Double Standards: Crime In White America

CITY-DATA.COM Chelsea, MI the town I grew up in.

When I was a senior in high school I was at a party and the police showed up to break it up. Instead of waiting around to get in trouble, a group of friends and I took off running. We heard the police yell, “Stop”, but there was no way that we were going to allow ourselves to get caught by the police. We ran and a few police officers chased us, but being athletic 17-18 year olds, we got away from the police after an extended foot chase. We were not caught and our identities were never found out.

Were my friends and I making poor choices at that party? Of course. Were we immature and full of cockiness? Most definitely.

But not for one second did we think that running from the cops would ever end in our physical harm, let alone our death, by the hands of the police.

Many white people who grew up in white America at some point in their lives have made similar poor judgments.

In another instance of extremely poor choices when I was a teenager, a group of friends and I decided that it would be a good idea to go into a building that we knew had alcohol stored in it and take it. We broke in, took what we wanted, and proceeded to have a great night. We all woke up the next morning to the terrible realization of what we had done. We made a pact to not say anything to anyone about what had happened, hoping that we would not get caught.

The police quickly figured out what had happened, the party we had been at was near to where the burglary took place. The police then started talking to every person at the party.

When the police called my house to say they were coming to talk to me, I told my parents about the police being on their way and that I had nothing to do with the break-in the officer was talking about on the phone. When the cop arrived and started asking me questions, I looked at that cop straight in the eye and lied. I told him I knew nothing and had no idea what burglary he was talking about. The officer did know that I was there since someone had already told him the actual story. The cop said to me calmly, “Tell me the truth of what happened because if you tell me another lie again, I am taking you to the police station.” So I told him what had happened.

My parents cried because of what I had done and that I had lied to them. The gossip train got rolling pretty quickly and the news of what we had done was somewhat of a big deal, for the town of about 10,000 people that I grew up in. We were high school athletes and many of us had parents who were respected in the community.

But you know what sentences we received for theft and breaking and entering? Nothing. No charges were pressed. No criminal records ever got attached to our names. We were able to apologize to the owners of the building that we had robbed. The owners agreed to not press charges in exchange that we serve community service to them for a set period of time. Our high school suspended us from athletic competition for 1 month.

We were not arrested, we never feared for our lives.

We were white in white America.

We made poor choices.

I am fortunate enough based on my various privileges that my life has not been significantly more difficult.

People who are not white do not get the privileges that I received.

People who are not white would’ve been killed for running from the police and then many in the general public would’ve tried to justify their death, saying things like, “well if they wouldn’t have run they would still be alive.”

That statement, besides being sick, is also not true since there arecountless examples of Black people just going about their day-to-day lives who were killed by the police.

But let’s imagine that my friends or I were killed for running from the police.

That’s the thing, you actually can’t imagine it, because it nearly never happens.

White people do not regularly get killed for doing stupid crimes or for just being, this is a privilege we have.

Dylann Roof murders 9 black people in a church and comes out unhurt, wearing a bullet proof vest, and is bought fast food all by thepolice. Dylann Roof is a famous example of how the police treat white people accused of crimes, but his treatment is not an anomaly. Here are ten other examples of police disarming and not killing violent white people. White privilege protects white people from the police, here are twenty examples of how it works.

Korryn Gaines is killed for an outstanding warrant for disorderly conduct, John Crawford for shopping at Walmart while talking on the phone, Tamir Rice for playing, Rekia Boyd for standing in a group,Betty Jones for being in her house, Alton Sterling and Eric Garner for selling things, Philando CastileSandra Bland, and Corey Jones for driving. I selected just a few of the names of black people who have been killed recently by the police. The list grows. Meanwhile, unarmed Black men are seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire.

Imagine if my friends and I had been black when we broke in and stole that alcohol. We would now all have criminal records, which would’ve made every aspect of our lives immensely more difficult if not nearly impossible. Instead of having a criminal record, I went to college, found apartments to live in, became a teacher, got married, got my Masters degree, have good credit, can financially support my children, and am working to become a National Board certified teacher.

All of these things would not have happened if charges were pressed against my friends and I.

I was young, arrogant, bored, and stupid. The vast majority of the teenagers I teach or have taught are smarter than I was at their age. Yet, if they ever make a much simpler mistake than I made, they pay for their mistakes with their actual lives and people try to justify their death. Or they become so caught up in the criminal justice system that no matter the offense, their life trajectory is now nowhere near where it was before their mistake.

If you are a parent you can look at my poor choices and say to yourself, “my kid will never make any mistakes like you made”. I hope you are right, but I also know in white America kids do stupid stuff all the time. The difference is when white kids do it people say, “its just kids being kids” or “they will learn from their mistakes”.

But when kids of color make those same poor teenage filled choices they are labeled as thugs and are given harsh penalties (i.e. jail) to “alter” their lifestyle.

The extremely lenient penalty that I received still scared the mess out of me and taught me a lesson that has forever altered my life. Leniency and educating kids on their mistakes will work with the vast majority of kids who make poor choices.

The only reason I was afforded those privileges is because I grew up white, in white America.

To view this piece on Huffington Post click here.

Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter Connected by White Silence of Black Death

The Black Lives Matter Movement started after the acquittal of George Zimmerman who murdered Trayvon Martin. The Civil Rights Movementgained momentum after the acquittal of the two men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, who murdered Emmett Till.

In both instances the evidence was clear, the murderers should’ve been found guilty but in both cases (and hundreds of other cases) killing a Black kid whether for walking at night with a hood, while eating skittles or supposedly whistling at a white woman, the law has and continues to make sure that Black death is always justified.

When a Black person is killed. White people first try to look for any and every possible reason to justify Black death.  From the simple blame, “if only he/she would’ve…” to the deflect and change subject which sounds like, “But what about ‘Black on Black’ crime” to the “All this talk about race just causes more tensions” finally to the “I’ll just pray that it stops”.

All of these tactics are an attempt for white people to ignore racism and avoid having to talk about race in order to go back to our own lives.

I mean white people will spend hours trying to find one Black person sitting in their car or some other random location recording themselves saying something to the effect of “racism is a thing of the past” so we can feel good about doing nothing about racism. Only to keep on living our lives afraid of Black people (even though we claim not to be) or blaming Black people who may be struggling by saying things like, “I (or my family) was poor once and look at me now”, ignoring the institutionalized privileges whites receive.

It was Dr. King who said that , “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is…the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

How many of us white people would rather have “order”? Having “order” sounds like; “The courts will show if he/she is guilty or not” or , “I’ve never had issues with the police those Black people must be guilty of something” or “If they would just work harder”.  Ultimately, “order” comes down to “Stop messing up my happy privileged life”.

White people as a whole do not feel comfortable talking about race so we will do anything to avoid it. We have this thing called White Fragility, where when we are confronted with issues about race we feel guilty, think all other races hate us and then instead of trying to educate ourselves we just resort to the ol’ “deflect the issue to go about my life” mentality. Especially recently, following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterlng white people are sick of hearing about race. Instead of imaging how tired people of color are living with the threat of racism daily, we simply choose to ignore them and devalue their claims.

We white northerners think that just because our families have lived in the north that we can’t be racist. We think that if we quote King we can’t be racist (even though in the north is where King saw a whole new level of racism). We think that an act of racism is limited to using a derogatory slur. We are living in the 1950’s (or earlier) with this definition.

Let’s create a new definition of white racism. First let’s define Blatant White Racism in 2016- Every time you become aware of an injustice against Black people whether it be (police brutality, lead in water, governments cutting budgets to city schools, etc.) you search the Internet for anything to prove why that death, sickness, or cut was necessary, valid or reasonable. An anti-racist approach would be finding ways to understand the real issue, once successful at this you would then educate other white people and take action. Now we need to define Camouflaged White Racism in 2016- Every time you become aware of an injustice against Black people you find any excuse to ignore the issue (I don’t get it, I’m too busy to do anything about it, I don’t like confrontation, I don’t like politics, I don’t see color, I don’t live there, I love everyone, I have Black friends). It can also look like acknowledging or validating the issue then simply saying you will pray for everything to be okay and then go back to life as normal.

I know these definitions will not sit well with many white people. But what’s more important is that our own discomfort and embarrassment at trying to decide what level of racism we use will not take away from your lifestyle, but it will change you. Admitting there is a problem and working to solve the problem will create less racial tension, not more.

If you’re white and you’ve made it this far you are likely angry. Acknowledge the anger, figure out why you’re angry and then try to move past it so you can listen and grow.

When my two sons are grown, I do not want people trying to make the same ridiculous arguments to try to discredit the next movement for Black equality. I don’t want there to be a reason to even have a “next movement”.

I want us white people to realize that Black people are not scary and do not hate us. I want us to realize that many Black people have been simply waiting for us to actually give enough of a damn to do something.

To view this piece on the Huffington Post click here.

White Culture’s Attempt to De-Radicalize Martin Luther King

Since the Black Lives Matter Movement started it has been labeled as being too radical, using offensive language and being racist. Critics claim that the Civil Rights Movement, specifically Martin Luther King Jr., would not even support the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Has our white culture attempted to whiten MLK’s legacy so much that many no longer consider King controversial?

Lets be clear, if you are white and do not support the Black Lives Matter Movement today, then the overwhelming odds are that no matter if you would have lived in the North or South in the 50s and 60s you would not have supported the Civil Rights Movement then.

The same criticisms of Black Lives Matter today were issued about King and the countless others involved in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950’s and 1960’s. King was blamed for riots, for hatred between the races, and for being racist against white people.

Many of us know about the actions the Civil Rights Movement had in the South such as sit-ins, marches, boycotts, and Freedom Rides. These events only had limited support from white people and even worse is that the majority of white Americans actually believed actions such as these were hurting the chances of racial integration.

In 1966 King came to Chicago to try to end poverty and “…to help eradicate a viscous system which seeks to further colonize thousands of negroes within a slum environment.” After spending time in Chicago and leading actions around the city King said, “I’ve been in many demonstrations all across the south, but I can say that I have never seen – even in Mississippi and Alabama – mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I’ve seen here in Chicago.”

Based on King’s own observations, white people in the North were just as racist as white people in the South during this time period. Except, because the majority of the movement happened in the South the north was able to hide it’s racism.

Not only was King criticized by regular white Americans he was also criticized by white religious leaders for his actions being “unwise and untimely”. As a reverend this criticism lead him to write his eloquent response, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. In the letter he includes “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens’ Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice […] who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’”

So to be clear, MLK said, it was not the KKK who was the greatest roadblock to freedom, it was the typical white American.

Even after King was murdered, just getting MLK Day to be a national holiday was a struggle for those involved. It took 9 years for DC politicians to approve it. Once it was approved it still took an additional 17 years to get all 50 states to celebrate the day.

Further proof of how radical King was emerged when his family took the U.S. Government to trial because of evidence they believed that they had obtained that showed that King was not killed by James Earl Ray, but instead he was killed by the U.S. Government.

During nearly the entire Civil Rights Movement the U.S. Government, specifically the FBI, monitored, harassed, murdered, and/or tried to stop the movement by any means necessary. The FBI went so far with King to stop the Movement specifically that they threatened they would make public his extra marital affairs and also sent him letters suggesting he commit suicide.

I get it, we white people do not want to be considered racist. But we have come to the point where we took a radical figure like King, ignored nearly every radical speech, action, and statement made by him and now just use him to try to quiet Black people anytime that they are upset. White people will post quotes from King on MLK day, but are only quoting the King that they want him to be not the radical King that he was. We ignore his quotes against the military, against moderate whites, and his promotion of black pride.

Black Lives Matter is inclusive like King, is pro-Black like King, and is controversial like King…

So before another person like the Atlanta Mayor says MLK would not have shut down a highway, which we know he did, or someone like Bill O’Reilly says that, “Dr. King would not participate in a Black Lives Matter protest”. King not only would have participated, but it is in part because of his leadership that Black Lives Matter operates.

So anytime anyone says King was not a radical or says King would not support Black Lives Matter ask for proof and then ask for which King they are talking about.

The real King or the lightened un-radicalized King that they can put up on their wall by their white Jesus.

 

View this piece on the Huffington Post by clicking here.

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Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter. This statement should not be controversial or scary. It should just be truth. It should not require addendums and edits to make people feel more at ease. When one group of people has continually been and continues to be targeted/killed we should just accept this simple statement and actively work to make sure that Black life does matter, everyday, all the time.

Published in the Chicago Tribune on Monday July 18, 2006 to view it click here.

#BlackLivesMatter

If Only He/She Would’ve: A White Person’s Justification for Police Brutality

If only Alton Sterling would’ve done what the police asked then he would be alive. While this statement may seem logical in the experiences of many white people, this statement is a fallacy to nearly every other race of people as they interact with the police throughout history in our country.

I heard this same statement uttered when Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Eric Garner were murdered and after nearly every other Black person who was killed by the police.

I’m a white teacher that has taught in schools that are nearly all Black on the South Side of Chicago since 2007. During my 1st year of teaching, a 9th grade male student showed up late to my 1st period class crying. This was abnormal behavior for him, after a conversation with him I found out that two police officers had held him at gun point on his way to school, made him get on the ground, and called him names until they realized he wasn’t who they thought he was. If only he would’ve not been walking while Black…

This was the first story that made me think that the experiences that I had with the police, as a white person, were not the same experiences shared by my students.

Now entering my 10th year of teaching in Chicago I have learned that interacting with the police while being Black in America is vastly different than being white.

The law has always worked against Black people and for white people. A historical example that helped me come to this realization is the murder of Emmett Till. Emmett a 13 year old Black kid from Chicago was murdered by two white men in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Emmett’s actions were so “heinous” that he was beaten, mutilated, and then his dead body was thrown in a river. If only Emmett would’ve not whistled….

The two white men were found innocent. Emmett’s mother Ms. Mobley decided to have an open casket so the world could see what had been done to her son. The rest of the world saw what happened and Black people in America took action because of his murder.

But what did many white Americans do? Likely the same thing that most do today; react with shock, blame the victim, have sadness, and maybe have empathy for a little while then go about their life. These were not privileges that Black Americans had. They could not go back to their “normal” lives, because normal for them meant at all times they were in danger.

Unlike the 1950’s when anyone could kill a Black person and get away with it, today primarily the police are the only ones who can kill Black Americans and legally get away with it, time after time.

It’s far too easy as a white person to just say, “if only he/she would’ve” then they would be alive. Why is it that we white people look for any way possible to blame Black people for their own death?

There are countless examples throughout history to the present of the police killing Black people for no reason, planting guns on them, and disappearing them.

But we ignore all of this and instead continually blame the victim time after time.

The police are here to “serve and protect” whom they are trained to protect. They are trained to protect people of my complexion. They are trained to hunt everyone else.

It has been hard to grasp that while I am told that the police exist to protect me they harm so many others.

So many white people are deathly afraid of being labeled a racist but our collective white inaction continues to allow racism to exist and operate. Unless you are actively resisting racism as a white person you continue to allow it to happen.

As white people we must:

1) Educate ourselves on race. Since our country is so segregated by race your actual interactions with people of other races may be extremely limited. So education becomes key. Here are some ways how to begin the education.

2) Start having possibly uncomfortable conversations with our white family, friends, and coworkers. The idea that you shouldn’t talk religion and politics with family just allows racism to continue because white people won’t talk about it. Here’s some helpful tips on how to get the conversation going.

3) We must use social media to bring attention to these issues then take some form of direct action to help end the cycle. For ideas click here.

As a history teacher I know that my race has been and continues to be responsible for the vast majority of terrible things that have/continue to happen in the world.

I also believe that to end racism we white people must educate ourselves, other white people and not be afraid to speak up. We must do this to dismantle the privilege that allows us to view the police as  protectors while Black people have always and continue to view the police as threats to their very existence.

So next time you hear someone say, “If only he/she would’ve….”, challenge it.

View this piece on HuffingtonPost.com by clicking here.

Conversation Week: The Power of Spoken Word Poetry

I was interviewed by BTR Today about my experiences with spoken word poetry. To read the original article click here.

Conversation Week: The Power of Spoken Word Poetry

by Brittany Tedesco | Theme Week | Jun 29, 2016

Controversy continues to surround the role that the arts play in school systems, with many who believe that such creative outlets are far less important than more concrete subjects like math and science. More specifically, poetry is regarded as less and less significant, even in literary studies.

However, poetry is an important subject for a diversity of students across the nation. The age-old craft is a useful medium for promoting literacy and creativity, all the while building a sense of community and strengthening emotional resilience.

While traditional poetry can feel archaic to contemporary audiences who find the dated subject matter dull or confusing, spoken word poetry can be powerful and relevant for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

BTRtoday speaks with Dave Stieber, a teacher and spoken word poetry coach in Chicago. He has coached this form of poetry for six years, taking only the past two years off due to a change in schools. He’s currently on hiatus to focus on attaining his National Board Certification for teaching, but plans on coaching again next school year.

Stieber admits that growing up he was entirely uninterested in poetry.

“It always seemed pretty dry to me in school,” he says. “I was never exposed to spoken word. I was always exposed to very traditional poetry in books. The content didn’t appeal to me, and the style didn’t appeal to me.”

It was not until Stieber’s wife invited him to attend Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB), an event in Chicago which happens to be the largest youth poetry festival in the world, that he realized the impact poetry can have on its audiences.

LTAB is a month-long competition featuring 120 Chicago high schools competing in Olympic-style poetry slams. Hosted by Young Chicago Authors, LTAB celebrates youth voices by providing a safe space for poets to come together and share their stories.

“It was amazing to hear students performing totally different types of poetry than I had ever heard, sharing their stories, and seeing other kids support them,” Stieber describes.

Spoken word poetry allows participants to express themselves, while simultaneously inspiring listeners. The arts in general–albeit writing, performing, painting, playing music, or any other artistic expression–allow artists to expose themselves on a deep and personal level, and encourage others to empathize with them.

Spoken word events also provide a comfortable space free of judgment, where poets are unafraid to reveal even the most hidden parts of themselves. Everyone there has a story to tell, and that is why they have gathered together to share their messages.

“The whole premise of Spoken Word poetry, in my opinion, is it allows them to share their stories and provides a space for other students who want to hear those stories. So it’s pretty powerful,” Stieber supports.

Furthermore, it forms a sense of community. It doesn’t matter where participants come from when they are in such a shared space. No matter the race, gender, class, or background, their voices matter and their stories will be heard.

Stieber explains, “You’ve got kids from different parts of the city, and Chicago, like most big cities, is super segregated by race and by class. So when you can bring kids together who have the same interest in poetry, and they share their stories… it opens a lot of doors for the kid who’s performing it, as well as the audience who’s listening.”

Feeling inspired after attending LTAB, Stieber began coaching spoken word poetry at the school he was teaching. On Fridays, he would host an open mic where students could read their own spoken word pieces. He eventually formed a spoken word poetry group consisting of six freshman to participate at LTAB.

“A couple kids performed [in class], and we were like, wow this is amazing– you guys are going be on our poetry team. And they were like, what does that mean? And we were like, we don’t really know either,” he admits. “From there we all learned together.”

While poetry is something that comes from the heart, as any artistic expression, written poetry skills can still use some refining. Working alongside a spoken word poetry coach or teacher allows students to receive feedback on their work and reflect on their pieces in a new light.

“Basically we just got them to express their stories, whatever they wanted to share,” says Stieber. “Then we kind of helped them write it in ways that maybe they didn’t know before, just refine their ideas a little bit.”

Through spoken word, poets can use their work as a form of release to escape from reality. It allows them to immerse themselves in their expression. However, it can also be used to cope with reality, as the writer is able to express their raw and honest emotions in a way they might not be comfortable with otherwise.

“Students have a lot of stuff that they need to say and need to express, and I don’t think schools do a very effective job at allowing them to express what they need to say, and care what they see and experience in the world,” Stieber says.

As a result, it is incredibly important for students to participate in arts programs. Even the Senate has acknowledged the importance of the arts as they recently passed an act that regards them as core subjects in school systems.

The arts stimulate the imagination, improve cognitive and creative skills, and strengthen problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Therefore art courses are able to help children develop skills needed for other core subjects.

Stieber describes the impact he has seen spoken word have on his students.

“Just by being able to first get their story on paper and get that off their chest, then being able to perform it and have other people listen to it, and after they say it, they come off stage and people are like, wow that was really powerful, and talk about how they felt about the poem, and the interaction that comes with it, it’s a very powerful whole event… the writing, the performing, and the reaction to it.”

For anyone who has never experienced spoken word poetry before, do yourself a favor and find a nearby event. There are powerful messages just waiting to be heard, and at least one of them is bound to move even the most apathetic listener.

CPS is Harming Kids With the Most Need

Chicago Public Schools has provided further proof that they could care less about what is best for students; regardless of the rhetoric they proliferate. The most recent proof of this is their plans to cut the Pre-K Special Education program at Bret Harte Elementary on the South Side.

CPS is intentionally and knowingly harming the kids who need the most, by cutting a Special Education Pre-K program for 3 and 4 year olds with various types of physical and mental disabilities.

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I should not be shocked that CPS would attempt a move like this.  This is not new for Chicago Public Schools. In my 9 years of teaching in here I have witnessed CPS hold community meetings in which students and parents begged and pleaded for CPS to keep their schools open, only to have CPS ignore the community and close the most schools in the history of our country. CPS claimed the cuts were to save money and that the schools were under-enrolled, yet at the same time they were increasing funding for charters and opening new charter schools.

But I guess I still am actually shocked by their desire to cut a Special Ed. Pre-K program. Apparently CPS has now shifted their destruction from schools on the South and West sides to programs that serve the South Side and West Sides.

There are other Special Ed. Pre-K programs on the South Side, but they are either filled to capacity, much too far away, or staffed without certified Special Ed. teachers. As a high school teacher I know from experience that many special needs students depend on a school routine that is consistent and safe. Forcing these very young students to switch schools can be especially traumatic.

One of the parents of a child in the Special Ed. Pre-K program created a Change.org petition to be delivered to CPS demanding that this program be saved. In the petition she writes, “My daughter has made remarkable progress through the efforts of the amazing and dedicated teacher in the special education preschool program. The class at Harte is an effective, loving learning environment for my daughter and her classmates, for whom stability and consistency are crucial. In addition, the special education preschool class is an important part of the school. It is often integrated with other classes for recess, field trips, special events, and sometimes just stories and centers. “

You had better believe that as a parent I will do what is best for my kids, because the school district that I choose to work for and send my children too, does not care about our children.

Here’s how you can get involved and help save Harte’s Pre K Special Education Program:

  • Sign the petition
  • Contact the Alderman of Bret Harte School Leslie Hairston
  • Call CPS and leave a message for Forrest Claypool and Janice Jackson 773-553-1000
  • Come to the “Play in” at Harte!

Finally, the parents of Bret Harte are organizing a “Play-In to Save Pre-K Special Education at Harte” on Tuesday the 21st from 3:30-4:30pm (1556 E. 56th St.) on the playground. Please bring your child and/or come out and support us as we fight to keep open an amazing program that serves amazing kids.

 

Sample Script for Leslie Hairston, Forest Claypool and Janice Jackson:

“My name is ____________ I am calling to ask you to save the Special Ed. Pre-K program at Bret Harte Elementary School. This a very successful and positive program at the school. Cutting a program that helps special needs children is wrong. I am asking you to keep this program open. Thank you”

 

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