Thursday, Nov. 13, 7-9 p.m.
Theme: “Art Changes the Season”
Krannert Art Museum (500 E. Peabody)
Thursday, Nov. 13, 7-9 p.m.
Theme: “Art Changes the Season”
Krannert Art Museum (500 E. Peabody)
Earlier this summer, the News-Gazette ran a story that Sheriff Dan Walsh had acquired a Mine-Resistant Armor-Protected (MRAP) vehicle. Titled “Something Big Just Arrived,” the article touted the benefits of the new truck. Yet in the wake of Ferguson, a growing number of people are raising questions about police militarization in our city. Why does Champaign-Urbana, a small Midwestern college town, need such over-sized military hardware?
Human rights scholar and Public i writer Belden Fields recently addressed the Champaign County Board about how, “a kind of we-them mentality has developed which requires overwhelming force in order to subject people to the discipline of law.” He called on the Sheriff to scrap the MRAP.
From Warfighter to Crimefighter
These MRAP (pronounced “em-rap”) trucks are being distributed through the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, which has as its motto “From Warfighter to Crimefighter.” The program was developed in the 1990s at the height of the gang scare to provide police with “excess” military equipment such as semiautomatic rifles, helicopters, bullet proof helmets and vests. In Ferguson we witnessed police dressed in camouflage and body armor aiming M-16 rifles at protesters.
During the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq there were high numbers of US soldiers in Hummers being killed by roadside bombs. In response, Congress approved the purchase of MRAPs that could withstand such blasts. These massive machines can weigh up to 25 tons due to their heavy armor plating. As troops have been scaled back in Iraq and Afghanistan, MRAPs are being offloaded to local police departments. They are given away by the 1033 Program free of charge if departments can cover transportation.
After finding out about our Sheriff’s MRAP, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request and received a couple hundred pages of documents. What follows is a behind-the-scenes look at how this program is being carried out at the local level.
AWESOME MRAP Opportunity
On June 10, 2013, the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office received an email from Greg Dangremond of the Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) in Battle Creek, Michigan announcing the “great news” that they were “just a few days away from allocating over 500 MRAPs!”
Sheriff Walsh sent the query to Lieutenant Brian Mennenga, a commander of the SWAT team, who responded yes, they were “definitely still interested.” The SWAT team needed a replacement for their “aging” 1986 Brinks armored truck. But this round they were passed up.
In November 2013, Champaign received an email from Illinois LESO State Coordinator Curtis Howard who said he recently heard about what Dangremond called an “AWESOME MRAP Opportunity.” There were “100s” of Caiman MRAPs available “in as good or better condition than the MRAPs already allocated!” The catch was, they were located 1,000 miles away in Sealy, Texas where BAE Systems, the British-based defense contractor, was closing its plant.
Dangremond sent a follow-up email on February 11, 2014 about the opportunity to get an MRAP with the “new car smell.” When Mennenga emailed him the next day to talk on the phone, Dangremond apologized for his inability to respond to calls, but “with 500+ MRAPs coming available my phone never stops.”
The Sheriff’s SWAT team, which planned to use the truck, is a multi-jurisdictional unit made up of 24 officers from six different local police departments. Mennenga made sure each was on board before moving forward. The University of Illinois Police Department (UIPD) had also put in a request, but deferred to the Sheriff. The only problems, according to UIPD Sergeant Matt Ballinger, were maintenance and the cost to transport such a heavy vehicle, but he gave it a “yay.” In Urbana, typically viewed as the more progressive of the two cities, SWAT team member Lieutenant Richard Surles responded, “Can we afford to pass this up?” Nobody expressed concern about how it might look to the public.
All departments must submit a justification letter before receiving an MRAP. Sheriff Walsh’s letter outlines the need to replace the SWAT team’s armored truck which was “coming to the end of its life cycle.” The cost of a new armored car was prohibitive for their current budget. They have a second truck that carries 6-8 SWAT members, but it has no ballistic protected armor. There is nothing about potential terrorist attacks, violent gangs, or crowd control, just a desire for a new car.
The first major obstacle was pinning down the weight of the enormous truck to get a quote from a transportation agency. They finally found out it weighed 49,600 pounds (an average car is around 3,000 pounds). The total transportation costs exceeded $5,000.
Not a Hybrid
The MRAP finally arrived in Champaign County on March 22, 2014 after a two-day journey. An information sheet provides some specs on the truck. The BAE American General M998 MRAP has a six-cylinder turbocharged engine which puts out 450 horsepower. It is a six-wheel model with all-wheel drive. The MRAP is “Not a hybrid,” says the sheet, and gets approximately three miles per gallon. It is valued at $733,000.
The truck’s odometer read 29,000 miles, but the drive train was brand new. Urbana Sgt. Jason Norton found from his research that these MRAPS had received a $6 million upgrade to replace the engine, transmission, suspension, and air conditioning before the program was shut down.
In the article that appeared in the News-Gazette, Chief Deputy Allen Jones explained the truck would be used for high-risk warrants, hostage situations, and active shooters. “It can even help us get folks to where they need to go in bad weather,” he said. There is some truth to this claim. Earlier in the year, Champaign had inquired with the Northwest Regional SWAT team in Indiana about the MRAP they had received in October 2013. A commander said their MRAP had already been used to transport the victim of a hostage situation and pick up drivers stuck in a heavy snow storm. More telling though, just “this morning” they used the MRAP “to transport 12 guys for a drug warrant.”
Champaign’s history indicates that Sheriff Walsh will more likely deploy the MRAP to prosecute the War on Drugs in the African American community. In 2007, I conducted a study of 63 SWAT raids in Champaign County finding that 87 percent of them were for drugs. In the reports where race was indicated, 90 percent of raids were on African American households.
Across the country, communities are rejecting these military vehicles. In 2012, UC Berkeley police were stopped from purchasing a BearCat with Homeland Security money. Just days before Michael Brown was killed, the Albuquerque Police Department decided to get rid of its 1033-provided MRAP due to public pressure. When political satirist John Oliver mocked Saginaw, Michigan for owning an MRAP during a Ferguson commentary on his HBO show, the Sheriff announced the following day he was decommissioning the truck. In California, the police chief of Davis was ordered by city council to give up their MRAP within 60 days.
Important opposition has also emerged within Champaign-Urbana. Others addressed the county board on August 21, 2014 about the Sheriff’s MRAP. Karen Medina, born and raised in Champaign-Urbana, said she didn’t want this “tank” on the streets of her hometown. “We should think about these things,” Stuart Levy told the county board, “in terms of not whether they’re cheap to acquire, but whether they’re good for our community.”
A longer version of this article appeared on August 26, 2014. Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.
In August I travelled to California as part of my research into the use of electronic monitoring in the criminal justice system. My first stop was a converted factory along the border between South Central Los Angeles and Inglewood, Chuco’s Justice House. Chuco’s houses a variety of social justice projects. The name honors Jesse “Chuco” Becerra, a community activist killed in the streets of this neighborhood in 2003.
My investigations began with Ernest Shepard, who spent 45 years locked up in California state prisons. Paroled in 2011, “Ern” had three months on a monitor. As an African American man, he said the black plastic band looked like a shackle and made him feel “like a chattel slave.” He felt a constant urge to remove it-as a test of his own integrity. “If I don’t rebel,” he used to think to himself, “what kinda dude am I?”
Fortunately Ern was surrounded by people from Fair Chance, a reentry project based at Chuco’s. He said the people at Fair Chance kept him focused on the “bigger picture.” Today Ern sits a month from completing parole, devoting his life to helping others who are coming home from prison.
From Ern, I moved to the larger canvas of the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC). Founded in the early 2000s, YJC’s mission is to “build a youth, family and prisoner-led movement to challenge race, gender and class inequality in the Los Angeles County and California juvenile injustice system.” YJC runs Free LA High School which provides academic education as well as training in social justice organizing. Through a collective process, YJC helps shape a new world for African American and Latino/a youth who have been cast into the school to prison pipeline by mainstream America. The YJC banner across the main conference room at Chuco’s reads, “college prep, not prison prep.” YJC members are high profile participants in campaigns against the LA No More Jails. They also push their 1% project―a proposal to reallocate 1% of the county law enforcement budget to youth programs.
I did a group interview, sitting around a table with eight youth and Whitney Richards-Calathes, a Ph.D. student and YJC Board member. As the only white person and the only one over thirty in the room, I thought carefully about how to break the ice. Bags of Cheetos and bottles of sweetened tea in the center of the room helped, as well as my own experience of incarceration and being on a monitor. In any case, the youth quickly opened up.
Electronic monitoring was familiar territory here, part of the punishment package the system has visited upon young people of color. Twenty-one year old Jerry Bates told me he had been to one high school which had a special room for students on ankle bracelets to charge their monitors. Most ankle bracelets need to be plugged into a wall socket twice a day or they lose signal, possibly prompting an alarm or even an arrest.
Nineteen year old Tanisha Denard helped focus the discussion. Placed on a monitor as a result of a petty theft case, she found the device “terrifying” initially. She didn’t understand how it worked or what it could do. Her fear turned to frustration under the house arrest regime that accompanied the bracelet. “I wouldn’t say I’d rather be in jail (but) you might as well be in jail. You all take house arrest but then when you are at home for a couple days, it’s just like you’re in jail. Even if you’re the kind of person who never goes out, you start feeling it.”
“They give you the worst options, a strike or take this deal (the monitor),” another youth added. Jerry described the bracelet as “a way of keeping you locked up without having to lock you up” as well as a way “to make money off of you.”
Christian Salazar perhaps best summed up the group sentiment toward the monitor in a single word “stressful.” He said “It decreases you…your personality… It takes a whole lifetime to build a character and it only takes one second to shatter it and everybody looks at you and says he really was a bad kid.” At age 17 he chose the bracelet over eight months in a juvenile boot camp.
While some people complained about the discomfort of the device or not being able to wear it in the shower, the key issue remained the stress highlighted by Salazar. Michelle Watson recalled how a friend of hers went “crazy” with the monitor, “crying for days. I spent four days at her house.” Michelle described how her friend kept “clawing at this thing” and “banging her leg against the wall.” She apparently thought people could watch her through the box on the bracelet.
Michelle also felt that the bracelet was demeaning. “I watch Animal Planet a lot,” she said, “When they catch these wild animals they shoot a tag through their ear and then they let them go. That’s how they do you guys. They put a tracker on you and then they let you go. That’s dehumanizing…and then you guys got to pay. That’s insane.”
Several people developed their own ways of pushing back. For example, one of the youth who preferred to remain anonymous was charged $160 to initialize the ankle bracelet service. She said she told authorities she was homeless to avoid the daily fees which come with many monitoring regimes.
Tanisha started going to church, even though she had no religious inclinations. It was the only way she could get out of the house on weekends. She had to hand over the agenda from the service to the probation officer to prove she actually attended. Others told how friends on the monitor would test the technology by dashing off to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes and see if it triggered an alarm. The technology is designed to send a message to authorities if the person being monitored leaves the house at a time where they have not been granted permission.
Probing the future of such technology raised serious concerns. Christian simply raised his smart phone and said, “we already got this.” Jerry argued that they were just “testing now” and would eventually have “everyone on GPS.” Michelle agreed but added a twist, “in the future tracking will be expanded to everybody…except if you got enough money to avoid it.”
Ultimately, my conversations at Chuco’s proved both frustrating and inspiring. Ern’s image of the slave shackle wouldn’t go away. Further frustration came with discovering yet another way in which the injustice of mass incarceration and its technological tentacles reinforces race and class inequality. White students in the more comfortable parts of Los Angeles (or our local University of Illinois pupils) generally don’t have to think about having monitors on their ankle, let alone the prospect of a trip inside the Department of Corrections. Yet YJC members are already experts. Despite their situation, the presence of an organization like the YJC demonstrates that an alternative is possible―an alternative where the voice of the poor and oppressed speaks loud and lights up the sky with great ideas. If YJC could actually get that 1% of the county’s law enforcement budget (1%=about $100 million according to YJC), the world for youth in their community would become a very different place and likely one without any rooms in high schools where students would go to charge their ankle bracelets.
The Moral Deficit
The Israeli government is squandering much of the moral capital the country had at its founding. At the time of its founding most Western European countries and the United States agreed that a state where Jews could be reasonably safe, could defend themselves from aggression and could sustain their traditions as a single people was justified, especially in light of the Holocaust. At that time too there was also a foundational myth that Palestine was “a land without a people, just waiting for settlement by a people without a land,” a nice slogan—even if untrue– serving to motivate the settlement of a harsh environment in a foreign land. This narrative was, of course convincing for many Jews and for many others in the West. It was not convincing, however, to the vast majority of Arabs.
When Palestine was initially divided by the United Nations it was with the understanding that there would be two states, one for Jews and one for Arabs.
After solidifying its hold on the territory and expanding its reach into Arab territory in the 67 and 73 wars, Israel set upon a policy of intensifying the occupation and expanding its boarders, a policy that contradicted its original mandate, and that made visible an inherent contradiction in the idea of Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic one. In the one a commitment to universal values and equal treatment for all is supposed to be honored. In the other Jews are supposed to have a privileged position. This tension has become increasingly more visible in light of other world events, such as the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The primary reason for the decline of Israel’s moral legitimacy in the West is its occupation and expansionist policies. In some polls Israel is now ranked below Russia and only above North Korea, Pakistan and Iran on whether it is a good or bad influence on the world. (The Economist, August 2, 2014) Among young people its standing has been in steady decline, a decline that will likely increase as the memory of the Holocaust becomes more distant.
Some of this is clearly unfair. Minorities within Israel proper have more legal protection than those of most other state in the region, (although this is a pretty low bar) and outside of ultra orthodox communities, women, at least Jewish women, in Israel have a higher status than in many Western countries, to say nothing of their neighbors. Yet these benefits do not extend to the Palestinians, who are now the most visible and destitute legacies of the West’s post World War Two policies.
What is The Prognosis?
In the United States there is considerable support for Israel, and there are strong connections between the United States military and the Israeli army. This support comes from a number of quarters; Jews, Fundamentalist Christians, anti-Moslem Americans, and a largely older generation in the West who recalls the Holocaust and echoes the sentiment—“never again.” There is also much support among the establishment which views Israel as the first line of defense against Arab terrorism, and perhaps more importantly, along with Saudi Arabia, and until recently, Egypt, as a main source of stability in the oil rich region.
This support is more fragile than many realize, and from a long term view the situation does not look promising for Israel. Younger American Jews are increasingly critical of the US government’s support, as is a growing minority within the American Jewish community as a whole. True, the leadership of American Jewish organizations, such as Abraham Foxman, consciously ignore these trends. As Foxman put it after a poll showing a significant disapproval of Israel among Jews: “I don’t sit and poll my constituency,” Foxman said. “Part of Jewish leadership is leadership. We lead.”
However, these “leaders” give a distorted picture of the amount and strength of support among Jews, still significant but in decline. Other groups provide varying degrees of support. Fundamentalist Christians support Israel as a precursor to the Second Coming but not out of any principled support for Israel itself. Moreover, as the American Muslim population grows, it is likely that American Islamophobia will decrease, along with support for Israel. And, as United States becomes energy independent the oil interests will have less need for a Jewish state in the Middle East. One of the most ominous signs from an Israeli point of view is the growing disaffection among academics. A recent edition of The American Association of University Professors’ Journal of Academic Freedom was devoted to the issue of an Israeli boycott with almost all of the main articles supporting a boycott of Israel and its cultural and academic institutions on the grounds that it and its institutions have been complicit in suppressing advocates of Palestinian rights. Whatever one might think of a boycott, the publication marks a significant turn in support for Israel within the academic community.
The Long Term Solution
Israel’s long term flourishing will depend on a number of factors. The first of these is clarification of the rationale for a Jewish state and a response to the question of whether it can be both a democratic and a Jewish state. This involves a rejection of the mythology that the state of Israel is a fulfillment of God’s will. Israel’s special character has nothing to do with Biblical prophecy and everything to do with the special situation of Jews after the Holocaust.
Given a truthful justification Israel can exist as a state that has the Holocaust and the liberation from the killing camps as its special foundational narrative, just as the United States celebrates the liberation from British colonial rule as its foundational narrative. By rejecting the Biblical narrative, Israel must accept the right of Palestinians to a state along the lines of the United Nations division. Jerusalem would become an international city serving as the capital of two separate countries. Jewish settlers in the West Bank would be given the choice to live under a Palestinian government perhaps with special minority rights, or to return to Israel proper and Palestinians, now living in Israel, would be given a similar choice. Land adjustment would be made so that Palestinian areas would be as contiguous as possible, given security needs of both sides. To recognize the Holocaust as the foundational event for the state of Israel would also limit the “right of return” that all Jews throughout the world presently have, and would acknowledge that this policy is a factor in the discrimination against Palestinians.
What to Do Now
A number of organizations have debated and some have accepted a boycott of Israel because of the Israeli governments attempt to limit contact with West bank institutions. The argument for doing so is that Israel is a colonial, oppressive regime and will only yield to pressure. Those who argue in this way point to the influence of boycotts and divestment in ending apartheid in South Africa.
Many have a problem with this argument and some feel that it hides an anti-Semitic agenda. However one might feel about the boycott, it is not in itself anti-Semitic. Boycotts are commonly used to aid legitimate resistance. While a boycott of Israel would obviously gain the support of anti-Semites, others who support a boycott do so for more legitimate reasons. For example, the EU encourages its members to boycott Israeli firms based in the settlements, largely on the grounds that such firms encourage illegal construction in an occupied land. Some argue that such boycotts hurts Palestinian workers, but the Palestinian authority, while rejecting a boycott of Israel proper, support the boycott of Israeli controlled settlement enterprises. One need not deny the claim that Israeli firms in the occupied territory help Palestinian workers while recognizing the injustice of setting up an enterprise without permission of the legitimate owners of the land.
However, calls for a larger boycott of Israel proper on grounds that it is a colonizing power, and that even within Israel, Palestinians suffer a second class status are less convincing. This is not because the facts are in dispute—Palestinian Israelis are more susceptible to significant official and non- official discrimination. The justification for the larger boycott is weakened because Israel is the best of all troubled countries in its neighborhood. Sexism, anti-Jewishness, and dictatorship are incorporated into the policies of many of Israel’s neighbors. To single it out for boycott certainly occludes any moral argument, although Israel’s very aspiration to democracy, ironically, makes it susceptible to the disapproval a boycott signals. Moreover, while Israel is certainly the stronger party in the conflict, all the wrong is not on its side of the table. It is a recognized state and, even though imperfect, has a right to defend its citizens from attack. Certainly some of the acts in the recent Gaza conflict are excessive and Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attack does not justify bombing schools and hospitals. Here the international community must play a decisive role in determining whether war crimes have been committed on both sides. This would include using schools and hospitals to shield rocket sites.
An economic boycott of Jewish firms in the occupied territory is more defensible on both moral and pragmatic grounds and at the very least the international community should require labeling of goods produced by Israeli firms in the occupied territory.
Some groups go beyond this and call for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel on both moral and pragmatic grounds. At least two American academic organizations have supported such a boycott and the movement is likely to grow stronger. The moral argument is that Israeli academic and cultural institutions are complicit in the occupation and a boycott recognizes their culpability. The pragmatic argument is that these institutions have considerable influence on public opinion. The effectiveness of boycotts on South Africa is cited as proof of this pragmatic argument.
Both of these arguments are weak. The first because of the neighborhood issue mentioned above. The second, because it is more important for Israeli academic and cultural leaders to hear critical international voices and a total boycott may well strengthen the most reactionary among them, including the reactionary leadership. In addition it is important that academic and cultural leaders bear witness to the suffering of both groups of people, but especially of Palestinians who are under siege. Organizations that are planning to hold meetings in Israel should insist that its members have free access to all people in the region, Jews, Moslems, Christians, etc. and to all areas, including the occupied territory. If this right is denied then the organization should find a different venue for its work. Organizations should then take advantage of this access for the sake of a more informed membership. Boycotts should be considered against specific institutions for specific violations of academic freedom. This is consistent with the policy of the American Association of University Professors when it comes to censorship of American universities in violation of academic freedom.
A Long Term solution: Change the Founding Narrative
As a Jewish state that occupies and discriminates against Palestinians, Israel’s claim to be a democracy is problematic. The fact that some Palestinians would recognize Israel as a legitimate state, but reject its claim to being a Jewish state must be seen in this light. American Jews who find this rejection unacceptable should rethink the issue in light of the Likud Charter that rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West bank, a much more blanket rejection. American Jews should also re-think it in light of their likely negative response to any serious attempt to define America as a Christian nation. Granted there are some Palestinians who would like to rid the area of all Jews, just as there are some Jews—more powerful—who want to push all Palestinians out of “Judea and Samaria.” To reject the idea that Israel is an official Jewish state is not the same as rejecting its special role in recent Jewish history, but it will require some adjustments.
On a pragmatic level, I suspect that the refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state has something to do with a (justifiable) Palestinian rejection of automatic Israeli citizenship for Jews from any part of the world and to the differential rights for Jewish and Palestinian Israelis– not to mention the settlements. For example under a more restrictive foundational narrative secure American Jews would no longer have an automatic right to Israeli citizenship, a right that as of now trumps that of a Palestinian whose family was forced to leave the area.
Nevertheless the fact of the Holocaust, and the power of its narrative, should provide legitimacy to Israel’s status as a state that has a special connection to the Jewish people with a right to maintain its Jewish character—a right that can serve to guide immigration policy. This means that there is a special obligation to distressed Jews but certainly not to all Jews. Granting priority to distressed Jews and not just to distressed people is, admittedly, a less than perfect solution, but it is one that recognizes the severe anti-Jewish nature of many of the regimes in the neighborhood, and the special reason for Israel’s establishment. These seem to me to be the important concrete issues which conceivably could be addressed given good will and political courage, qualities that may be lacking on both sides. The ultimate resolution will come with the acceptance of two foundational narratives, one of which involves the Holocaust and the salvation of the Jewish community from annihilation. The other involves acknowledging “The Catastrophe,” as the Palestinians label their expulsion from their ancestral land, and the moral obligations that this entails for Israel and the West.
Walter Feinberg is The C. D. Hardy Professor Emeritus at The University of Illinois. In 2014 he was granted the Lifetime Achievement Award by the John Dewey Society. He is the author of Common Schools/Uncommon Identities: National Unity and Cultural Difference, Yale University Press and co-editor of Citizenship and Education in Liberal Democratic Societies, Oxford University Press.
The Public i is happy to announce two new sustaining members, The Art Theater Co-op and Smile Politely.
The Art Theater Co-op is a century-old treasure in downtown Champaign (126 W. Church St.) that screens independent and international films in a classic cinema setting. It is also home to several local film festivals, including the recent Latin American Film Festival in September. A part of the national cooperative movement, the Theater is community owned. For more go to www.arttheater.coop.
Smile Politely is an online magazine that covers local music, art, culture, sports, food, drink, and politics. It has published exposes on Jimmy John’s hunting photos, former Champaign Mayor’s birther comments, and Urbana Free Library’s book purging. The Public i and Smile Politely have worked together since 2009 when we produced a timeline for Kiwane Carrington. For more see smilepolitely.com or contact email@example.com.
Sustainers like these allow The Public i to stay free of advertisements. Contributions to The Public i are tax deductible. To make a donation contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This May I took a trip to Savannah, Georgia, and to the southern coast of South Carolina. In Savannah, I took a “Freedom Tour” that included visits to the oldest Black church, the black cemetery that contains a whip-scarred “whipping tree” against which slaves were secured to be whipped, and the Civil Rights Museum.
In South Carolina, I took a “Gullah Tour” on Hilton Head Island. Hilton Head is famous for its high-end resorts, beaches and golf courses. But it and some of the other nearby islands are also the historical and contemporary home of the Gullah people. These are people of African descent who are also known as Geechees, the word for their distinctive language. On this tour I went through the still-existing Gullah neighborhoods on Hilton Head and saw churches, the one beach where Blacks were permitted to swim when the other beaches were legally segregated, and the site of Mitchelville, a community established in 1862 for ex-slaves who had been freed by the Union army. But what really caught my attention was an old frame school house. The Gullah guide referred to it as a Rosenwald School, which had been established in the early 20th Century. The only thing that he said about the name Rosenwald was that he was a philanthropist who also was the head of Sears Roebuck at the time. The guide also said that this was only one of many Rosenwald schools that Julius Rosenwald had helped to create.
When I told my friend Education Professor Emeritus Walter Feinberg that I found this fascinating and wanted to learn more about it, he directed me to the 1988 book, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935, written by Professor James Anderson, head of Educational Policy Studies at the U of I. Public i colleague Brian Dolinar directed me to the 2006 e-book by Peter Ascoli, entitled Julius Rosenwald: The Man Who Built Sears Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the American South.
So, what were these Rosenwald schools and how did they come to be?
Julius Rosenwald was a Jewish philanthropist who aided not only many Jewish charities and institutions, but also the downtown Chicago YMCA and several projects on the predominantly Black South Side of the city. He also sat on the Board of Tuskegee Institute, a Black primarily teachers’ training school of which Booker T. Washington was the principal. These two men developed a close relationship. Initially, Washington approached Rosenwald about financially helping to build six non-state elementary schools for Black children within the vicinity of Tuskegee. Rosenwald agreed to commit $25,000, but only on condition that an equal amount be raised locally. His justification for this was “the incentive will be great for others to give and the trustees of the various institutions will put forth work under such conditions that they would not be likely to do otherwise” (Ascoli, 130). Rosenwald insisted that prior to his commitment of funds, the equal amount had to have been raised locally.
At this time, the Southern states and counties were allocating very meager tax revenues for rural black primary education. James Anderson argues that Rosenwald’s stipulation of equal funding amounted to an unjust double taxation, because Blacks would have had taxes extracted from them for white schools from which they gained nothing, and now had to pay for their own schools. Ascoli grants that point, but also argues that some whites also made contributions and, more important, that it was the Rosenwald program, combined with Blacks fleeing the South to go north in the Great Migration, that convinced politicians in the southern states that if they wanted to keep the sharecroppers in the South they needed to provide more adequate funding for schools for sharecroppers’ children. Thus, Rosenwald’s logic for demanding the local contributions as a stimulus for other contributions to be forthcoming seemed to be validated as, according to Ascoli, more funds were eventually made available.
But to carry on with the history. After the six schools were up and running near Tuskegee, Booker T. Washington approached Rosenwald for a greater expansion of the program. Rosenwald liked the idea and brought in other prominent people in the media and social services, including Jane Addams who was heading Hull House in Chicago. Apparently these people did not make financial contributions, but did publicize it and lent their expertise to the project.
The expansion of the program proceeded in stages. First, it went beyond the confines of the area close to Tuskegee to several other counties in Alabama. Then it went beyond the state of Alabama. According to Ascoli, in some areas, such as Needmore, Church County, Alabama, there were relatively prosperous Blacks who made some substantial financial contributions. In many more instances, Blacks who were not in a position to make substantial financial contributions contributed small amounts of money or supplies and sweat labor to the construction process. But, again, James Anderson raises the critical question “Yet the traditions of double taxation and extraordinary sacrifice had distinct limits, beyond which they were both unjust and dangerous. One limit was the point at which ‘self-help’ became unconscious submission to oppression.” And, of course, this was the construction of a separate and unequal system of elementary schools that, consistent with Booker T. Washington’s and Tuskegee’s bent, taught vocational skills—but also taught reading, writing and arithmetic.
The scope of the project was vast. According to Anderson, by 1926, 3,464 Rosenwald schools had been erected in the South. In 1932, more than a fourth of all Black children in that area were being taught in Rosenwald schools. By the termination of the building program in 1934, our Gullah guide estimated that there were approximately 5,000 such schools. In South Carolina, where I saw the Hilton Head school, Rosenwald schools were located in 95% of the counties.
It has been interesting to read these two accounts of the Rosenwald program. Ascoli focuses on the role of Rosenwald, the Chicago Jewish philanthropist who was a builder of one of the largest manufacturing/retailing companies in America but who turned his attention to the need for education of Blacks in the South. Anderson focuses on the pluses and the minuses of such philanthropy from the perspective of the Southern Blacks who paid taxes but still had to come up with the matching funds to build these segregated schools, which were certainly no match for the schools to which the children of more affluent whites had access. Ascoli grants Anderson’s point, but is more positive. While writing earlier than Ascoli, Anderson is more critical but also grants the positive. Perhaps the lesson is that emancipation from extreme oppression often occurs not in a revolutionary single stroke, but in stages where elements of the old oppression persist even as some progress is being made. But there is no assurance that history is a series of linear stages of progress. That wishful view is difficult to reconcile now with so many de facto segregated public schools and the school-to-prison pipeline for so many of our Black youths.
Rosenwald, a white man, and those Blacks who contributed money and labor to the project, cared about Black youths and acted on that caring. They deserve recognition today as important contributors in the history of this country.
[Errata: In my article on the sentencing of Katheryn Daly and Willie Craft in the July/August issue of the Public i, the length of the sentences for both should have read three and one half years, not three years.]
The Herbert Brün Society & the School for Designing a Society are excited to offer their new joint venture beginning this Fall. National, international and local artists/activists–former students of Herbert or Marianne Brün–will be offering 8 interactive presentations/workshops to talk about their work and the influence of Herbert or Manni on it.
Artist/activists this fall will include:
Oct. 2: Larry Richards, Richmond, Indiana
Vice Chancellor, Indiana Univ. East, cybernetician
Oct. 9: Pat Daugherty, New York City
composer, activists, performer
Oct. 16: Paulo Lima, Salvador, Brazil
Oct. 23: Allen Otte/Bonnie Whiting, Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati Conservatory Faculty, percussionist
Nov. 6: Patricia Repar, UNM, Albuquerque, New Mexico
faculty, composer, health care activist
Nov. 13: Mark Sullivan, Michigan State, E. Lansing
faculty, composer, poet, photographer, activist
Nov. 20: Kirk Corey, Iowa City, Iowa
composer, piano performer, activist
Dec. 4: Susan Parenti/Ya’aqov Ziso, Urbana, Illinois
composers, activists, protest organizers
These presentations will be on Thursdays, 7-9p, at the Herbert Brün House, 122 Franklin Street, Urbana, IL.
Promise Healthcare (Promise) may sound like just another name in the sea of health-care providers we live in, but what it offers is much more than a name, it is a healthcare home, and that is a promise. Promise grew out of the efforts of many dedicated individuals who saw a need for quality, affordable healthcare for all people in our community. Though we are rich in terms of medical resources in some ways, there are many gaps and cracks that get in the way of access for all. The folks who are now Promise, looked around and saw the potential for Frances Nelson to take up this mission, and thus began the journey.
Frances Nelson was already a familiar organization in CU. It had been managed as a part of the Community Health Improvement Clinic of Decatur, but the Promise visionaries wanted to make it a truly local resource so it could respond most effectively to local needs. The group took on the task of bringing Frances Nelson home and joined this with a new organization, SmileHealthy. Frances Nelson is dedicated to providing affordable and accessible high quality physical and mental health care services to all, especially the medically underserved population of Champaign County. SmileHealthy picks up from there, providing excellent oral health care.
I write this article as a member of the Promise family. I am a patient of Frances Nelson and SmileHealthy. I am also a graduate of the University of Illinois with a Masters and Doctorate, and up until the expansion of Medicaid, no health insurance. When I walk into the clinics, I am greeted as a member of a shared community of care. Each time I come for an appointment, I learn more about the gracious people who work at Promise and the sense of community grows. Some ask about a recent trip I took, others just nod hello as they hustle about. I feel a powerful undercurrent of warmth and care from everyone I meet. Their commitment to service and readiness to meet the needs of all comers is tangible. Each time I see my doctor our relationship grows. She takes an interest in what is going on in my life because it is part of my context as a patient and human being. In this way, her approach to my care is one that starts with my humanity. I have also taken advantage of the mental health services. As many, but not all CU community members know, we have very limited access to mental health services. There are very long waiting lists and many find it difficult to address basic needs like medication management. Frances Nelson is an underused resource in this area and staff hope the word will spread about the availability of services so that people can find help they need.
The expansion of Medicaid and the Affordable Healthcare Act are adding to what Promise is able to do for our community. There was already a sliding scale fee system in place, and there are now staff on-site who help people find out what assistance they might be eligible for and how to apply. I took full advantage of these folks to get myself signed up for Medicaid and now am able to feel confident that there is a safety net in place when I need one.
Besides being a patient at the clinics, I am also a member of the Promise Healthcare Board. In this position, I have been excited and honored to help Promise in pursuing our goals, extending our reach to fulfill the promise in our name. Frances Nelson itself still has the capacity to accept more individuals and families who are looking for a medical home. In addition to the services offered on site at Frances Nelson and Smile Healthy, we now provide care at the Community Resource Center at Presence, we have a mobile unit for some dental services, and more. We have taken on collaborations with organizations big and small, some of which include: Carle, Presence, the University of Illinois, Avicena, Community Elements, and Parkland. All of these connections enhance our ability to better meet the broad health needs in our community.
I can say with no reservations that, if you or someone you know is in need of a medical/health home, Frances Nelson will be there for you!
Spanish-speaking staff and volunteers are available to assist our Spanish-speaking patients.
WEFT 90.1 FM, and DocFactory Bring Internationally Acclaimed “Shadows of Liberty” Documentary to Champaign
Tuesday, October 7, at 7:30 p.m.
The ART Theater Co-op (126 W. Church St., Champaign IL 61820)
The Shadows of Liberty Coast to Coast Screening & Media Reform Action Tour will come to Champaign.
Tracing the story of media manipulation through the years, Shadows of Liberty poses a crucial question: why have we let a handful of powerful corporations write the news?
Panel to follow with DocFactory’s Debra Brown, U of I communications professor Susan Davis, and WEFT’s Lori Serb.
The Salaita Affair
Professor Steven Salaita posted several thousand tweets during the 2014 Israeli-Gaza conflict highly critical of Israel, frequently couched in passionate, incendiary language. Over the war’s seven weeks, 71 Israelis were killed, and over 2100 Palestinians, including 500 children. The 2014 fighting constitutes the latest stage in the larger Israeli-Palestinian conflict ongoing since the 1948 war that ethnically cleansed 700,000 Palestinians to create Israel.
To advocate for Israel is the express purpose of the so-called “Israel lobby,” which can be defined as a “loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” Not a monolithic entity, it is an extensive network of interlocking, overlapping individuals and organizations lobbying for Israel no matter what it does. Its chief current strategy is to conflate anti-Israeli criticism with anti-Semitism, by falsely labeling critics of Israel anti-Semitic.
The Salaita affair began July 21 when a right-wing, pro-Zionist blog attacked Salaita’s tweets as anti-Semitic, an allegation repeated by the local, editorially extreme right-wing News-Gazette. A Palestinian-American, Salaita had been offered a tenured job in American Indian Studies (AIS) at the university after thorough vetting at all administrative levels. He signed a contract to begin teaching fall 2014, and resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech. It only remained for the Board of Trustees (BOT) to approve his appointment, customarily a pro forma matter.
As the Salaita case spread like wildfire in the media and blogosphere, Chancellor Phyllis Wise and other officials were flooded with a torrent of anti-Salaita communications. On August 1, after meeting with at least one wealthy Jewish donor, after the BOT told Wise it would not appoint Salaita, but without consulting any faculty or departments, Wise informed Salaita that she would not forward his appointment to the BOT.
after BOT Chair Christopher Kennedy told Wise, “ ,” but without consulting any faculty or departments, Wise informed Salaita that she would not be forwarding his appointment to the BOT because they would not approve it. v 3 By doing so, she violated University Statutes, which explicitly stipulate that in the exceptional case where the chancellor disagrees with a departmental hiring decision, also ratified by the College of LAS, and an associate chancellor in her own office, that the decision be taken back to the department.
From then until August 22, an outpouring of negative letters, emails, newspaper columns, and blog posts were more than counter balanced by a tsunami of pro-Salaita support. On that date, the administration sent two mass emails, one from the chancellor, and one from the president and BOT chair, the latter signed by the top seven administration officials, both UI-Chicago and UI-Springfield chancellors, plus all BOT members. In this unprecedented, circling-the-wagons move, the university clearly intended to end the matter. A “civility” standard, not found in any university policy or statute, was invented, according to which henceforward “civility” would trump freedom of speech and academic freedom. This transparent attempt to stifle dissent was a patently ideological cover to stamp out anti-Israel views.
But instead of cutting protest off at the knees, the twin emails only gave it legs, because now the administration had revealed, Wizard-of-Oz-like, how little there there was to its unfounded, we’re-making-it-up-as-we-go position. Email complaints alleged classroom indoctrination and an unwelcome classroom atmosphere, whereas Salaita’s Virginia Tech teaching evaluations and student testimonials attested the exact opposite. Wise claimed that “unhiring” Salaita was “not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel,” but publicly available emails demonstrated the exact opposite.
Salaita opponents allege that his tweets are “racist,” “hate speech” and “incite to violence.” Yes, they are expressed often in vulgar, over-the-top language, but no, they do not cross over the line into hate speech, racism or inciting violence. Constitutionally, Salaita is free to engage in such off-the-job speech, and not be punished on the job for it. It is called First Amendment free speech, and it is not trumped by some made up, tendentious notion of “civility.” More than one of Salaita’s supporters disagree with what he says, but defend his right to say it. That, after all, is the gravamen of free speech and academic freedom. There is no need to protect “comfortable” speech; what needs protecting is “uncomfortable” speech. Uncomfortable thought: what we have here, and elsewhere, is a de facto Palestinian exception to the First Amendment.
But the main charge against Salaita’s tweets is that they are “anti-Semitic.” Yes, Salaita’s tweets are anti-Israel, but they are not anti-Semitic. For many of my close Jewish friends, these issues are extremely fraught. Some favor the Zionist project; others are “liberal Zionists,” still trying to fit the round peg of Zionism into the square peg of Palestinian human rights, including statehood. Still others eschew the Zionist project and advocate for a Palestinian state based on broader, universal Jewish values and traditions. There is an elegiac sense, too, of betrayal, of what Israel – the ultimate safe harbor of persecuted Jews worldwide — has become for many – killer of Palestinian children. Either Salaita’s critics simply do not understand the difference between anti-Israel critique and anti-Semitism, or they reflexively follow the Zionist line of the national Israel lobby conflating anti-Israel criticism with anti-Semitism, now channelled by its de facto local Champaign-Urbana chapter. Not all Israelis, American Jews, or local Jews agree, however. A “University of Illinois Jewish Community Letter in Support of our Professor Steven Salaita” states, “The firing of Professor Salaita is the Israeli attack on Palestine coming to our campus”; it has garnered 100 signatures.
Where UI intended to end the controversy August 22 with its twin missile missives, its stunningly incompetent, ham-handed words and actions had precisely the opposite effect, such that the Salaita affair has become an even bigger national and international cause célèbre. At last count, 17 departments have voted no confidence in the chancellor, president and BOT; over 5,000 faculty worldwide have pledged to boycott UI; more than 18,000 individuals have signed a pro-Salaita petition; over 30 speakers have cancelled campus appearances; two conferences have been cancelled; 16 professional organizations have criticized UI, and the American Association of University Professors has threatened censure.
Anti-Salaita individuals and groups continue to weigh in. Two ads have appeared in the News-Gazette signed by, respectively, 139 and 475 individuals, an overlapping combination of wealthy donors, the local Republican-cum-business booster elite (which has suddenly embraced the “political correctness” of multicultural and gender diversity, along with the warm fuzzy feeling of a welcoming campus and enforced “civility”), and Zionist/Jewish nationalist members of the local Israel lobby.
In a way too little, way too late maneuver, Wise launched a charm offensive taking her case to students and faculty. But she, or her handlers, mishandled it. She pledged to students that she would forward Salaita’s appointment to the BOT, only to later backtrack. She admitted publicly that she should have “consulted with more people,” that “members of the Board of Trustees told her in July that they likely would not approve” Salaita’s appointment, but that that “sentiment… was not my mine.” Such artless confessions hardly strengthened her case. It got so bad that the anti-Salaita side was basically making the pro-Salaita case. But it did not get so bad that the administration felt compelled to change its mind. After a Salaita press conference September 9 at which he eloquently made his case, the BOT meeting two days later voted 8-1 not to appoint him. With this hunkering-down decision, the university guaranteed a court case.
It is hard for anyone on either side not to feel sadness about what has transpired. As individuals, the president and chancellor are “nice people,” as the chancellor’s supporters keep repeating; clearly, they care about the university. It is just that they and other Salaita critics, on and off-campus, care about some members of the university family more than others, namely, engineering and the sciences, donors, putative “community leaders.” Salaita supporters, too, feel sad, but Wise-r. They have Wise-d up, they Won’t Get Fooled Again.
Where Matters Stand
Everyone in academia has heard of individual departments that have become so dysfunctional that they have imploded and gone into receivership, whereby they are reorganized and new leadership is brought in to clean up the toxic mess. But, rarely if ever, has an entire university higher administration, plus BOT, plus a fellow-traveling Academic Senate Executive Committee imploded. “Military people have an evocative if not entirely ‘civil’ term for this kind of self-inflicted cascading catastrophic failure,” noted one Facebook post. “This is a clusterfuck.”
Yet, having soiled themselves in the course of riding the anti-Salaita horse, the Chancellor and administration continue their fouled ride. This is an entirely administration-inflicted wound, a gaping gash that the Chancellor and her culpable consorts have performed on the university of faculty and students. The current situation cannot go on, but it is difficult to see how it cannot go on; how and when the hemorrhaging will be stanched. The Chancellor who wanted so much to create a diverse, inclusive, welcoming campus environment could not have succeeded more in achieving the exact opposite had she tried.
David Prochaska formerly taught colonialism and visual culture in the UI history department.