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The ghosts in Minneapolis’ “progressive” machine

Last year Nekima Levy-Pounds told me that conditions in the Twin Cities were ripe for it to be another Ferguson. I disagreed. The people in power here control their people with a smug brand of I-know-what’s-best-for-you liberalism, and the people under their boot often seem too docile to resist.

A year later, I’m proven wrong.

For a weeks smoke has been rising on Minneapolis’ North side, and protesters have been holding it down at the 4th precinct police station, an action spurred by the officer involved shooting of Jamar Clark. Injustices like Clark’s have happened before, but this time, because of young people and their brilliant impatience with business as usual, it is exposing the longstanding problem with policing – here and in other urban communities.

While most Americans express an almost childish appreciation for law enforcement in their communities, there is a predictable difference of opinion between races. At least 72% of whites express confidence in police officers, but only 36% of blacks agree. In fact, 70% of blacks say police departments do not treat races equally, and are not accountable for misconduct.

Researchers say experience with police officers matters, and in low-income communities where much of the experience is bad, opinion is understandably low.

While suburban residents see their police officers as servants, and middle-class city dwellers often see them as the buffer between haves and have-nots in inequitable urban centers, neighborhoods like the Northside see a face of policing that is often white, angry, and medieval.

Sadly, cries of racism in poor neighborhoods go unanswered, and few believe the extent to which police departments are staffed with honest-to-God racists.

Ghosts in the machine

There is a warning tucked neatly in a 2006 report from the Federal Bureau of investigations about “ghost skins,” a network of whites with extremist positions who don alternate personas so that they can infiltrate law enforcement, state government, and the military to further the cause of white power.

In Minneapolis it would be hard to believe such a problem could exist. It’s liberal here. Very liberal. It would be harder to push a camel through the eye of a needle than to elect a Republican in Minneapolis. Yet, the police department is mostly made up of suburban and exurban officers who come from parts of Minnesota that aren’t liberal.

The Minneapolis Police Department is famous for paying out millions of dollars to settle abuse claims (Minneapolis has paid out $14 million in settlements between 2006 and 2012), and for having racial strife internally. In 1992 black officers said they received hate mail, possibly from within their own ranks. Later, two Minneapolis City Council members, Brian Herron and Ralph Remington, reported racist harassment from Minneapolis police officers.

After years of complaints, lawsuits, and charges of racism at all levels of the department, the MPD is also known for having leadership that looks a lot like the ghost skins mentioned in the feds report.

Nobody better exemplifies that than Lt. Bob Kroll, the current president of Minneapolis’ police union. A native of St. Paul’s Eastside (a part of the neighboring twin city with its own history of racism), he has a long documented record of racial violence that includes complaints from residents going back to the 1990s.

In his own defense, he has said “I’ve been told I’m racist, and I’m violent. I’m aware of that. I’ve been 15 of my 18 in SWAT, and I’ve had more complaints than most, but I’ve had much higher contacts, and a much higher number of arrests…. I’ve been cleared almost all the time.”

One charge that he didn’t beat, one that he denied even against the testimony of multiple witnesses, is that he called Congressman Keith Ellison a terrorist.

That’s not comforting reply for people of color. But it gets worse. Kroll has been a member of the City Heat Motorcycle Club, a biker gang that an Anti-Defamation League report called “Bigots on Bikes” said “has members who have openly displayed white supremacist symbols.”

The report says:

Photographs of City Heat members taken by other club members and posted to the Internet have shown that some members of the club display a number of symbols on their clothing that have white supremacist or hateful connotations. One member sports a patch that asks “Are you here for the hanging?”—a reference to lynching. The lynching theme is corroborated by a small chain noose the individual wears next to the patch. Another City Heat member displays the most common Ku Klux Klan symbol, the so-called “Blood Drop Cross.” Several members wear “Proud to be White” patches, an item typically worn by white supremacists.

This came up in a lawsuit by black Minneapolis police officers who said Kroll “wears a motorcycle jacket with a “White Power” badge sewn onto it.”

That isn’t exactly what you might expect for any level of leadership in a “progressive” city, but Kroll is representative of what rank and file white police officers feel they need to defend their interests. As suburbanites working in an urban area, as whites policing other races, they need a leader who understands you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet.

Apparently Kroll delivers. He has made defending cops in discipline hearings his business. If the number of sustained complaints of abuse are any indication, it’s a good time to be an abusive cop in Minneapolis. A recent Star Tribune story said no cops have been disciplined after 439 complaints through the city’s largely ineffective new police review system.

Kroll isn’t alone. Hennepin County’s sheriff, Rich Stanek, has a history not unlike Kroll’s.

A 2006 City Pages article reports on an incident that occurred between Stanek and Anthony Freeman – a black motorist – in 1989:

at the vehicle. Stanek then, according to the plaintiff, smashed the driver’s side window. He ordered Freeman out of the car, “collared” him, and delivered two blows to his back and neck before handcuffing him, while Freeman was facedown on the ground. Freeman’s complaint went on to allege that Stanek “beat and kicked” him “with his fists, feet, and other police-issued paraphernalia.” The Liberian maintained he never resisted, because he knew Stanek was a cop. Freeman—who, according to a depostion provided in the case by the late MPD officer Jerry Haaf, had not been drinking—sought $50,000; the case was settled out of court for $40,000.

That settlement was forgotten until 2004 when Stanek was up for a gig as Minnesota’s Public Safety Commissioner. The hubbub derailed his appointment. A few years later he ran for Hennepin County Sheriff, this time with odd support from some progressives, including some black leaders.

That could be an example of adapting, and adopting a persona that makes racism untraceable.

Let’s not assume all of the systemic racism in Minneapolis can be laid at the feet of folks like Kroll and Stanek, or law enforcement generally. Even as protestors risk their lives and bravely make demands of the system they are confronted with urges for calm from institutional progressives who support the mayor’s effort to be “measured.” Northside City Council member Blong Yang complained on Facebook that the protestors were unreasonable, and the city chair of the Democratic Party thanking him for standing up to the “bullies.” And, members of the black old guard with ties to the mayor’s office appear more interested in managing the behavior of the natives than supporting young people in the pursuit of structural changes, and justice.

If it weren’t for the new energy of Black Lives Matter, new leadership at the NAACP, ground troops from Neighborhood’s Organizing for Change, and the sect of organized labor that has found their diversity Jesus, there wouldn’t be any smoke, any fire, any chants, any sustained action that steps out of Minnesota’s addiction to process and meetings in order to get things done.

Because these groups are disturbing the peace the nation now knows we are the capital of white bullshit.

As black activists national have reminded everyone to question it if they die in police custody, we have a uniquely Minnesotan response from Tony Cornish, a state representative and Chairman of our Public Safety Prevention Committee.

He says:

If you die in this struggle, you are the one who did something wrong, not me. I was doing my job the best I could. I will regret this tragic incident ever took place, but I will not be ashamed or intimidated.

Ghost skins indeed.

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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Short note about Network of Public Education’s (NOPE) focus on education fraud

My friends at NOPE need to broaden their scope of fraud reveals.

My friends at the Network of Public Education (NOPE) have an ongoing series under the hashtag #AnotherDayAnotherCharterSchool that aims to keep your eyes trained on the supposed never-ending abuses and fraud case in charter schools.

I applaud their commitment to public integrity and I share their vigilance in rooting out grift in public systems. Yet, their myopic focus on a small subset of public schools, in this case charters, is suspicious.

Why not expose all fraud, especially in the bigger system?

Well, you’ll have to ask them. They’ve mostly blocked me on twitter for asking such questions.

I guess their unionist funders and the privileged parents they cater to in America’s suburban hoarding schools want a clean message. Traditional schools with union teachers that work with privileged parents to rig the system in favor of white, middle-class, pampered children, well, that’s good.

Schools built for, by, or in favor of children so unfortunate as not to have suburban, white, progressive, college-educated families capable of obtaining mortgages for houses near the best hoarding schools, well, you know the drill, they must be stopped.

Thus, the campaign to turn public opinion against the most popular competitor to sputtering state-run schools that employ more people than they educate, and drown in so much pension debt that they can ill-afford parents choosing anything other than district failure farms.

In the interest of truth I should tell you that fraud in public education is indeed every bit the problem that NOPE says it is, but it’s much broader than they admit.

I’ve offered examples before, but here’s another from today’s reading list. In this article on lax oversight of millions of dollars of expenditures in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

a KDKA investigation has found that the Pittsburgh Public Schools have issued no less than 650 of these cards to teachers and staff, who are racking up millions of dollars of purchases every year.

And while the cards are not supposed to be used for personal purchases, Controller Michael Lamb says it’s a system of loose oversight and controls that IS based mainly on trust.

“When you have that many cards, you lose control,” Lamb said. “And when the proper procedures aren’t in place, you create the opportunity for fraud. And that’s what you have in the school district right now.”
KDKA filed a right-to-know request for purchases made over the last three years and the results were eye-popping.

Last year alone, teachers and staff rang up a total of $3,254,000 in p-card purchases, with some putting upwards of $20,000 or $30,000 on their individual cards.

The summaries obtained by KDKA show purchases from Amazon, Sam’s Club, Staples and Giant Eagle.

And while employees are supposed to submit receipts and the stated reason for each purchase, controller office audits have found that it is hard to tell if all or most of those purchases are legitimate.

But at Faison School, for example, the controller’s office found no p-card reports for half of the 12 months audited and missing documentation for dozens of the purchases that were listed.

And KDKA’s review found questionable expenditures, as well.
Records show that teachers and staff at Oliver Academy used cards on a weekly and bi-weekly basis at both Wiseguys Pizza and Kuhn’s supermarket — raising the question of whether they were using the cards for their own lunches and groceries.

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Fuller to charter advocates: You’re in a fight, don’t run home to Mama!

Dr. Howard Fuller has been on the vanguard of the fight for educational options, and today he has a message for education advocates: fight for your lives!

Charter schools came to the education game as a bipartisan plan to force a “bold departure” from the failure trap that caught too many students in traditional public schools.

Creating alternatives to assigned district schools for families that wanted them was picking a fight with the educational establishment that lives or dies on the student headcount that drives per pupil revenue. Now, after years of losing market share, the empire is striking back with organized moves to establish moratoriums on charter growth, forge attacks on the the integrity of charter supporters, and calcifying public narratives about the supposed negative impacts of charters on public education.

So what do reform advocates do when the opponent finally hits back (hard) and our cherished reforms take a public whooping like they stole something?

According to lifelong freedom fighter Dr. Howard Fuller we firm our spines and fight like we mean it. That’s what he told attendees at a recent conference for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

“You can’t go running home to your mama,” he says. “There are people out there who don’t care that you all have created good schools. They don’t care that you are going to teach computer science. They don’t care.”

His message comes at a time when weary charter school supporters are feeling drained from constant attacks, and many are vacillating between wanting to stand their ground and wanting to accommodate anti-charter organizers by finding fleeting common ground.

“They want you to not exist,” Fuller said of the organized opponents of charter schools.

See his powerful speech below.

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It’s time to admit Diane Ravitch’s troubled crusade derails honest debate about public education

The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress.

I should start adding a qualifier when I say the former scholar and historian Diane Ravitch is the Ann Coulter of education commentary.

In fairness, Coulter has better manners and makes more attempts to employ logic as she “owns” the libs with verbal Jujitsu.

Ravitch, by contrast, has fallen irreparably into polemics so much that her daily blogs put her in league with Alex Jones’ made-for-YouTube Info Wars.

Along those lines, her blog-fart today ties “the charter industry” to the “infamous pedophile and “super-rich” Jeffrey Epstein.

“In 2013, his foundation issued a press release announcing that he looked forward to the dominance of charter schools in Washington, D.C. and predicted that they would succeed because they were unregulated,” she crows.

Then she offers crude analysis of why people like Epstein would want to privatize schools in D.C.:

People often ask me, “Why do the super-rich cluster to the cause of privatization?” The Answer is not simple because many different motives are at work. Some see giving to charters as a charitable endeavor, and their friends assure them that they are “giving back,” helping poor children escape poverty. Others want to impress their friends in their social strata, their colleagues in the world of high finance. Being a supporter of charter schools is like belonging to the right clubs, going to the right parties, sharing a cause with other very rich people.

If you are reading this you probably know that Ravitch was once a charter school supporter, and that makes it fair to ask which camp of nincompoops she fell into?

Did she see charters as a “charitable endeavor,” or was charter support her attempt to “impress [her] friends in [her] social strata, [and her] colleagues in the world of high finance.”

Only she can say, but as an established scholar of education history (and a player in policy) it’s doubtful her support was so in want of a factual basis.

During testimony to Congress conservative William Bennett gave decades ago he invoked Ravitch as a bipartisan voice for school choice.

Regarding the school reforms that were advancing in Chicago under Mayor Daley and Paul Vallas Bennett declared “[t]he empirical evidence, now widely available, is irrefutable: Not only are many of our public-schools not getting better, they are getting worse. American students finish in the bottom half, and often near the bottom, in comparison to students from other industrialized nations.”

Then, after promoting the benefits of charter schools, he asked lawmakers to “follow my friend Diane Ravitch’s prescript” to:

…make Title I into a “portable entitlement” that would aid all poor kids regardless of what school they attend. This is the one way to assure that every single Title I child will receive Title I services at the school they currently attend. This is also the best way to assure accountability. If a parent is not satisfied with the Title I services they are getting, they can take their Title I dollars with them to the school or provider of choice; power to the parents, and not bureaucrats, in other words.

Was Ravitch’s support for school choice back then the result of suspicious philanthropy, or glossy marketing to mindless parents, or, more logically,  the result of her considerable scholarship by that point in her life?

Again, only she can say.

In the spring of 1997 she praised then-New York Pataki’s proposed charter school policies that allowed groups other than local boards to grant charters, allowed for an un-capped number of charters to open, and allowed these schools to hire teachers who weren’t state certified.


In supporting Pataki’s push she said:

It’s impossible to know whether a law permitting charter schools will emerge from this session of the Legislature; the opposition of the teachers’ union, which is the most powerful voice in Albany on education issues, is certainly not encouraging. This is unfortunate, for a large and vital network of charter schools in New York would offer hope to educators, parents, and students in troubled school districts and would promote higher academic standards for all the state’s public schools.

Why would she support such craven policies of such anti-democratic that today she maligns as wealthy pedophiles and privatizers? Projection much?

Forget that teachers’ unions – the ones Ravitch herself once admitted were the “most powerful voices in education” – today block legislation making it a crime for teachers to sexualize students, defeat resolutions that called for them to re-dedicate their profession to student achievement, and pay retail civil rights organizations to defeat the voices of their grassroots members.

Here’s the real kick to the taco, when Lamar Alexander pitched the idea that every D.C. school should be converted to a charter (in 1997, six years before Epstein arrived at the same conclusion) he ascribed this definition of charter schools to his friend Diane Ravitch:

Think of a charter school as a public school district with only one school. It receives public funds, agrees to meet clear academic standards and accepts all students who apply. Unlike existing public schools, it has a contract that can be revoked if the school fails to make good on its commitments.

If she were at all generous she would at very least admit the decency of long-term charter backers who hold valid theories for why charters improve the educational landscape. The longstanding arguments for charters could still be had in clean exchanges between judicious people – sans Ravitch – if we seek understanding and progress. The tensions between autonomy and regulation, local control and federal oversight, and public education as an institution or as a service to American learners could still be exercised by smart people truly seeking solutions to the inarguable problems of public schooling.

But not if we follow the zero-sum and divisive lead of Ravitch whose enemy-imaging toward those who differ on policy has escalated so far she no longer sees them as human. We’ll predictably end up in her abyss of false binaries, intellectual excursions, and forlorn paralysis.

Given Ms. Ravitch’s clever wits and stockpile of information I can’t imagine she leads us to that confused, somber place by accident. There is no better way to ensure the education establishment’s special interests – those who are among Ravitch’s most ardent disciples – are never brought to account than to ignore the brisk but level Ravitch of yesteryear and listen to the caustic and battled one before us now.


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