In Defense of Africatown The City Just Botched a Chance to Address Race Problems in Schools

From: The Seattle Stanger

On November 12, Seattle police had a WMD moment. According to police “intel,” four men had taken over the Horace Mann school building in the Central District, placed a sniper on the roof, and wired the building with explosives, Detective Renee Witt told reporters. Across the street, dozens of armed officers milled about. A SWAT team was on-site, and the entire block was cordoned off.

Like those nonexistent Iraqi nukes, however, “There were no explosives or weapons found on the premises,” Witt admitted later that week in an e-mail. The most resistance they faced was 67-year-old activist Omari Garrett hollering from a window about the need for a proper warrant before he agreed to come down. The men were arrested, charged with criminal trespassing, and released hours later.

Those men were the final holdouts of a five-month schoolhouse occupation by a coalition calling itself Africatown. Through teach-ins and educational programs, the group sought to bring attention to the disadvantages that African American students face in Seattle schools, but some neighbors, education activists, and even reporters took sides against them, riled by what they deemed an unruly group of “squatters.”

The disparities in Seattle schools are well documented. According to the school district’s data, African American third graders pass state math tests, for example, at half the rate of white students. And over the last decade, suspensions and expulsions have been meted out to black high-school students at least three times as often as to white students, school records show. That prompted the federal Department of Education to begin an investigation last year into whether Seattle Public Schools “discriminate against African American students by disciplining them more frequently and more harshly than similarly situated white students,” according to DOE spokesman Jim Bradshaw.

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