Mar 23 2014

Action Needed: Please OPPOSE HB 4775 & its Amendment

If you are reading this and live in IL, please take the next logical step and actually FILE A WITNESS SLIP to OPPOSE HB 4775 (observing from the sidelines is not really helpful at this point, thanks).

HB 4775 – Being called a NO-BRAINER BILL:

This bill permits students to be “pushed out” from the traditional school setting for a mere arrest. A basic tenet of the U.S. justice system is to be considered innocent until proven guilty. In essence, it disregards due process protections any accused individual is guaranteed.

This violation may result in an expulsion lasting to 2 calendar years at the discretion of individual school administration.

Discretionary application of school discipline code has been found —and continues to be observed — to have disparate impact on youth of color.

Amends the School Code. Allows a school board to suspend or authorize the superintendent of the district or the principal, assistant principal, or dean of students of a school to suspend a student for a period not to exceed 10 school days or to expel a student for a definite period of time not to exceed 2 calendar years, as determined on a case-by-case basis, if the student has been charged with a violent felony and the charges are pending or if the student has been convicted of a violent felony. Defines “violent felony”. Effective immediately.

Please file a witness slips in OPPOSITION to HB 4775 HERE.

1. Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
2. Under Section II, fill out your organization if you are representing one or write “self” if you are representing yourself. You can also just fill out N/A.
3. In Section III, select the “Opponent” button (for BOTH the original bill and the amendment).
4. In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
5. Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
6. Select the “Create Slip” button.

Slips can be submitted until tomorrow, March 26 at 8:00 a.m.

Mar 23 2014

Changing the Frame to Mass Criminalization…

I appreciate this article by Debra Small for many reasons (and not primarily because I am quoted in it).

The main reason that I find it useful and insightful is that Small calls for a reframing & refocusing of the movement to end ‘mass incarceration’ toward one that seeks to end ‘mass criminalization.’ This is something that I have started to do myself particularly in the past couple of years. For example, I recently facilitated a workshop about the criminalization of black girls that sought to address the myriad ways that black girls are funneled through the criminal punishment system (not limited to their incarceration).
These two sections of Small’s article particularly resonated with me:

For me, the problem is in framing the issue as dismantling ‘mass incarceration.’ There’s no disputing that the U.S. incarceration rate is a human rights disaster. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world, except for the island nation of Seychelles. It has become an international embarrassment for the U.S., in much the same way that legal racial segregation was in the 1950s and ‘60s. African Americans learned the hard way that dismantling legal segregation and discrimination was not the same as dismantling racism and the institutions that support it — politically, socially and economically. Similarly, ending the ‘war on drugs’ will not significantly change the circumstances of communities that have been historically victimized by racially biased drug law enforcement. The frame of ending mass incarceration is great for educating people about the consequences of the war on drugs, but the frame we should use to guide policy reform is ending mass criminalization.

Mass incarceration is one outcome of the culture of criminalization. Criminalization includes the expansion of law enforcement and the surveillance state to a broad range of activities and settings: zero tolerance policies in schools that steer children into the criminal justice system; welfare policies that punish poor mothers and force them to work outside of the home; employment practices that require workers to compromise their basic civil liberties as a prerequisite for a job; immigration policies that stigmatize and humiliate people while making it difficult for them to access essential services like health care and housing. These and similar practices too numerous to list fall under the rubric of criminalization.

The whole article is worth your time and consideration. Read it here. When folks are discussing ‘reform,’ we don’t all mean the same thing. I’ll be writing more about this new era of ‘reform’ in the coming weeks and months.

Mar 16 2014

Louder Than A Bomb 2014: Chicago Youth Have Their Say…

The voices blared from loud speakers as hundreds listened raptly at the Cadillac Palace last night. It was the team finals of the 2014 Louder Than A Bomb Youth Poetry Festival and I was a judge. Young men incarcerated at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) were reading from the zine “The PIC Is” created by my organization.

The prison industrial complex tears families apart,” one voice shared. “The prison industrial complex is where you spend your ‘best years’ just trying to survive,” said another.

Some young men tripped over their words; it didn’t matter. The audience was attentive, sporadically interjecting with appreciative sounds and fingersnaps. The stage was empty except for the DJ tucked in a corner and four microphone stands. I heard the experience described as “haunting.”

Louder than A Bomb stage as JTDC youth audio played (3/15/14)

Louder than A Bomb stage as JTDC youth audio played (photo by Nick Weaver, 3/15/14)

The disembodied voices cascaded over the crowd, emphasizing that the young people who were speaking the words were absent. I swallowed past the lump in my throat and surreptitiously dabbed by eyes. I was trying to contain my rage.

Perhaps the stark contrast between the empty stage and the voices that we were listening to was haunting. But it was also a reminder that the mostly black & brown young people who had graced the stage for most of the night prior to the JTDC performance could easily have been on the other side of the wall. The membrane that divides those performing on stage and the ones speaking through the loud speakers while caged behind bars is porous. The capriciousness and unfairness of the injustice system are a cruel reality. So I was furious.

Before and after the JTDC spoken word piece, young people took to the stage to share stories and experiences of racial & gender discrimination, adultism, addiction, family strife, suicide, gun violence, capitalist greed, and political corruption. Such large scale gatherings organized to simply listen to the truths and lived experiences of black and brown youth in Chicago are rare. I tried to take in the moment. I listened as young people of color buried the pernicious lie that they are disposable and challenged the world to “see” and “hear” them. ‘We are not who you say we are.’ ‘To those who fear and malign us, we are not violent and depraved predators and to those who say they care for us, we are not child soldiers.’ ‘We are human and we matter.’ These were, to my mind, some of the overarching statements of the night. And last night, the voices of the young people on both sides of the wall were indeed ‘louder than a bomb.’

Note: You can support the Free Write Jail Arts Program that works with incarcerated youth at the JTDC here and Louder Than A Bomb here.

Mar 03 2014

Still Torturing Children…

New York is banning solitary confinement of children under 18 along with implementing other reforms. But as the Center on Investigative Reporting points out:

“…the rule does not apply to city and county jails, like New York City’s Rikers Island, which houses hundreds of minors as young as 16. Although most of them have not been convicted, they still can be punished as adults for breaking jail rules. That often means weeks or months in solitary confinement.”

Some of you reading this might be surprised that any state would use such a practice at all. A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a wrenching report about the scope and impact(s) of solitary on children. Basically, they reaffirmed that the practice amounts to physical and psychological torture. HRW produced the video below to accompany the report.

Solitary confinement or what many prisoners call “the hole” can only accurately be considered torture. Charles Dickens recognized as much in the 19th century. Too often, however, the practice is either ignored or discussed euphemistically. America has ALWAYS been pro-torture of certain people. I offer as exhibit A the spectacle lynching of black people in the U.S. So we shouldn’t be surprised at the fact that we still torture so many people in prison through the use of solitary as well as other forms of physical, psychological, and emotional brutality. CIR produced an excellent animated video to illustrate how solitary confinement is experienced by children. I recommend that everyone watch it.

We should end solitary confinement in general as a practice in our prisons. We should abolish prisons.

Feb 25 2014

Calls to Action for Today: Support SB 2793/Oppose HB 4775

Sen Hutchinson- SB 2793

Amends the School Code. As part of the annual school report card, requires every school to provide (i) data on the issuance of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and removals to alternative settings, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, limited English proficiency status, length of exclusion, reason for exclusion, and whether alternative educational options were provided; (ii) data on the use of arrests or criminal citations, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, disability status, limited English proficiency status, and alleged criminal offense; and (iii) data on student retention during and between academic years, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, disability status, limited English proficiency status, and the reason for the student’s departure. Sets forth requirements and exemptions concerning the data, including requiring the State Board of Education to analyze the data on an annual basis and determine the top quartile of school districts for specified metrics. Requires certain districts identified by the State Board to submit a school discipline improvement plan identifying the strategies it will implement to reduce the use of harsh disciplinary practices or reduce the disproportionality evident in its disciplinary practices; sets forth other requirements.

Please file a witness slip in SUPPORT HERE.

1. Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
2. Under Section II, fill out your organization if you are representing one or write “self” if you are representing yourself. You can also just fill out N/A.
3. In Section III, select the “Proponent” button.
4. In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
5. Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
6. Select the “Create Slip” button.

Slips can be submitted until tonight at midnight, February 25

HB 4775 – Being called a NO-BRAINER BILL:

This bill permits students to be “pushed out” from the traditional school setting for a mere arrest. A basic tenet of the U.S. justice system is to be considered innocent until proven guilty. In essence, it disregards due process protections any accused individual is guaranteed.

This violation may result in an expulsion lasting to 2 calendar years at the discretion of individual school administration.

Discretionary application of school discipline code has been found —and continues to be observed — to have disparate impact on youth of color.

Amends the School Code. Allows a school board to suspend or authorize the superintendent of the district or the principal, assistant principal, or dean of students of a school to suspend a student for a period not to exceed 10 school days or to expel a student for a definite period of time not to exceed 2 calendar years, as determined on a case-by-case basis, if the student has been charged with a violent felony and the charges are pending or if the student has been convicted of a violent felony. Defines “violent felony”. Effective immediately.

Please file a witness slips in OPPOSITION to HB 4775 HERE.

1. Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
2. Under Section II, fill out your organization if you are representing one or write “self” if you are representing yourself. You can also just fill out N/A.
3. In Section III, select the “Opponent” button.
4. In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
5. Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
6. Select the “Create Slip” button.

Slips can be submitted until tomorrow, February 26 at midnight

Feb 17 2014

Call to Action: Please Support SB 2760 and SB 2793 TODAY – Addressing School to Prison Pipeline

It’s that time of year again. This time, I am asking that you support two Senate bills that are intended to address school discipline issues in various ways. One focuses on school-based policing and the other on data transparency.

Sen Lightford- SB 2760 — FILE A WITNESS SLIP IN SUPPORT TODAY HERE.

Amends the School Code. Provides that (i) prior to being asked any question or being requested to make any statement while in the presence of a police officer, a student must be informed of the right not to answer any question or to make any statement in the presence of a police officer; (ii) prior to being asked any question or being requested to make any statement while in the presence of a police officer, a student must be informed of the right to have a parent, a guardian, or an attorney present during such questioning or request for a statement; (iii) prior to being asked any question or being requested to make any statement while in the presence of a police officer, a student must be informed that any information given in the presence of a police officer may result in an arrest and in the issuing of a summons and may be used in school discipline and in criminal prosecution; (iv) prior to the presence of a police officer during the questioning of a student or of a request for a statement, the school principal shall approve the presence of the police officer during the questioning of or while making a request for any statement from the student; and (v) prior to the presence of a police officer during the questioning of or while making a request for any statement from a student, a parent or guardian of the student must be given notification of the opportunity to be present during the questioning. Sets forth provisions concerning the notification, school principal and police officer consultation, and tracking and reporting data. Effective July 1, 2014.

Sen Hutchinson- SB 2793 Please file a witness slip in SUPPORT HERE.

Amends the School Code. As part of the annual school report card, requires every school to provide (i) data on the issuance of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and removals to alternative settings, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, limited English proficiency status, length of exclusion, reason for exclusion, and whether alternative educational options were provided; (ii) data on the use of arrests or criminal citations, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, disability status, limited English proficiency status, and alleged criminal offense; and (iii) data on student retention during and between academic years, disaggregated by race and ethnicity, gender, age, grade level, disability status, limited English proficiency status, and the reason for the student’s departure. Sets forth requirements and exemptions concerning the data, including requiring the State Board of Education to analyze the data on an annual basis and determine the top quartile of school districts for specified metrics. Requires certain districts identified by the State Board to submit a school discipline improvement plan identifying the strategies it will implement to reduce the use of harsh disciplinary practices or reduce the disproportionality evident in its disciplinary practices; sets forth other requirements.

If you’ve never filed a witness slip before, it’s simple and only takes two minutes:
1. Go to the House Judiciary Hearing website HERE
2. Click on the right icon under the “Witness Slips” column for SB 2760 and 2793 to create witness slips.
3. Under Section I, fill in your identification information.
4. Under Section II, fill out your organization if you are representing one or write “self” if you are representing yourself. You can also just fill out N/A.
5. In Section III, select the “Proponent” button.
6. In Section IV, select “Record of Appearance Only.”
7. Agree to the ILGA Terms of Agreement
8. Select the “Create Slip” button.

Slips can be submitted until tomorrow, February 18 at 12:30 p.m.

Feb 16 2014

The Ghastly Ritual: Death, Pain, and Love

It’s sad really, this ghastly ritual. Black people waiting for the courts to deliver some justice for our murdered children. Tick, tock, tick, tock. The jury deliberates. Tick, tock, tick, tock. We stand vigil demanding that the law affirm our humanity. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Anxiety rises. Words like unbelievable, depressing, angry, and scared proliferate. Tick, tock, tick, tock. If the hoped for conviction comes, what next? Another black child killed? Tick, tock, tick, tock. We hold our collective breath. Tick, tock, tick, tock. The verdict is read: betrayal, devastation, anger, tears, recriminations, quiet acceptance, rage, numbness, tuning out, silent prayer, unmitigated pain… We knew. We hoped for different. But we know…better.

jordandavis

What will we tell our children? The cry rises again. Perhaps this is a question without an answer asked by a person who doesn’t really want one. It’s a question to verbalize helplessness and to convey anguished love.

Read more »

Feb 15 2014

Image of the Day: Scottsboro Boys

“This 1936 photograph—featuring eight of the nine Scottsboro Boys with NAACP representatives Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Laura Kellum, and Dr. Ernest W. Taggart—was taken inside the prison where the Scottsboro Boys were being held. Falsely accused of raping two white women aboard a freight train in 1931, the nine African American teenagers were tried in Scottsboro, Alabama, in what became a sensational case attracting national attention. Eight of the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death; the trial of the ninth ended in a mistrial. These verdicts were widely condemned at the time. Before the young men eventually won their freedom, they would endure many years in prison and face numerous retrials and hearings. The ninth member of the group, Roy Wright, refused to pose for this portrait on account of his frustration with the slow pace of their legal battle. (Source: Smithsonian)”

Scottsboro Boys and Juanita Jackson Mitchell (1936)

Scottsboro Boys and Juanita Jackson Mitchell (1936)

Jan 13 2014

Poem of the Day: “Cuz He’s Black”

This spoken word piece by Javon Johnson is incredibly poignant.

Jan 04 2014

Poem of the Day: Some Things Actually Just Kill You…

Some
Things
Do
Not
Make
You
Stronger…
They
Just
Make
You
DEAD.

- For Tyshawn Carter.