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Thandisizwe Chimurenga

U.S. Politics Expert Political Philosopher
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Thandisizwe Chimurenga is an award-winning, freelance journalist based in Los Angeles, California. She is a staff writer for MintPress News, Daily Kos and co-hosts a weekly, morning drive-time public affairs/news show on the Pacifica Radio network. She is the author of No Doubt: The Murder(s) of Oscar Grant and Reparations … Not Yet: A Case for Reparations and Why We Must Wait; she is also a contributor to several social justice anthologies.

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Thandisizwe Chimurenga, USA 01/15/2018 0

Baltimore’s Apartheid Schools: Students Forced To Sit in 40 Degree Classrooms

BALTIMORE – Usually people – especially children – look forward to snowy days. In addition to building snow creatures and throwing snowballs, it sometimes means no school. Usually. But not in Baltimore; in Baltimore, during one of the coldest winter storms on record, children were in school. They were shivering, wearing coats, hats and gloves, in classrooms that reached highs of 40 degrees. Only after being lambasted by both parents and a teachers union did officials send the children home.

According to a school spokesperson, outdoor temperatures of 20 degrees and lower put a strain on an already-taxed school heating system. That, in addition to old buildings and heating systems in need of repairs, caused some pipes to burst in schools across the city, leading to no heating in the buildings. That was according to Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises, who posted a video interview on Facebook.

But according to the Baltimore Sun, schools in the city have had to return millions of dollars to the state for heating repairs:

“Since 2009, city schools have lost out on roughly $66 million in state funding for much-needed repairs after approved projects ran afoul of state regulations meant to prevent waste, state records show. The money could have funded dozens of new heating systems at schools where the heat is now failing.”

The article quotes David Lever, former director of the state’s Public School Construction Program, explaining that many projects were either delayed or scrapped altogether, sometimes as a result of failure to request enough funding, or because the delays had led to deadlines being missed. The schools would then have to foot the bill themselves – which most could not do – so many would end up canceling the projects.

The uncompleted projects meant to fix the schools’ HVAC systems also means that students are exposed to sweltering heat with no air conditioning during Maryland summers.

As Baltimore’s mayor, school officials and state politicians sparred on social media over the debacle, Samierra Jones — a 22-year-old senior at Coppin State College, a historically Black university (HBCU) in the city — organized a fundraiser to bring repairs and heat to the city’s schools. “These kids are cold — they’re cold as of last month, as of last week, as of yesterday,” Jones said. “There is no reason why these babies should be sitting in classrooms with no heat.”

At press time, the fundraiser, hosted by GoFundMe, had raised more than $50K — more than double the requested $20K — in only two days time.

 

“Apartheid schools”: why schoolchildren of a rich state are sitting in the cold

While using GoFundMe is a quick and efficient approach to emergency financial difficulties, it is hardly a substitute for rationally and systematically addressing the heating problems of Baltimore city schools.

The problem is not that funding is especially hard to come by in Maryland in any general sense. In fact, Maryland has been ranked as the wealthiest state in the United States. The problem is more with the allocation of funds, and in particular with the systemic neglect of the needs of communities of color. The problem is that schools in the city of Baltimore are considered to be “apartheid schools.”

“Apartheid” was the name of the official government policy of separation that held in South Africa for more than 50 years. “Apartheid schools” are defined as those where white students make up 1 percent or less of the student body. In the city of Baltimore, the majority of schools have this lack of racial diversity within their student bodies. Coupled with pronouncements that simply visiting the city of Baltimore is unsafe for white children, it’s not hard to understand why the students in Baltimore’s schools were freezing in their classrooms when they should have been warm.

 

Another root cause and more denial

Just as GoFundMe appeals will not fix a U.S. city’s systemic biases and infrastructural issues, a policy of denial and/or inaction will not address the world’s issue of climate change. A Guardian article from December of 2016 gives a scientific explanation of how not just a warmer planet but also more extreme weather temperatures and events — such as the current “bomb cyclone” — are a result of the phenomenon.

There’s a lot going on weather-wise, much of it still being studied. But the most important piece to all of this is the belief, overwhelmingly backed by scientific data, that climate change is caused by human activity, much of which can be addressed and transformed.

Which more or less brings us back to where we started. Humans in Baltimore and elsewhere created this mess. Humans in Baltimore and elsewhere need to fix it.

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Thandisizwe Chimurenga, USA 01/07/2018 0

From Greensboro 1979 to Charlottesville 2017: Police Absent In Face Of White Supremacist Violence

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA – Some among Virginia’s highest levels of law enforcement have stepped down this year amid a small cloud of controversy. Col. W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police,  announced his retirement December 19 after 42 years with the agency. Charlottesville Police Chief of two years, Al Thomas, announced his retirement the previous day. And Charlottesville City Attorney Craig Brown has announced that he will be leaving office by the end of January 2018.

All three of these agencies are responsible for public safety and all three institutions have faced harsh criticisms for their response to the violence of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville earlier this summer.

In late November, a comprehensive, 219-page independent review led by a former U.S. Attorney concluded that law enforcement had “failed to ‘stand up’ to protect human life” during the August “Unite the Right” rally held at the University of Virginia.

 

Protesters actually first fought with white nationalists before the rally began, giving law enforcement fair warning of the dangers inherent in the situation and of its explosivity. Then, during a subsequent impromptu post-rally march by the protesters to reclaim Charlottesville’s streets from hate, a white nationalist who had attended the earlier event is alleged to have intentionally driven his car into the protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Hayer and injuring dozens of others.

Representatives of the agencies say the recent departures at the top are in no way related to the fallout from the white nationalist protest, and the growing perception that the passivity of law enforcement reflected a politicized lack of interest in protecting those protesting the white nationalist presence. While several media outlets took note of the inactions of police that day, including the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), talk of a police “conspiracy” has been dismissed.

While talk of conspiracies and collusion is reflexively dismissed, it should not be labeled “far fetched” considering the threat posed by white supremacists to law enforcement or their historical infiltration of such institutions.

 

Looking back at Greensboro

While Berkeley, California, this past April would be another recent example of police being surprisingly absent while white supremacists and counter-protesters clashed, a case from November of 1979 is the most glaring.

Anti-racist activists, including members of the Communist Workers Party, held an anti-Klan rally to protest the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Movement members in Greensboro, North Carolina. The rally was part of a union organizing drive at a local textile plant in which the white supremacists were intimidating workers from joining the union.

During the rally, a caravan of Klansmen and Nazis drove up, got out of their cars, and fired on the protesters. Five of the anti-racist activists died and several others were wounded. Owing to the presence of television crews during the event, the assailants were caught on film, which led to their eventual arrest. During the trial it was revealed that the Greensboro Police Department had an informant in the Klan group who had told the police of the planned violence.

Both state and federal juries refused to convict the white supremacists for the deaths that happened that day. A federal civil rights lawsuit, filed subsequent to those acquittals, revealed that two federal law-enforcement informants, in addition to the police informant, had been present and knew about the potential for violence. That lawsuit, filed by the Christic Institute, was successful not only in awarding $1 million to the plaintiffs but as the “first successful prosecution of Klan, Nazi, and police collusion in North Carolina history.”

In a chilling echo of the Greensboro incident — and of what seems to be a chronic, recurrent theme in American law enforcement — the reticence of police to intervene in white supremacist events in Charlottesville and Berkeley this year sends the message that “public safety” is only for certain members of the public. That’s a message that we the public must wholeheartedly reject.

Top photo: White nationalist demonstrators use shields as they guard the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. (AP/Steve Helber)

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