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“The True Foment Is Deeper And Broader”: Ferguson’s Schools Are Just As Troubling As Its Police Force

A day after his visit to Ferguson, Missouri, Attorney General Eric H. Holder stated in a press conference that, “History simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson.” To what history was he referring? Many assumed General Holder meant the longstanding tensions between the mostly black residents of Ferguson and the mostly white police force, but I believe General Holder meant a deeper and broader history that goes well beyond policing. The anger in Ferguson is not just in reaction to shabby treatment by the police, but also the city’s housing, educational, and other civic institutions.

The history of racial mistrust in Ferguson can be found in the legacy of residential segregation in the St. Louis metropolitan area, enforced from the early to the middle twentieth century through mechanisms such as racially restrictive covenants, zoning laws, realtors agreements, and assessors ratings, as research by Professor Colin Gordon demonstrates. Because of these longstanding policies, black Ferguson residents today are disproportionately renters without a strong political stake in the town’s governance and geographically concentrated in areas without economic power.

The broader perspective can be found by looking to recent events surrounding the school district that serves Ferguson residents. Michael Brown graduated from Normandy High School, which was located, until recently, in the Normandy School District. The facts here are a bit complex, but note that I said “until recently.”  That is because the Normandy School district lost its accreditation in 2012 due to dismal standardized test scores. (Normandy was one of only three out of 500 school districts in Missouri to lose its accreditation.) The state school board took over the Normandy School District and renamed it the “Normandy School Collaborative.” By 2013, though, the new district also had lost its accreditation. Missouri law allows students of failed districts to transfer to higher-performing schools in surrounding suburbs, but the failing school district has to pay tuition and transportation costs to get the kids to their new schools. The 1,000 transfer students of Normandy obviously had no desire to remain in the “new” failed district, but the cost was high, so, incredibly, the state board voted to waive accreditation of the Collaborative rather than classify the new district as unaccredited. Ferguson’s teenagers were therefore trapped in a failed school because state politicians didn’t want to pay for them to transfer out.

These kinds of shenanigans put the policing of Ferguson into context.  The protests we have watched unfold there are not simply about unfair policing in that town; rather, they are the result of a deep and broad collection of official decisions that residents, not surprisingly, interpret as demeaning to them. Viewed in this light the analogies that some have drawn to the riots of the sixties make more sense. The Kerner Commission, charged with investigating urban unrest, hypothesized that conditions in slum living such as poor housing, schools, and jobs fueled the violent reactions of residents, but the reporters also fingered as a prime cause of every riot during the period tensions between police and residents of so-called racial ghettoes. The Commission noted specifically that public confrontations between law enforcement personnel and residents of segregated urban neighborhoods, usually ordinary arrests or stops, as opposed to extraordinary and tragic events like the one in Fergsuon, specifically sparked many riots. Policing incidents may trigger social unrest, but the true foment is deeper and broader.

The lessons that police can learn to prevent incidents such as these also have broader application. My colleague Tom Tyler and I have written that police legitimacy is a key to promoting compliance with the law and better cooperation between police and the public. Decades of social psychological research shows that the foundation of legitimacy is in four components of procedural justice. Legal authorities such as police promote legitimacy by (1) treating people with dignity and respect; (2) making decisions fairly, based on fact and not on illegitimate factors such as race; (3) giving people a chance to tell their side of the story, what psychologists call “voice;” (4) and acting in a way that encourages those with whom authorities deal to believe that they will be treated benevolently in the future. The research is quite clear. People care more about these factors than outcomes. That is, it is often more important to them to be treated with dignity and respect while receiving a negative outcome, such as a traffic ticket, than it is to be treated poorly and not receive a ticket even in a situation where they clearly violated the law. The bottom line? The citizens of Ferguson want to believe that the authorities they interact with believe that they, Ferguson residents, count. Instead, again and again the message the Ferguson residents have received through official action, word and deed is that they do not.

Those of us outside of Ferguson received a lesson in what I have sketched out here when Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol came to Ferguson. It is true that his race and the fact that he grew up in the town helped smooth the way for him. It is also true that the fact that he went out and spoke to the demonstrators, listened to them, and explained what he was doing and why are all textbook components of procedural justice.  When police authorities act in this way, if a tragic incident such as the shooting of Michael Brown occurs, police executives get a “moment of pause” rather than a riot.

City leaders and the Normandy School board can benefit from a greater commitment to legitimacy in their decision-making as well. Transparency and inclusiveness are keys. I believe that the citizens of Ferguson simply want to be treated as just thatcitizens. It is far past time to provide them with what they deserve.

 

By: Tracey Meares, The New Republic, August 22, 2014

August 23, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Missouri, Missouri Legislature | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time To Leave The 19th Century Behind”: Let’s Stop Whistling Dixie; Missouri’s Toxic Political Culture Must Change

Quite properly, journalistic reaction to events in Ferguson, Missouri, has focused on the militarization of the police, on the role of racism in the killing of unarmed African-American men, and on the political disenfranchisement that allows communities like Ferguson to operate in obvious defiance of public sentiment.

But there is another element peculiar to Missouri politics that must have light shed upon it. That is the sharp right-ward turn conservative politics in that State has taken. In its best moments, conservatism stands for caution, for prudence, for a government that is efficient yet serves the needs of all.

There was a time when conservatives in Missouri stood for these things, but that is no longer the case. Rather, what is visible to the outside observer is a dangerous movement towards the outermost fringes. For it is fair to say that a toxic neo-confederatism has emerged as a force to be reckoned with at the very heart of Missouri’s government — its state legislature.

Let’s consider Brian Nieves, a State Senator from West St. Louis. Nieves is not some obscure back-bencher. He’s been a member of the State Legislature since 2002, rising to the position of House Majority Whip before moving on to the Senate, where he now chairs the Committee on General Laws.

And what has Senator Nieves been doing in this position of trust? He has injected neo-confederatism into the law-making function. Consider Senate Joint Resolution 45, a state constitutional amendment Nieves proposed in January, 2012, which sought to revive the discredited Confederate principle of state nullification. The amendment would have declared that Missouri enjoyed the “sovereign” right to treat as null and void all federal law on gun control; abortion; climate change; federally-subsidized health care; same-sex marriage; hate crimes; and a range of other topics. In other words, had this amendment been adopted, Missouri would have been free to reject as non-binding a large body of federal statutes and judicial decisions.

Nullification, of which this is a modern manifestation, is an idea that has its origins in the efforts of the Southern planter class of the 1820’s and 1830’s to defend slavery against an encroaching federal government. In 1832, the federal government tried to enforce a tariff in South Carolina that posed a threat to the profitability of the slave-based cotton trade that formed the cornerstone of that State’s economy.

Purporting to defend the Constitution from an allegedly unconstitutional tariff, the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification declared that laws which “violated the true meaning and intent [of the Constitution] are null, void, and no law.” When President Andrew Jackson threatened a military response, South Carolina backed down, although three decades later it chose secession rather than recognize Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

Nieves’ joint resolution did not carry the day. But that did not deter the nullificationists in the State Legislature from a second, more successful attempt to assert Missouri’s self-proclaimed right to nullify federal law.

“The Second Amendment Preservation Act,” it was called, and it was introduced in January, 2014. It took direct aim at federal gun control legislation. Listing numerous federal laws on the subject, it declared the named provisions “shall be invalid in this state, shall not be recognized by this state, are specifically rejected by this state, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this state.” Just like the South Carolina slave owners of the 1830s, the bill’s sponsor declared that the proposed law was needed to defend the Constitution against an aggressive and out-of-control federal government.

This time, the nullificationists enjoyed greater success. In February, 2014, the Missouri Senate approved the bill by a vote of 23-10, with near-unanimous Republican support. The Missouri Tea Party rejoiced. In April, 2014, the State House of Representatives also passed the bill.

It is past time, way past time, 150 years past time, to be playing around with Confederate ideology. That Republicans in the Missouri legislature gave overwhelming support to a piece of legislation whose origins can be traced to the ugliest moments in America’s slave-owning past stands as a badge of infamy. The Missouri Republican Party would do well to repudiate this legislation and promise to stop playing with the dynamite of nullification.

I’ve got news for Missouri’s political class. They need to stop reviving the odious, discredited ideology of the Southern slaveocracy. They must instead return to reality and address the social crisis Ferguson represents. For in truth, African-Americans face substantial obstacles in Missouri. The four-year high-school graduation rate for African-Americans is 76 percent (as of 2009/2010). (The white graduation rate is 89 percent). The poverty rate for African-Americans is 27.7 percent (as of 2007/2011). The white poverty rate for the same period is 12.1 percent. The unemployment rate of African-Americans (2008/2012) is 18.0 percent. (For white Missourians it is 7.3 percent). The incarceration rate for African-Americans (as of June 30, 2012) is 38.2 percent.

It’s time for Missouri’s right-wingers to leave the nineteenth century behind. It is time for all Missourians — indeed, time for all Americans — to start building a more just and equitable world, one free of institutional racism and yawning racial disparities. Missouri was once the home of far-sighted progressives. Harry Truman desegregated the Armed Forces in 1948. Democratic Senator Stuart Symington voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act at great political risk. Missouri, it is time to get serious. The world is watching.

 

By: Charles J. Reid, Jr., The Huffington Post Blog, August 20, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Missouri, Missouri Legislature | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Only One Of Many”: Missouri Keeps Tumbling Rightward

The Missouri legislature had no trouble passing a big tax cut today over the veto of Gov. Jay Nixon. As a Missouri native, I’m probably more irritated by this than most Times readers are, but my state is only one of many that have been sharply pulled to the right in the last few years. What’s happening in Jefferson City is already familiar to residents of Wisconsin, Michigan, Kansas, North Carolina, and many others.

The main difference is that Mr. Nixon is a Democrat, a relic of the days when his party dominated the state. But Republican leaders are working on that. Last month, they had a serious debate in the House on whether the governor should be impeached for allowing same-sex married couples to file joint tax returns. Gay and lesbian people can’t get married to each other in Missouri, which has a constitutional amendment prohibiting it, but Mr. Nixon had the temerity to allow the joint returns for couples married elsewhere.

“This is such a blatant and serious violation of Missouri’s constitution and Missouri law that the governor should be removed from office,” said Nick Marshall, a state representative from Parkville.

In case that didn’t work, there was another impeachment resolution filed that would have ousted Mr. Nixon for failing to properly discipline state workers who released a list of concealed gun permits to the federal government. The resolution began, “Whereas, the people of the State of Missouri cherish their right to bear arms…” and went downhill from there.

A few weeks ago, the legislature approved a measure that would nullify all federal gun laws and allow residents to sue federal agents for enforcing them. It carries no legal weight, and Mr. Nixon vetoed something similar last year, but the true believers apparently feel the need to re-establish their credentials repeatedly.

Although the impeachment efforts were dropped today, Republicans have managed to push through their agenda. As a Kansas City Star editorial noted, today’s tax cut doesn’t even benefit the people who could use the money the most. A family making $44,000 a year will get a $32 break, while one making $1 million will get $7,800. Most of the benefits, in fact, go to one special-interest group.

“It is a gift to businesses whose owners declare their business incomes on their personal tax forms,” the Star wrote. “Up to one-fourth of their income could eventually be tax-free if the bill becomes law, whether or not they create jobs.”

Naturally, Missouri isn’t coming close to fully funding its public school and university system, and is one of 20 states that refuses to expand Medicaid, turning down $2.2 billion from the federal government because that would mean accepting the reality of the Affordable Care Act. But when businesses raise their voices for a tax cut, they are answered.

It’s not the state I grew up in, which is exactly the way a new generation of leaders like it.

 

By: David Firestone, Editors Blog, The New York Times, May 6, 2014

May 9, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Missouri Legislature, Right Wing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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