From Mon Jul 3 17:02:14 2000
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2000 19:29:02 -0400
From: Art McGee <>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Schools or Jails?
Precedence: bulk

Schools or Jails? A campaign to bring attention to the plight of black youth

By Leah Samuel <>, 28 June 2000

Black children are being trained to become inmates and are targeted for death, rather than being helped to become productive, participating citizens, says the Black Radical Congress.

At its national organizing conference at Wayne State University last weekend, the BRC, a two-year-old organization of African-American progressives, launched its first national campaign to bring attention and change to the country’s education and criminal justice systems.

The national conference drew about 300 participants from around the country, including such notables as U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, columnist Dr. Manning Marable and poet-activist Amiri Baraka. Workshops were held on a variety of issues, including reparations, cyberspace organizing, black farmers and land rights, immigration, environmental racism, and the relationship of hip hop and liberation movements.

But conference members made the issues of education and criminal justice the organization’s priority. Education, Not Incarceration: Fight the Police State, is the working title of a campaign to develop programs for change.

The basic message and aim of the campaign is clear: Black youth today, along with other youth of color, are being tracked from school to jail as a matter of public policy, says the BRC’s campaign proposal. In the process, these youth are being criminalized, brutalized and murdered by police based on their color and economic status, instead of being prepared for the future, as any just society would do for all of its children.

Speakers talked about the disproportionate numbers of African-American children being expelled from public schools. Left to the streets, say activists, these youth are vulnerable to arrest and police brutality.

In addition, BRC organizers say that black people are forced into the criminal justice system by current welfare reform programs, and by the failure of the educational system to prepare young people for work at livable wages. Forced into criminal activity, or underground economies, they eventually come face-to-face with the criminal justice system, according to the BRC.

Just days after the controversial execution in Texas of Gary Graham (also known as Shaka Sankofa), the BRC also raised the disproportionate use of the death penalty against black inmates. Combined with the recent police killings of Amadou Diallo and others in New York, and Detroit’s recently reported high numbers of police killings of civilians, BRC organizers feel this campaign comes at the right time.

On the Graham execution, Marable said: What was more immoral, George W. Bush’s decision to lynch a black man, or Al Gore’s failure to oppose it?

With Detroit’s controversial police killings and the state takeover of the city’s public schools, the BRC’s focus on education and the criminal justice system comes at a crucial moment for the city.

The campaign fits with the BRC’s Freedom Agenda, developed in 1998 at its founding convention in Chicago.

We will struggle to ensure that all people in society receive free public education, the Freedom Agenda promises, stating that the BRC will fight to ensure that curricula in U.S. schools, colleges and universities are anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic, and for curricula that adequately accommodate students’ needs to express and develop their ... potential.

The Freedom Agenda also addresses police brutality, unwarranted incarceration and the death penalty. It proposes strong civilian oversight of police work and release of nonviolent offenders. Ashaki Binta, a member of the BRC’s national coordinating committee, said these goals should be incorporated into local BRC work on education and policing.

This question of a national campaign is very critical, she said. For this to work, there are fundamental questions that we need to focus on in our communities. For the campaign, the work will consist of local BRC organizing committees working with community groups to determine the extent of education- and police-related problems.

At the same time, these local committees will organize citizens around specific issues related to the national theme. BRC members will also offer input on criminal justice and education issues in their communities. In October, the BRC will compile information, determine more specific goals of the four-year campaign and finalize the form of the campaign. This campaign has got to be shaped by our experiences in it over time, said Binta, emphasizing that the effort be more than an advertising campaign. Rather than being on TV or just having a sound bite, we have to have a real program for challenging the system.