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ÒEducation Works, Prisons DonÕtÓ


Manning Marable

“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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