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December 7, 2015 1

When Injustice Goes Unchecked and Concealed, What Message Does This Send to Children?

LAQUAN_McDonald_Chicago_memorial_from_protestorsThir­teen months after Laquan McDon­ald was shot and killed by Chicago police offi­cer Jason Van Dyke, the recorded inci­dent was released to the pub­lic. The day before its release, Van Dyke was arrested for first-degree mur­der. The dis­turb­ing video shows seventeen-year-old McDon­ald being shot for fif­teen seconds—the major­ity for which he was down on the ground. At the time of the shoot­ing, a spokesper­son for Chicago’s police union said that Police Offi­cer Van Dyke had fired his gun after McDon­ald lunged at him with a knife but the video shows he was first shot while veer­ing away from the offi­cers. An autopsy revealed that Van Dyke shot McDon­ald a total of six­teen times.

Pub­lic offi­cials and the police depart­ment have known about the video for 400 days. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that the video was not released ear­lier because of con­cerns it could taint a fed­eral and state inves­ti­ga­tion; how­ever, Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials said that the depart­ment never requested that the city with­hold the video. Because a jour­nal­ist work­ing on the case sued for release of the video, a county judge ordered the city to make it pub­lic. In the wake of these pub­lic rev­e­la­tions, the Police Super­in­ten­dent has been dis­missed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The back­drop and con­text of this inci­dent can­not be ignored. For the last six­teen months, this coun­try has been engaged in a pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion about high-profile cases of African Amer­i­can and Latino men being killed at the hands of the police: Fred­die Gray, Wal­ter Scott, Michael Brown, Eric Gar­ner and oth­ers. The Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment has gal­va­nized issues of implicit bias and the racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, shin­ing a light on the prob­lem and offer­ing pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions. The McDon­ald case stands out in par­tic­u­lar because of the hor­rific nature of the video, the arrest of the offi­cer for first-degree mur­der and finally—and maybe most importantly—the length of time it took for the video to see the light of day and in what many peo­ple are call­ing a “cover up.”

In the midst of dis­turb­ing media reports and videos cov­er­ing these inci­dents, it is crit­i­cal to remem­ber that the major­ity of police offi­cers chose a career in law enforce­ment because they want to do good in their com­mu­ni­ties and aim to per­form their respon­si­bil­i­ties with honor and integrity. They put their lives on the line every­day as they aim to pro­tect the pub­lic and uphold the law.

As par­ents, edu­ca­tors and oth­ers who work with chil­dren, how­ever, we need to care­fully con­sider the mes­sage this lat­est inci­dent con­veys to young peo­ple about what to do when they wit­ness injus­tice. Anti-bias edu­ca­tion teaches young peo­ple what bias is and then how to address it; the over­ar­ch­ing mes­sage is that we all have a respon­si­bil­ity to con­front racism and all other forms of big­otry and that there a myr­iad of ways to inter­vene and be an ally. We teach stu­dents how to do something.

Although bul­ly­ing and bias in schools is not the same as an alleged mur­der such as in this case, there are some use­ful lessons in what we tell chil­dren about how to behave when faced with bias. We say that being a bystander is not enough. We pro­mote the con­cept that when you see bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion, you should do some­thing. And we teach them that there are many ways to be an ally.

One way is to not par­tic­i­pate. If we use that con­cept and apply it to this inci­dent, we see that there were peo­ple in author­ity who, instead of not join­ing in, par­tic­i­pated in the injus­tice by not speak­ing up about the inci­dent and not tak­ing action when the alleged mur­der was com­mit­ted. Fur­ther, it took the city more than a year to arrest the per­pe­tra­tor of the crime and some have said that many offi­cials were actively involved in a “cover up.”

We teach stu­dents that another way to be an ally is to tell the aggres­sor to stop. We don’t see any indi­ca­tion from the video—on the part of the other offi­cers stand­ing by—that Offi­cer Van Dyke was told to stop what he was doing to Laquan McDon­ald. After the inci­dent, the other police offi­cers did not come for­ward to bear wit­ness to what they saw. And again, it took thir­teen months for the video to be seen by the public.

“Get to know peo­ple instead of judg­ing them” is another crit­i­cal inter­ven­tion strat­egy. While we don’t know what was in the hearts and minds of Offi­cer Van Dyke, the other police offi­cers or the offi­cials who kept the video under wraps all that time, it seems pos­si­ble that implicit bias played a part and that the pat­tern of African Amer­i­can men being more likely to be killed by police offi­cers is germane.

Fourth, we encour­age young peo­ple to inform a trusted adult. The fun­da­men­tal idea is that if a child tells a trusted adult about an inci­dent of bias, bul­ly­ing or dis­crim­i­na­tion, that adult will do some­thing about it. In this case, the “trusted adults” would be the pub­lic offi­cials and police depart­ment (who had the video) because they are author­ity fig­ures with power. One of the rea­sons dash­cams exist is to pro­vide evi­dence when police offi­cers use unnec­es­sary or exces­sive force and once they had this infor­ma­tion, they should have done some­thing imme­di­ately rather than wait­ing for a court order to force them to make it public.

The col­lec­tive shock and dis­may around this case, the protests that have been tak­ing place in Chicago, the fir­ing of the Chicago Police Super­in­ten­dent and the arrest of Police Offi­cer Van Dyke will not bring Laquan McDon­ald back. If pub­lic offi­cials and the police depart­ment had acted the way we tell young peo­ple to act, things may have turned out very dif­fer­ently. Per­haps if we can glean some­thing instruc­tive from this case, namely our respon­si­bil­ity to be an ally in con­fronting injus­tice, we will finally begin to turn this around.

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November 16, 2015 6

Understanding Mizzou and Ourselves

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog orig­i­nally appeared on Medium

Recent events at the Uni­ver­sity of Mis­souri have prompted seri­ous intro­spec­tion. With the deep hurt and rage caused by the death of an unarmed black 18-year old, Michael Brown, serv­ing as the back­drop to per­sis­tent man­i­fes­ta­tions of racism on Missouri’s flag­ship cam­pus, young peo­ple of color and their allies are demand­ing more of our edu­ca­tion and other insti­tu­tional sys­tems. They have sounded a cry for jus­tice that rings far beyond Mizzou.

Stu­dents are not only speak­ing out against overt exam­ples of racism. They are say­ing that the bias they expe­ri­ence is both more sub­tle and more per­va­sive. They are try­ing to tell us that racism sim­mers con­stantly beneath the sur­face of their inter­ac­tions on cam­pus, even when oth­ers do not see it.  Their voices deserve to be heard clearly and taken seri­ously. Their con­cerns require our atten­tion because they reflect deep his­tor­i­cal roots. Their res­o­lu­tion will have impli­ca­tions far beyond Mis­souri and the col­lege campus.

Indeed, the struc­tural inequities in soci­ety high­lighted by stu­dents at Mis­souri exist at all lev­els of the edu­ca­tion sys­tem, includ­ing K-12 and post­sec­ondary schools. Sys­temic injus­tice man­i­fests itself in schools that remain deeply seg­re­gated more than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Edu­ca­tion – not only sep­a­rate but grossly unequal.

This is not an opin­ion but an unfor­tu­nate fact.  We can see this in the huge dis­par­i­ties in school fund­ing and resources; the lack of diver­sity in our teach­ing force as well as the cur­ricu­lum; a dis­ci­pli­nary sys­tem that dis­pro­por­tion­ately pun­ishes stu­dents of color, and a raft of other poli­cies and prac­tices that feed racial and socioe­co­nomic achieve­ment gaps and other neg­a­tive outcomes.

Today, almost three quar­ters of African Amer­i­can stu­dents and eight in ten Latino stu­dents attend majority-minority schools. More­over, roughly four in ten of those stu­dents attend schools that are more than 90 per­cent seg­re­gated.  Schools with the high­est minor­ity pop­u­la­tions are less likely to offer high level sci­ence and math classes.  We see that, on aver­age, their teach­ers are paid sig­nif­i­cantly less annu­ally than schools in the same dis­trict with the fewest minor­ity stu­dents.  Their teach­ers are less likely to be certified.

Achiev­ing diver­sity in edu­ca­tion is crit­i­cal. Diverse schools are cru­cial to the devel­op­ment of a soci­ety that hon­ors inclu­sive­ness. We need plu­ral­is­tic edu­ca­tional envi­ron­ments so that stu­dents can explore a full range of ideas, per­spec­tives and expe­ri­ences and to rethink their own premises and prej­u­dices. Test­ing their own hypothe­ses against those of peo­ple with dif­fer­ing views is the essence of education.

But the solu­tion can­not come merely by cre­at­ing more inclu­sive learn­ing envi­ron­ments in higher edu­ca­tion.  We have to dig deeper, and find ways to acknowl­edge and address the under­ly­ing struc­tural inequal­ity. Struc­tural racism and uncon­scious bias per­me­ate so many aspects of Amer­i­can life, not only in our schools, but more broadly through­out our insti­tu­tions.  This very real frus­tra­tion is what fuels the #Black­Lives­Mat­ter move­ment.  Dig­nity, equity and oppor­tu­nity can­not be abstrac­tions for any seg­ment of our soci­ety – they need to be the com­mon denom­i­na­tors of every Amer­i­can dream.

The Anti-Defamation League was founded over 100 years ago to stop the defama­tion of the Jew­ish peo­ple and to secure jus­tice and fair treat­ment to all. This time­less mis­sion has fueled our con­stant com­mit­ment to stop anti-Semitism and big­otry in all forms and to secure civil rights and social jus­tice for all peo­ple.  Through­out the 1950’s and 1960’s, this mis­sion inspired our ded­i­ca­tion to the strug­gle for civil rights, fight­ing along­side our broth­ers and sis­ters in the African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity to achieve land­mark vot­ing and anti-discrimination leg­is­la­tion. We made enor­mous strides in those years, and those civil rights laws pro­vide impor­tant legal safe­guards that per­sist today.

But now, we and other civil rights orga­ni­za­tions must address the real­ity that laws are some­times eas­ier to change than atti­tudes, and that both sub­con­scious and overt racism per­sist in Amer­ica.  Unfor­tu­nately, we can­not just wish away the struc­tural racism and uncon­scious bias that per­me­ate so many aspects of Amer­i­can life, includ­ing our schools and other insti­tu­tions.  In this moment, we need to acknowl­edge the real­i­ties around us and recom­mit our­selves to this work.

Of course, the bur­den of address­ing racism and bias must not fall solely on the shoul­ders of com­mu­ni­ties of color or other minor­ity groups.  All seg­ments of soci­ety have a respon­si­bil­ity to lis­ten care­fully to the voices and frus­tra­tions of this gen­er­a­tion of activists who want what we all want—a more just soci­ety. We are pre­pared to take on this chal­lenge and to renew our effort to ensure jus­tice and fair treat­ment for all.

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September 18, 2015 6

What Ahmed Mohamed Can Teach Us About Having ‘A Wrong Impression’

Ahmed MohamedOn Mon­day, Ahmed Mohamed, a four­teen year old high school fresh­man with a tal­ent for tin­ker­ing and tech­nol­ogy, brought a home­made dig­i­tal clock he con­structed to school to show his teach­ers. His engi­neer­ing teacher was impressed but later in the day when it beeped dur­ing Eng­lish class, Ahmed’s trou­bles began. He showed the device to his Eng­lish teacher who noti­fied school offi­cials who then noti­fied the police. “She thought it was a threat to her,” Ahmed said, “so it was really sad that she took a wrong impres­sion of it.”

The clock was con­fis­cated and Ahmed was sus­pended from school for three days. After being ques­tioned at school by police offi­cers, Ahmed was put into hand­cuffs and brought to a juve­nile deten­tion cen­ter where he was fin­ger­printed and had his mug shot taken. Since that time, the charges have been dropped.

Ahmed’s story quickly pre­cip­i­tated a national out­cry on social media where mes­sages of sup­port came from Mark Zucker­berg, Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clin­ton and Pres­i­dent Obama, who extended a spe­cial invi­ta­tion to Ahmed to the White House for Astron­omy Night in Octo­ber. White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest said, “This episode is a good illus­tra­tion of how per­ni­cious stereo­types can pre­vent even good-hearted peo­ple who have ded­i­cated their lives to edu­cat­ing young peo­ple from doing the good work that they set out to do.” Con­versely, Irv­ing Police Chief Boyd said this mat­ter was not caused by stereo­types and “would have been the same regard­less” of his religion.

While we were not on the ground at MacArthur High School on Mon­day, we acknowl­edge that school secu­rity is crit­i­cal and school vio­lence is always on the minds of school staff, whose job it is to remain vig­i­lant. In addi­tion, this inci­dent raises ques­tions about stereo­types and the pos­si­bil­ity of implicit bias. It is also very impor­tant that school staff get to know stu­dents to pre­vent mak­ing assump­tions or form­ing “wrong impres­sions,” as Ahmed aptly put it. He is obvi­ously a young per­son who loves tech­nol­ogy and mak­ing things. The ques­tion for us to pon­der is: Are all stu­dents regarded as threat­en­ing because they make a quirky clock or can a student’s gen­der, reli­gion and national ori­gin be a fac­tor in our own eval­u­a­tion of what feels threatening?

The school year in Irv­ing began on August 24 so this week marks the fourth week of school, ample time to see what every­one else is see­ing now—that Ahmed appears to be a bright and inquis­i­tive teenager with a pas­sion for STEM (Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy, Engi­neer­ing and Math­e­mat­ics). He nobly stated that he wants to use this moment to “try my best not just to help me but to help every other kid in the entire world that has a prob­lem like this.” He’s talk­ing about stereo­typ­ing, and he’s right.

Whether this was a sit­u­a­tion of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, bias or some­thing else, edu­ca­tors should be mind­ful that con­text is impor­tant. Mus­lims are reg­u­larly marked by the stereo­type of “ter­ror­ist” which has impli­ca­tions for how wel­come or unwel­come Mus­lims often feel in their com­mu­ni­ties and on school cam­puses. For edu­ca­tors com­mit­ted to their role as lead­ers in build­ing respect­ful learn­ing envi­ron­ments , com­bat­ing bias and proac­tively teach­ing about race and racism, this con­text should be con­sid­ered and man­aged in a way that meets mul­ti­ple goals: safety and inclusion.

As we start the new school year, Ahmed’s story is an impor­tant reminder to explic­itly teach about stereo­types, bias and dis­crim­i­na­tion, that uncon­scious bias can seep into all of our interactions—both large and small and that implicit bias can shape our assump­tions and expec­ta­tions about oth­ers. Most impor­tantly, cre­at­ing an anti-bias learn­ing envi­ron­ment and inte­grat­ing cul­tur­ally respon­sive teach­ing prac­tices goes a long way toward assist­ing edu­ca­tors in know­ing their stu­dents and treat­ing them with respect.

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