act did black voter registration in the South begin to approach that of whites. Five years after the passage of the Act, the racial gap in voter registration in the former Confederate states had closed to single digits. By the start of the 1970s, the black/white registration gap across the Southern states was little more than 8 percentage points,” the report stated.

“In Louisiana, the gap between black and white voter registration rates decreased by nearly 30 percentage points from 1960 to the end of 1970s, and it continued to decrease over the next three decades. By 2010, black registration rates in the state of Louisiana and many of the other former Confederate states had exceeded white registration rates for the first time since Reconstruction. The Voting Rights Act had delivered a Second Reconstruction.”

In fact, in four of the 12 presidential elections since 1965, Black Southerners turned out at the polls at a higher rate than their White counterparts. Nationally, Black turnout exceeded White turnout in the 2012 presidential election and possibly in 2008, according to the report.

Activists credit much of that progress to the Voting Rights Act requirement that jurisdictions that previously discriminated against Blacks had to pre-clear voting changes in advance with federal authorities.

However, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby took away that tool and there is a measure pending in Congress that would reverse some of the damage. A House bill sponsored by “Bloody Sunday” veteran John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) would update the act.

“The proposed legislation would apply preclearance to jurisdictions with a record of voting rights violations within the previous 15 years, would make it easier for courts to block discriminatory rules before they are used in elections and harm voters, and would require disclosure of voting changes nationwide,” the report stated.

Efforts to expand the Black vote is also under attack in others quarters as well. The Joint Center report cited moves to purge voters, requiring proof of citizenship, requiring voter ID, felony disenfranchisement and restricting voting registration drives.

The report also addressed the elephant in the room – race.

“In urban local elections, race is a more decisive factor than income, education …religion, sexuality, age, gender, and political ideology. The 38-point racial gap exceeds even the 33 point gap between Democratic and Republican voters,” the study said.

According to the report, African Americans “were the least advantaged group in America in terms of policy outcomes.”

Not all of the problems were external. The issue of low Black voter turnout, especially in local elections, is a major challenge that warrants further study, the report said.

It noted, “ …In 2014, when there was great unrest over a police officer’s killing of Michael Brown, African Americans made up 67% of residents of Ferguson, Missouri. In 2012, a solid 100% of Ferguson precincts went for President Obama, but during Ferguson’s municipal off-cycle elections voters selected Ferguson’s Republican mayor and six city council members, all of whom except one were white.”

The report shatters the notion that we’re living in a post-racial society.

“Despite discussions about the declining significance of race, over the past few decades, racial divides along partisan lines have actually grown. African Americans have increasingly favored Democrats, and recently Latinos and Asian Americans have become more loyal to the Democratic Party as well. The shift to the left has been particularly pronounced for Asian Americans,” it said.

“On the other side, whites have moved slowly and unevenly – but inexorably – to the Republican Party. Fifty years ago, the Democratic Party dominated the white vote. Today, nationwide, whites are more apt to favor the Republican Party.”

It concluded, “Division is a normal and healthy part of democracy, but when a core dividing line in a nation becomes so closely aligned with race and ethnicity, larger concerns about inequality, conflict, and discrimination emerge.”

President Meets with Black Civil Rights, Political and Religious Leaders

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By Shantella Y. Sherman
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

President Obama met with African-American civil rights and faith leaders to provide an update on the administration’s priorities as described in the State of the Union. The meeting was also an opportunity to have a dialogue with the leaders about the issues facing their communities, including criminal justice, education, health care and economic development.

Participants included Sherrilyn Ifill, of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Marc Morial, of the National Urban League; the Rev. Al Sharpton, of the National Action Network; and, Maryland Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore, Majority Leader, Maryland State Senate, District 40.

In addition to highlighting the upcoming release of a special report from the Task Force on 21st Century Policing, President Obama acknowledged the Feb. 28 anniversary of his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and continuing efforts to reduce restrictions to voting.

Pugh, who is also the President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, said, “Our agendas – the president’s and mine – are right in line with each other. I was elected by a very diverse population in Baltimore; one thing we want to do is be more inclusive [with] opportunities available to help to improve the lives of all of those for whom we are responsible,”.

Citing her own diligent work to push forward the “Healthy Working Families Act” legislation that allows family members necessary time off with earned paid sick leave, Pugh said it compliments Obama’s push for better, more accessible health care. Achievements can be found in the fact that 31 percent more Americans now have health care through Obamacare, as well as the increased number of programs designed to help improve African-American neighborhoods.

Pugh said that it was important to use the president’s readout as a gauge for African-American social advancement since the Civil Rights Movement. Pugh described Obama as the “most disrespected president ever,” and encouraged the nation to view the film Selma to gain a larger understanding of his efforts to solidify economic and social equity.

“Everyone needs to go see the film Selma because often we forget the struggle Blacks faced in this country. We were enslaved here. The Declaration of Independence talked about freedom and justice for all – but these were laws that did not apply to us,” Pugh said. “It is important not to make the same mistakes made in the past.”

America’s Record of Black Lynchings Worse Than Previously Thought

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By Zenitha Prince
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Almost 4,000 Blacks—about 700 more than previously reported—were lynched in 12 Southern states during the period between Reconstruction and World War II, according to a new report by the Equal Justice Initiative.

“Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror” is the result of five years of research and 160 visits to sites across the South. The report makes the argument that these killings were a form of racial terrorism aimed at subjugating the Black community and maintaining Jim Crow segregation.

“We’re focusing on lynchings of African-Americans because when Whites were lynched it was really more about punishment — it wasn’t sent to terrorize the White community, it was intended to actually make the White community feel safe,” said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Alabama-based nonprofit in an interview with National Public Radio. “The lynching of African-Americans, on the other hand, was really a direct message to the entire African-American community — it was designed to traumatize and terrorize.”

To put in a modern-day context, the number of Blacks who were beaten, burned and ultimately hung while picnicking Whites cheered, is more than twice the number of Americans who died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11, more than twice those who died in the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan and comparable to the number who died in Iraq.

And these acts of terror against Blacks were often state-sanctioned killings, Stevenson added.

“In most of the places where these lynchings took place — in fact in all of them — there was a functioning criminal justice system that was deemed too good for African-Americans,” he said. “Often these men were pulled from jails and pulled out of courthouses, where they could be lynched literally on the courthouse lawn.”

The inequalities reinforced by lynching has left its mark on the Black community and on public policy as seen in policies of mass incarceration, racially biased capital punishment, excessive or disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color, the report concluded.

“We cannot heal the deep wounds inflicted during the era of racial terrorism until we tell the truth about it,” Stevenson said in a separate statement. “The geographic, political, economic, and social consequences of decades of terror lynchings can still be seen in many communities today and the damage created by lynching needs to be confronted and discussed. Only then can we meaningfully address the contemporary problems that are lynching’s legacy.”

Civil Rights Lawyer Barbara Arnwine Launches Talk Radio Show

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Outspoken civil rights leader Barbara Arnwine is taking to the airwaves with a weekly news talk radio show on Radio One’s WOL 1450 AM, which airs in the Washington, D.C. area, beginning March 3.

“Igniting Change with Barbara Arnwine” is meant to serve as a catalyst for change. The show will feature“provocative and empowering” information and discussion to inspire people to act to bring about racial and social justice, and equality.

“I am honored for the opportunity to expand my civil rights outreach in such a significant manner as I continue to touch lives across the country and around the globe,” said Arnwine in a statement. “Activism at every level is indeed critical in advancing race relations and I endeavor to engage, challenge and equip listeners as activists as I feature guests, information and resources to foster justice and equality for all, particularly people of African descent. My show is designed to answer those questions lots of people have after hearing about a major issue, [such as] ‘What Can Be Done About This?’ [and] ‘What Can I Do?’”

Arnwine has served as the president and executive director of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law since 1989. She is renowned for her instrumental contributions to passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the 2006 reauthorization of provisions of the Voting Rights Act. And, she continues to be a leading voice on civil and racial justice issues worldwide, in the areas of voting rights, housing and lending, criminal justice reform, employment, education, environmental justice and much more.

“WOL welcomes Barbara Arnwine to the Radio One family,” said Karen Jackson, general sales manager for Radio One’s D.C. stations, in a statement. We look forward to her enthusiasm and expertise in encouraging our listeners to actively participate in effecting change.”

The show will broadcast live on Tuesdays, 12-1 p.m. EST, on WOL 1450 AM and is accessible by listeners worldwide via the Internet (BarbaraArnwine.com and woldcnews.com) and the free Tune In app.

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