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The Reckoning

Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Chicago, Illinois

October 2, 2007 -- “We are the Jena Six,” read a demonstrator’s t-shirt, as tens of thousands gathered in Jena, Louisiana to protest the treatment of the Jena Six. Last week, Mychal Bell was released from prison, after serving nine months for participating in a schoolyard fight. The reaction of African Americans caught the country by surprise, but it reflects the growing sense that our children are at risk and must be defended.

Nearly a decade ago, Decatur, Illinois was in the spotlight. There “zero tolerance” for misbehavior in school had been harshly applied to African American students, as opposed to white students. The ensuing protests led the Clinton administration to launch a series of studies on student discipline.

The latest results by the Department of Education show that young black students -- particularly boys -- are much more likely to be disciplined severely -- to be suspended or expelled -- than white or Asian or even Hispanic students. A young African American boy in a New Jersey public school is sixty times as likely as a white student to be expelled. The national average is that Africans Americans face serious discipline more than three times the rate of white students.

What causes this? Part of it can be related to poverty or to class. Poor students of all races -- usually measured by those who qualify for the school lunch program -- are more likely to face school discipline than middle or upper middle income students. That’s not surprising -- poorer students are less likely to be prepared when they enter school, more likely to come from broken homes, less likely to have parents who are involved in the school.

But even after one adjusts for income or class, young African Americans still are disciplined at a dramatically higher rate than others. The pre-eminent scholar on this question is Russell Skiba of Indiana University. His study, The Color of Discipline published in 2000 in the wake of the Decatur protests, reviewed all existing studies and did independent research. He found conclusively that, once adjusted for income, African American students did not misbehave significantly more than others, but faced far more harsh discipline when they did misbehave. They were more likely to face corporal punishment, more likely to be sent to the principal’s office, more likely to be suspended or expelled.

Part of this comes from fear. A whole right-wing campaign geared up in the eighties warning about a generation of “predator children,” dangerous kids who would terrorize society and had to be locked up. Zero tolerance, charging and sentencing children as adults, harsher penalties all increased. This no doubt contributed to school discipline that was skewed by race. Part comes from old fashioned discrimination. The disparity between white and black sentencing, according to Professor Skiba tends to be worse in states where African Americans are a smaller part of the population. Call it “structural inequity,” he says, or call it “institutional racism.”

Many tend to deny this problem exists. They assume African American children are more prone to misbehave, and more likely to be violent. Parents understandably want their children protected, and are more likely to see the “other” as a threat.

But as the Jena demonstrations show, denial won’t work. This problem of discriminatory discipline is real, widespread and destructive to young African Americans. A record of suspension or expulsion is, in essence, a ticket to jail. Blacks are facing a school to prison pipeline that is destroying lives that we should be looking to save.

“We are all the Jena Six.” This won’t go away. Worried African American parents across the country are beginning a new movement for civil rights, this one focused on saving the children.

Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., is founder and President of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Published in In Motion Magazine October 8, 2007.

More news:

Rainbow PUSH support families with Grandparents, Resource Fair

CHICAGO (September 22, 2007) -- The quest for justice in Jena, La., requires hearings at the federal level, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said during today’s live international broadcast of the Saturday Morning Forum. “Jena is a biopsy of the cancer of the criminal justice system,” Rev. Jackson said. “The right-wing backlash is taking away our rights, our votes -- and making a profit.”

Rev. Jackson spoke here after participating in a massive demonstration Thursday in Jena. Thousands rallied in support of the Jena 6 and Mychal Bell, who was arrested last year with five other African American students after a white student was beaten during racial unrest in the rural Louisiana town. Bell initially was charged with attempted murder using a deadly weapon -- his sneakers -- but his conviction on a lesser battery charge was thrown out when a state appeals court ruled he had been improperly tried as an adult because he was 16 at the time of his arrest.

Bell has spent nine months in an adult jail with an excessively high bail of $130,000. He is now in a juvenile holding facility but last week was denied bail pending trial in the juvenile court.

Alleging prosecutorial misconduct, Rev. Jackson called for a federal hearing conducted by U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) of the House Judiciary Committee to investigate the continuing role of the same judge and district attorney in Bell’s trial as a juvenile.

“Jena is not just Jena; there is a Jena everywhere,” Rev. Jackson said. “This is not the start of a new civil rights movement -- it is an extension of it. The battle with Jena is not over. Jena must inspire us to go back home and fight the criminal justice system.”

Rev. Jackson saluted broadcasters who helped bring together the Jena demonstrations. “Congratulations to Michael Baisden, NAACP, Dennis Hayes, Nelson Rivers, Ernest Johnson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Steve Harvey, Frank Ski, Rickey Smiley, Cliff Kelley, clergy and all other participants,” Rev. Jackson said. “This is Black radio’s finest hour.”

Following the Saturday Morning Forum, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition joined with Peoples Gas, Com Ed, and the Cook County Economic Development Association (CEDA) to host the GRANDFamilies Program of Chicago’s First Annual Grandparents and Resource Fair.

“CEDA values and supports grandparents who have so lovingly and willingly taken on the responsibility to raise their grandchildren,” said Robert L. Wharton, president and CEO of CEDA. “We salute the work that GRANDFamilies and PUSH does every day.” GRANDFamilies Resource Fair supports grandparents raising children by allowing them to meet with utility companies and discuss obtaining assistance on their utility bills.

“We are pleased to welcome the Grandparents and Senior Forum as part of the First Annual Grandparent and Senior Resource Fair,” said Rev. Jackson. “This program ensures that our community’s needs are met, from our young people to our seniors and their families.”

The Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a progressive organization devoted to protecting, defending and expanding civil rights to improve economic and educational opportunity. The organization is headquartered at 930 E. 50th St. in Chicago. To learn more, please visit .

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