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“Education Works, Prisons Don’t”


 

“Education
Works, Prisons Don’t” was the call to action that attracted hundreds of
concerned New Yorkers at a Harlem teach-in, sponsored by United New York Black
Radical Congress, on October 27-28, 2000.  The teach-in brought together
students, parents, teachers, community activists, and leaders from politics,
unions and religious institutions.

The
event marked the highpoint of an extensive campaign launched by the Black
Radical Congress throughout the city in 2000 on the theme “Education, Not
Incarceration.”  Groups endorsing the teach-in and sending
representatives included:  the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the
Prison Moratorium Project, Women for Racial and Economic Equality, the Center
for Immigrant Families, the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, Jews for
Racial and Economic Justice, the Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty, the New
York Alliance of Black School Educators, the New Caucus of the Professional
Staff Congress, the Correctional Association of New York, the Lower East Side
Call for Justice, the Committee to Abolish Miseducation, the New York Metro
Black Radical Congress, the City University of New York African American
Network, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Youth Force.

On
Friday night, October 27, three hundred people registered for the conference,
and attended a “Town Hall Forum” on “Education and Public Policy,” held
at the Thurgood Marshall Academy in Harlem.  A powerful film produced and
directed by Thurgood Marshall high school students was shown, depicting the
widespread practices of racial profiling and harassment of youth by the New York
Police Department.  The film instructed young people how to protect
themselves and to assert their legal rights when confronted or arrested by the
police.

The
“Town Hall Forum,” chaired by United New York BRC Chair Manning Marable,
featured presentations by prominent African-American historian Robin D.G.
Kelley, New York City Councilman Bill Perkins, New York State Assemblyman Edward
C. Sullivan, education activist and BRC Metro member Sandra Rivers, and Adelaide
Sanford, Regent of the New York State Board of Education.  The public
exchange focused on a broad range of issues, linking the underfunding of New
York’s public schools by state government, to the massive expenditures for new
prison construction.  Public officials noted that virtually all of New York
State’s 38 prisons constructed since 1982 are located in rural, all-white
upstate districts, which not coincidentally are heavily Republican. 
Mandatory sentencing laws, especially those penalties mandated by the
Rockefeller Drug Laws, have increased New York State’s prison population from
12,000 in 1970 to 74,000 in 2000.

On
Saturday, another 180 participants registered to attend thirteen workshops that
were coordinated by sponsoring organizations.  United New York BRC youth
activist Rima Vesely chaired the session on “Youth Criminalization: 
Getting Police Out of the Schools,” that explored ways of removing armed
police from school buildings, and ending the stop-and-frisking of black and
Latino youth.  Educator and United New York BRC activist Maria Ramos led
the workshop on “Special Education,” focusing on New York City Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani’s cutbacks on special education and what can be done about them. 
Other workshop themes covered include:  “The Prison Industrial
Complex”; “Hip Hop and Youth Organizing”; “Parent Advocacy and
Partnerships”; “The Criminal Justice System and Community-Based
Organizing”; and “Public Education or Privatization:  A Debate on
‘School Choice’.”

The
final plenary on Saturday afternoon was devoted to the theme, “Building a
Movement:  Where to Go from Here.”  Representatives from various
workshops held throughout the day presented more than one hundred specific
suggestions and proposals around three categories of action:  government
and public policy, community-based institutions, and political protest and
mobilization.

The
conference participants resolved to focus on four central objectives for action
for 2001:  to campaign to force the next president to sign an executive
order outlawing racial profiling; to campaign to defeat New York City Mayor
Giuliani’s efforts to privatize forty of the city’s worst schools; to
participate in a broad coalition to overturn the repressive Rockefeller Drug
Laws; and to fight for adequate funding for public schools and reversal of the
policies that reduce public education budgets at the expense of prison
construction.  The conference pointed to the clear, unambiguous connections
between racial profiling of black and Latino young people by the police and
court system, and the racial tracking and underfunding of urban schools. 
“Privatization” in both schools and prisons was responsible for “racialization.”

Key
presenters at the final plenary included New York State Senator David Patterson
of Harlem, United New York BRC activist and poet Amina Baraka, educator/author
Safiya Bandele of Medgar Evers College, Corretta McClendon of the Correctional
Association of New York, State Senator Tom Duane, and Sheila Evans-Tranmun, the
Assistant Commissioner of the New York State Board of Education.  The
closing speaker of the conference, United New York BRC leader Humberto Brown,
presented a powerful analysis for radical social change, for addressing the
problems of mass incarceration and the destruction of public schools.

The
multiracial, BRC-led conference marks the first teach-in in recent years in New
York City that brought together a broad spectrum of activists involved in
education reform, anti-police brutality and criminal justice work.  This
successful first step will reinforce the progressive new movement in the city to
demand “education, not incarceration.”

 

 

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