As 2014 drew to a close, New York City was a electrified yet grieving bundle of nerves. After the grand jury decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who administered the choke-hold on Eric Garner that resulted in his death, the city was a constant flow of protests, die-ins, and demonstrations. The Mayor of our City, Bill de Blasio, gave a empathetic speech on the night the grand jury’s decision and also mentioned that he and wife have had “the conversation” with their 6-foot-tall-biracial-son-who-has-a-huge-afro (description mine, not his) about how to act around the NYPD. He said:
“Because of a history that still hangs over us [and] the dangers that he may face, we’ve had to literally train him as families have all over this city for decades in how to take special care in any encounter he has with police officers, who are there to protect him. …
“There’s so many families in this city who feel that each and every night. Is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities of crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods, but are they safe from the very people they want to have faith in, as their protectors?” (source)
As much as the topic of “the conversation” that parents of Black and Latino children have with their kids on how to interact with the police has been a topic since the death of Trayvon Martin, the mayor’s words stung the NYPD. This was followed by weeks of protest (which were mostly peaceful, minus some anti-cop chanting and this isolated incident on the Brooklyn Bridge) and then the the final, horrible act that pushed everything over its tipping point: the fatal shooting, execution style, of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on a Saturday afternoon in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. The cops blamed de Blasio for it all: his words, the protests, the assault on the Bridge, the shooting of two innocent officers by a deranged man from Baltimore, and they turned their backs on him at Woodhull Hospital where the slain officers were brought, at Officer Ramos’ funeral, and at Officer Liu’s funeral in a giant, very public, fuck you.
My first response to the NYPD’s back-turning move was not sympathetic. I could not see how the Mayor’s very real words about the tensions between police and young people of color were anything but true, especially evidenced by major national events of late. I have heard colleagues–Black and Latino men and women teachers–tell me themselves about having “the conversation” with their kids. I know, from the words of my friends, that the fear is real. Additionally, how could a few bad apples protesting reflect an entire movement that had been peacefully protesting for weeks? And how could some nut-bag from Baltimore be de Blasio’s issue? I was annoyed by the NYPD’s acts, including the work slow down, but then…I GOT IT.
Yes, you read that correctly, I GOT IT.
When I turned Patrick Lynch (head of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, the union for NYPD) into Michael Mulgrew (head of the United Federation of Teachers, UFT, the NYC teacher’s union), and I turned all those cops standing proudly, in uniform, with their backs to the Mayor into teachers standing proudly with their backs to Albany, Governor Cuomo, Pearson, the and U.S. Department of Education, all of whom/which are putting ridiculous measures of educational reform onto our schools and our teachers, I GOT IT.
And I wondered, why haven’t teachers done this yet? Why haven’t administrators done this yet? Why haven’t parents done this yet? WHY HAVEN’T WE TURNED OUR BACKS ON THE NEVER ENDING SLEW OF BAD EDUCATIONAL REFORM YET?
Some have. Some principals have supported their teachers, telling them not to teach to the corporate-funded, badly-written and badly vetted state standardized tests that plague our schools. They have refused to scare their teachers into believing that their evaluations will be sealed by their students’ test scores even if the state says they will. Teachers have refused to be scared and therefore refused to narrow their curriculum to teach–for weeks and months on end–to the tests, taking away art, music, creativity, and inquiry from the students. Parents have opted-out of the tests, regardless of the implicit or explicit scare tactics by their school’s administrators about their kids’ middle school applications, their teacher’s evaluations (because we really do love our teachers), or the threat that the principal is vindictive and will put your kid in the least-favorite teacher’s class next year if you opt-out.
People are pushing back, but not enough, and not visibly.
I wish there was a platform where we could have the Governor’s attention and we could all stand up and turn our backs to him. A visible “fuck you” for his ridiculous ideas of what a classroom should look like. The cops claim they turned their backs on de Blasio for his “divisive anti-cop rhetoric.” Ha. Hahaha! Hahahahahahaha!
Teachers have been dealing with that for YEARS.
When will we accuse Governor Cuomo, the United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Obama (who is no friend of public schools) of having “blood on their hands” (the words Ed Mullins, president of the sergeants association, used against de Blasio) for the death of our schools, the death of the love the learning, for turning our kids into test-taking machines?
I don’t know, but it’s time we did because, to steal from a movement I am a part of and respect deeply:
PUBLIC SCHOOLS MATTER.