West Hartford Forums

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They’re Talking about the ACLU Report in New York and Chicago …

Posted by whforums on January 9, 2009

As you probably know, a few weeks ago (way back in 2008 ) the ACLU released a report that cited alarming arrest rates in West Hartford, Hartford and East Hartford schools. The ACLU’s essential concern was that, in our schools, “the trend is toward criminalizing students, not educating them.” The “them” in that sentence, however, is the real problem — the ACLU found that there are significant racial and ethnic disparities in school-based arrests. You can read my “close-reading” of the ACLU report as it relates to West Hartford directly in the post West Hartford and the ACLU’s “Hard Lessons” Report. The report is linked for download in that post as well.

What’s surprised me, in a period that’s been fairly lively for this blog, has been the lack of local conversation about the ACLU report. I mean, maybe there’s nothing to say — maybe we implicitly (or explicitly) accept discrimination and this report fails to elicit dialog because it confirms an implicit belief. Yet when it comes to protecting and developing an equal quality of life (and, more basically, equal treatment for all people), there’s little more poisonous than complacency.

With out without us, the web is becoming less and less complacent about the report. Around the web …:

➫ Shortly after the release of the report, “a public defender” (a Connecitcut legal blog) wrote a post that echoed the ACLU’s sentiment about the “school to prison pipeline” and, in the comments section, connected the finding to the racial and ethnic disparity in the American prison population.

➫ On January 4th, the New York Times wrote an editorial citing the report, arguing that “Connecticut and other states also need to issue public reports of school-based arrests and take steps to ensure that they are not racially motivated.” While the NYT recognizes that the problems cited in West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford are not just local problems, we can’t ignore that the word “Connecticut” at the start of that sentence is at least in part a pronoun for “West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford.”

➫ On Monday, Small Talk, an education blog in Chicago, picked up the story, using the report (and the arrest disparities in West Hartford/East Hartford specifically) as a way to argue against what it perceives to be “barbaric school district policies.”

The short of it? Conversation about the report is happening, and Greater Hartford is the proxy (or worse, the example) for that conversation. While West Hartford, East Hartford and Hartford may only be ways for many communities to beging to talk about a larger, national problem, that does nothing to change the fact that the report is screaming at our communities “the problem may be ours, but we can prove it’s yours.” Which leaves me with the question I started with one month ago — what steps do we take, both big and small, in light of the ACLU’s report?

7 Responses to “They’re Talking about the ACLU Report in New York and Chicago …”

  1. iBlog said

    About the lack of conversation on the ACLU report:

    I must say, I am suffering from a mild-but-persistent case of local-issue-burnout.

    I could write a post decrying the racism that I believe exists most everywhere, West Hartford included. I could make suggestions about how the town and its residents might start to explore and acknowledge our racism, address it, and then move forward with real, non-symbolic action steps.

    But I kind of already know where it will all lead. YOU would engage in honest discussion, from whatever point of view. Three or four bloggers would post barely-veiled-racist responses, and then cry “You’ve played the race card! You’ve played the race card!” like demented poker sharks when I call them on it. One (maybe two?) bloggers would be supportive of my points (“Thank you” in virtual response!)

    Then, end of show. Anything ventured? Anything gained?

    I pretty much feel the same right now about the upcoming budget fight, which you tackled in your last post. Is there really anything to say that wasn’t said last year? Either you believe in public education or you don’t. Either you believe public employees are evil or you don’t. Either you believe that quality town services are worth the tax dollars or you don’t.

    The rest is all details. They usually have to do with the minutia of union benefits, the ineptitude of school administrators and teachers, and the yet-to-be discovered tunnel through which hundreds – no, THOUSANDS – of lifelong town residents have, are, or will be fleeing their once-beloved West Hartford.

    It makes me just want to change the channel.

  2. whforums said

    I hear what you’re saying — I really do.

    I wish we heard more voices, too. I put this post up when I did at least in part because the blog was getting a lot of hits — and conversation — about Cocoa (a thread where we heard a lot of new voices). It seemed worth it to post about this issue for two reasons: 1.) It was in the news elsewhere, and so it seemed to bear repeating at home and 2.) Readership had recently spiked, and even if no one wants to engage the issue, I want everyone who comes through to know the issue is there.

    I’ve toyed with a lot of ways to make this blog more “by West Hartford) (especially in terms of content) and less “by me.” I’ve thought about ditching the blog structure and switching over to a message board structure (which would more clearly represent my aims). But I don’t have a server to dedicate to vBulletin and I don’t have the time to monitor the spam and the “topix-like” posts that would likely follow. I would need other “mods,” and I’m not convinced there’s a demand for that service, anyway.

    There’s a push coming from me later in the week to try to get the community to produce more reader created content …

  3. Mary Fleischli said

    I appreciate you making this post and the prior one. I feel a need to respond so you know that I do care. I hestitated responding since my kids aren’t in middle or high school yet so I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of the SROs.

    But, after reading the report, my reaction is there is probably some level of racism behind the differences. It may not be overt – it may even be unconscious. With Martin Luther King day coming up, it is a good time to see how far we’ve come and where we may need more work.

    As a math geek, I am glad that the statistics are being tracked and I hope they continue to track them. I completely agree that they should save the data each year, while removing the name of the student – saving only the race, ethnicity, gender… We need to save this to watch how these statistics change over time so that we can see if the number of incidents drop after different policies are tried. And to see if the racial differences are being addressed.

    To the point that the sample sizes are small – that is another reason to keep the data each year. One year could be random – a couple of years with the same pattern is a true difference.

    To Chief Strillaci’s point that “not all fights are made equal,” that is a good point. They could address this concern by creating more detailed categories of the incidents.

    Lastly, I agree with the ACLU’s recommendations that it is critical to get at the root of the problem. If we address the reason for the misbehavior and treat it, there is hope that there won’t be a next time… Preventing violence in schools and keeping kids safe is clearly in the best interest of everyone. However, again, I don’t have firsthand knowledge of the SROs so I don’t know to what extent they are already having dialogs with the kids who get into fights or doing mediation, education about alternative conflict resolution, etc.

    Don’t give up on the dialog! It is certainly more fun to talk about restaurants, but if you hadn’t made this post, I wouldn’t have had easy access to the full ACLU report.

  4. pdgoselin said

    Concrete steps to address institutionalized race discrimination in the schools and by town police? Here are some possibilities:

    1. A West Hartford civilian-run police review board at which complaints of police misconduct can be heard by a board that is not part of the police chain of command. The board must have the authority to hold hearings and make findings on complaints, including complaints of retaliation, and the authority to issue decisions that result in disciplinary action against officers.

    2. A West Hartford ombudsperson on issues of unlawful discrimination. Similar to the State’s affirmative action officers, the office of the ombudsperson would have the ability to investigate and make findings on any complaint of discrimination and make recommendations on town action to correct violations. The ombudsperson’s authority would not be limited to complaints about racism but would include all of the protected categories under Connecticut human rights laws. One of the biggest limitations on local enforcement of civil rights is that typically the people who can investigate, make findings and suggest changes are in the chain of command of people whose job it is to protect the town from legal liability (human resources, corporate counsel). An ombudsperson would stand outside that chain and be able to act independently, with the charge that his/her job is to uphold the civil and human rights of residents.

    3. Or, if you don’t like the idea of a town-wide human rights ombudsperson, then at minimum a youth ombudsperson with similar powers to intervene on behalf of youth in relation to the police, the school board or any other town agency.

    Why are these steps necessary? Because racism and other forms of illegal discrimination won’t go away by talking about them. People who believe their rights have been violated have to have a vehicle through which town officials are forced to listen and forced to examine the evidence. The local reaction to the ACLU report confirms this: to a large extent the response has been not a defensive one but almost self-congratulatory. It could be summed up as: “Not only don’t we have a problem but we’re doing a fine job, thank you very much, as any white person with a position of responsibility in West Hartford will gladly tell you.”

    If the town wants to be perceived as publicly acknowledging that West Hartford is changing and that diversity in the town is welcome (after all, even the racists like to proclaim that some of their best friends are, etc. etc.), then it has to behave that way. The problem isn’t consciousness raising or a lack of Martin Luther King Day speeches, it’s a power differential that directly results from an entrenched white-privileged power structure presiding over a community with more and more residents who are people of color, and most of whom are working class.

  5. whforums said

    Thanks for the great post — all these seem like reasonable suggestions, though funding issues may make them a difficult sell at the moment. What’s especially compelling to me about your ideas, though, is that they may not require that funding. These groups could be all volunteer, and could be organized (and function) from within or from without town government.

  6. iBlog said

    Yes, great post.

    In the places I’ve lived, the only truly effective mechanism for addressing concerns about possible police misconduct has been a civilian-run review board.

  7. pdgoselin said

    It would be interesting to have a public discussion of the problem (and by public I don’t mean on the internet, or at least not just on the internet) and see whether people would buy in to any of these steps. I have heard people mention the group WHIRED but I haven’t been able to attend any of their events. Is this something that they would be interested in or likely to want to lead a discussion on?

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