Syrian civilians in Aleppo following air strike; U.S. has escalated war to overthrow Syrian government by sending U.S. troops there. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders support the U.S. intervention.Photo: The Guardian
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
April 27, 2016
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders agree on U.S. war agenda in Syria, Middle East.
Bernie Sanders has endorsed President Obama’s troop escalation in Syria, once again showing that “he is no more ‘progressive’ than Obama on foreign policy, and just as dishonest – a true Democrat.”
Sanders will ultimately bow to Hillary Clinton, while still claiming that the Democratic Party can be transformed from the inside. However, millions will have witnessed that the campaign proves exactly the opposite – and will seek alternatives.
“His underlings are telling the troops that this whole electoral exercise will be worthwhile if they succeed in pushing through a progressive party platform, in Philadelphia.”
The 2016 presidential season will only be of historical significance if it leads to a fracturing of the duopoly electoral system in the United States, a “trap within a trap” in which the rich control both parties – one of which is always the overt party of white supremacy. Donald Trump has already succeeded in creating a “market” for a second right-wing party by stripping the GOP’s’ appeal to its raw, racist, white nationalist essentials – a political nightmare for every corporate public relations department in the nation. Corporate logos will be hidden in brown paper bags at the Republican convention, in Cleveland.
US business magnate Donald Trump, who is running for president in the 2016 presidential elections. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN
It is difficult to imagine how the Trump rank and file and the party’s corporate “establishment” will paper over their irreconcilable differences, rooted in the party’s failure to preserve skin privilege and good jobs in a White Man’s Country. Just as brazenly, Trump, the rabble rousing billionaire, has violated the most sacred ruling class taboos by rejecting the national security rationale for the hyper-aggressive, ever-expanding, global U.S. military presence. If Trump fails to convincingly recant such heresies, the rulers will deal with him with extreme prejudice.
“Trump has violated the most sacred ruling class taboos by rejecting the national security rationale for the hyper-aggressive, ever-expanding, global U.S. military presence.”
Bernie Sanders presents no such threat to Empire. He supports President Obama’s illegal drone wars and the 15-year occupation of Afghanistan. Should he somehow be elected president, Sanders would follow Obama’s practice of reserving Tuesday’s for choosing targets from his “Kill List.” To circumvent U.S. and international prohibitions against assassination, Sanders offers the same “self-defense” justification as the Israelis do, when they slaughter Palestinians by the thousands. “There are people out there who want to kill Americans, who want to attack this country, and I think we have a right to defend ourselves,” Sanders told Chris Hayes, of MSNBC.
U.S. President Barack Obama has boots on the ground in Syria, across the globe.
The nominally socialist senator from Vermont claims that he differs from Hillary Clinton on foreign policy because she “is too much into regime change and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be.”
During the New Hampshire debate, Sanders said the ouster of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein “destabilized the entire region” and the overthrow and death of Muammar Gaddafi “created a vacuum for ISIS” in Libya. “Yes, we could get rid of Assad tomorrow,” Sanders told the crowd, back in February, “but that would create another political vacuum that would benefit ISIS.”
“It doesn’t bother Sanders a bit that the U.S. presence on sovereign Syrian soil is illegal, an act of war.”
His leftish boosters clung to these utterances as proof that Sanders was, deep down, a peaceable kind of guy, in sharp contrast to “Queen of Chaos” Clinton. Tuesday, however, as he was losing four of five primaries, Sanders showed that he is no less a warlord than Barack Obama – who, like Sanders, based his “peace candidate” appeal on his 2002 opposition to the Iraq invasion. Obama announced he was sending 250 more U.S. Special Forces troops into Syria, supposedly to fight ISIS and to arm and train more of those elusive, damn-near-extinct “moderate” rebels. It doesn’t bother Sanders a bit that the U.S. presence on sovereign Syrian soil is illegal, an act of war, as is U.S. funding and training of fighters attempting “regime change.”
Syrian hospital in Aleppo bombed April 28, 2016.
“Here’s the bottom line,” said Sanders. “ISIS has got to be destroyed, and the way that ISIS must be destroyed is not through American troops fighting on the ground.” U.S. Special Forces have already been engaged in combat operations in Syria, as Sanders should know. Nevertheless, he plowed on:
“I think what the president is talking about is having American troops training Muslim troops, helping to supply the military equipment they need, and I do support that effort. We need a broad coalition of Muslim troops on the ground. We have had some success in the last year or so putting ISIS on the defensive, we’ve got to continue that effort.”
What Sanders is saying is that he would continue Obama’s policy of regime change, despite the “unintended consequences” and its clear illegality. He is no more “progressive” than Obama on foreign policy, and just as dishonest – a true Democrat.
“Sanders opposes ‘regime change’ except when it is perpetrated by a Democratic administration.”
Obama sends 500 U.S. troops to Syria.
The same day, Sanders sidestepped Joe Scarborough’s attempts to get him to agree that Hillary Clinton is a “hawk” on foreign policy. “I don’t want to characterize her, but I think our views on foreign policy are different,” Sanders told the MSNBC host.
“I think my views are a lot closer to President Obama’s than they are to Hillary Clinton’s…. I believe it must be Muslim troops on the ground who do the fighting with the support of the United States. I will do everything that I can to prevent our troops from getting involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East.”
A distinction without a difference, as they say. Sanders opposes “regime change” except when it is perpetrated by a Democratic administration. He really doesn’t mind U.S. “boots on the ground” in other people’s countries, as long as they are arming and training people of native religions and races to kill others of their kind, and U.S. casualties are kept to a minimum.
ISIS executes government police and soldiers in open field in Iraq. ISIS is a creation of the U.S. CIA, originating with the anti-Gaddafi “rebels” who helped the U.S. and NATO obliterate Libya.
Sanders is an imperialist pig. Although his self-image is that of a Scandinavian social democrat, Sanders is more like a French “socialist” who supports the maintenance of a safety net for his own people, but reserves the right to routinely commit mass murder in the former colonies in order to preserve the French “way of life” and “values.”
With the mathematics of the presidential primary race now undeniable, Sanders is preparing his supporters to scale back their dreams of social transformation – which, for some of them, includes a genuine retreat from Empire as well as a new domestic deal. His underlings are telling the troops that this whole electoral exercise will be worthwhile if they succeed in pushing through a progressive party platform, in Philadelphia. Then it will be time to unite with Hillary, the plutocrats’ candidate, in the battle against the dreaded Trumpster.
“Sanders is preparing his supporters to scale back their dreams of social transformation.”
Bernie Sanders is peddling the sucker’s line, that the Democratic Party can be transformed from the inside. However, the actual experience of the campaign, as witnessed by millions of young, newly energized citizens, is proving exactly the opposite; that this corporate-crafted Democratic mechanism and its interlocking Republican counterpart are tools of the oligarchy, designed to manufacture consent to corporate rule and corral and crush dissent.
Military occupation at home: Teen confronts police in Ferguson, MO after the police execution of Michael Brown Aug. 9, 2014. His killer, Darren Wilson, was exonerated.
When Sanders consummates his “sheep dog” assignment, he will deflate to his original state: a small-town Democratic Party operative. Most of his supporters will acquiesce to Hillary’s nomination – just as most people everywhere acquiesce to everything most of the time.
But, a significant proportion, numbering in the millions, and including the half of young African Americans that have rejected the Black Misleadership Class’s slavish allegiance to the Democratic Party hierarchy, will not. And, although Hillary Clinton will surely win victory in November with her “big tent” Democratic Party – flush with white suburbanites who, only yesterday, were Republicans – it will be a Party that is even more hostile to Blacks and progressives than before Donald Trump plunged the duopoly into crisis.
Millions of people, especially young folks, will be looking for an alternative to the Democrats and the Republicans – or to electoral politics, entirely. It’s up to the Left to give it to them.
With statements by the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, Mother Tynetta Muhammad, wife of the late Elijah Muhammad
Prince not only an artist: he battled corporations for artists’ rights and justice, fought police violence, environmental racism
“When you stop a man from dreaming, he becomes a slave”–Prince
Note: VOD editor Diane Bukowski previously wrote for The Final Call over a period of six years. The Final Call has produced a stunning, one of a kind article on Prince that analyzes his legacy from a people’s political standpoint, unlike coverage in the mainstream media.
In this June 2, 2014, file photo, U.S. pop singer Prince watches the fourth round match of the French Open tennis tournament between Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris. Prince announced on, Aug. 25, 2014, that he would release a new album entitled, “Art Official Age” on Warner Bros. Records, the label Prince was signed to from 1978 to the mid-1990s, but later battled for the rights of his music. Photos: AP/ Wide World photos
Vigils, block parties, and celebrations of his life continued across the world for music artist and global icon Prince, who passed away at age 57 on April 21.
Prince was an incredible musician, culture watchers and analysts told The Final Call. Just look at the outpouring of love by fans touched by his music, they said.
But, they added, Prince is also loved because he was principled. He fought for artists’ rights and for justice. He fought for people who could not fight for themselves, not just through his music, but with his clout and his finances.
“I like you will miss Prince. I like you saw the Greatness in his Struggle just to gain ownership of his own name. I saw the Greatness of his Being, the courage that he had to fight for, not only his own image, his own likeness, and his own music masters but to fight for others who were not as blessed with the depth of love and the breadth of courage that he demonstrated,” wrote the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam in a tribute published in The Final Call. He also highlighted the “beauty” of the “essence” of Prince in his music, his gifts and his service to others. The musician tried to visit the Minister during a serious illness in the 1990s and donated $50,000 to the Million Family March in 2000.
A memorial fence in memory of pop star Prince is lined with flowers and signs at Paisley Park Studios, April 22, in Chanhassen, Minn. Prince died April 21 at Paisley Park at the age of 57.
“Though I am saddened over the fact that I will never physically meet him, we will always have him with us through the music that he gave us, the struggle that he made that taught us how we must stand up, fearless against that which is ugly in its injustice, its unrighteousness and its wickedness,” said Minister Farrakhan. For Minister Farrakhan’s full statement, see link at end of story.
“He had a mystique, this whole thing about not being accessible, but from what I understood and from what I’ve seen, he was a lot more accessible than people realized,” said Davey D, a national hip hop journalist and historian.
“Here’s a guy that, when you talked to folks, they’d be like, ‘Oh yeah! He was showing up at the back of my poetry show in the middle of nowhere, and he’d be sitting there in the back, checking you out,” Davey D stated.
A fan cries at a makeshift memorial created in remembrance of singer Prince outside Apollo Theatre in New York , April 22.
He recalled Prince was so impressed with Bay Area DJ Pam the Funktress’ work at after parties that he put her on tour with him.
Whether discussing environmental pollution with journalist and author Tavis Smiley, funding songs and videos about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or holding a concert and focusing on the problem of police violence, Prince’s fight for justice was as pure as his music, said Davey D, artists and analysts.
“He was one of those folks that gave and was committed, and pushed back fully, all at the same time of being a consummate artist and playing that game very well, meaning that he kept a certain type of mystique about him, a certain type of sex appeal, if you will, and he knew how to play to people’s emotions,” Davey D said.
Prince’s art and intelligence earned many accolades, including seven Grammy Awards and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
The artist formally known as Prince, with the word “Slave” written across his face, belts out a tune from not only a revolutionary artist, but as a business his new CD, “Chaos and Disorder,” outside the studio of NBC-TV’s “Today” show in New York’s Rockefeller Plaza, July 9, 1996. Photos: AP/Wide World photos
Prince had just returned to Warner Bros. Records after an 18-year feud. He regained ownership of his catalog in an agreement that also meant a new album. During the fight, in which he was unable to use his birth name, the musician created a symbol that was used to represent him and re-named himself, “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” in 1993. Three years later he would sever ties with Warner Bros.
In a music video and in public performances, the word “slave” was written on his cheek. “People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face,” he said in a 1996 interview with Rolling Stone magazine. “But if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I? When you stop a man from dreaming, he becomes a slave. That’s where I was. I don’t own Prince’s music. If you don’t own your masters, your master owns you.”
Prince stood up to the corporations and won, said Davey D. “Not only did he stand up, but he stood on principles, like, ‘I will not put my name next to a product.’ That’s a pretty bold move.”
Many have used the “if I don’t do it, somebody else will do it. I gotta get it now” excuse, said the internationally known chronicler of hip hop and music. “Prince was like to hell with that! ‘You ain’t getting paid, and I’m not gonna get paid, but that’s alright.’ He found other ways to get paid, because he understood that his talent was transferrable. His talent wasn’t dependent upon Warner Bros. or anything like that,” Davey D said.
The skilled, protective Prince licensed his music to stream only on Tidal, the popular music service owned by rap mogul Jay Z.
Musicians staHHr. Davey D and Jasiri X
“Even though as somebody who would like easy access to his music, I can respect the fact that it’s scrubbed from the internet and all those places where money was made off his product. He did that. … That’s pretty big,” Davey D added.
For rap activist Jasiri X, Prince’s activism around artist independence and justice are a big part of the Prince legacy, and are very influential on his own life and art.
“He didn’t just exist as a musical genius,” the rapper said. In Prince’s tradition, he too feels strongly that as a young, Black man in America, he has no luxury to do art for art’s sake. He feels a duty to speak on what is happening with his people and his community.
“It’s interesting how we saw that play out with Prince. We saw it play out first with his stance on artists’ ownership and standing up to the record company. … He and both Michael Jackson did the same thing,” Jasiri X noted.
Muhammad Ali and The Artist Formerly Known As Prince are photographed at a press conference in Washington, D.C. on June 24, 1997 detailing plans for the World Healing Honors, a benefit concert headlined by the Artist to promote international harmony and tolerance. All proceeds from the October concert in Los Angeles went towards Ali’s World Healing Project.
They stood up to record companies and against the exploitation of artists, and Prince took it a step further, he continued. “They took ownership of his given name, and he decided to take on a symbol and market that, which was really powerful.”
But Prince wasn’t through, said Jasiri X. In 1985, he started his own label Paisley Park Records with Warner Bros.
Prince became one of the leading artists to begin to utilize the internet and distribute his music online early on, but he did not allow YouTube to get paid off his music without paying him.
“I think about his Musicology tour, where he included his album in the price of the ticket. … It became the highest selling album in the country because of that tactic, and Billboard or the artist registry basically said they would not count that as record sales anymore after Prince did it,” Jasiri X recalled.
“You’re talking about somebody that was not only a revolutionary artist, but as a business person, and thinking about how—which is a struggle that many artists have—do you monetize your music, being at the forefront of doing different things and looking at different ways to monetize music.”
“Music is nothing without the product behind it,” said Che “Rhymefest” Smith, Grammy Award-winning rapper and songwriter. “The music is just the commercial for who you are as a person, and for what you provide, the services you provide as a human being, like how do you serve. And then your music is your journal to that journey.”
Prince exhibited significant attributes in different ways, from giving money to the family of slain teen Trayvon Martin in Florida, to giving money and showing up and performing at a school for the deaf, he said. “I mean, he performed seven concerts and still had time in the 80s, at the height of Purple Rain, to perform and raise money for deaf children through concerts for them … saying that you may not hear the tonality of my music, but you’re going to feel the spiritual vibration of it,” Rhymefest told The Final Call.
Prince could have left it at just being a great guitarist, an artist, but Prince learned to play 27 instruments and with them, gave the world the gift of 28, including his voice, Rhymefest continued.
The world is coming to know just how he manifested the word of God through his actions, Rhymefest said.
“I think it’s very important when we as Muslims think about what it is our prayers say, what it is that the Qur’an says and the Hadith says, to be a servant of Allah. Prince, no matter what religion he called himself, as a human being, he was a servant of Allah. He was the manifestation of what a Muslim is, and you see that not only in his music, but in his service of mankind,” he added.
Mother Tynnetta Muhammad, the late wife of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, reflected on Prince’s creating Love 4 One Another, a non-profit dedicated to relieving poverty by communal action and self-help programs.
A crowd pays tribute to Prince inside First Ave where “Purple Rain” was filmed late, April 21,in Minneapolis. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
It was to, “eliminate ‘lack’ from the global vocabulary,” Mother Tynnetta wrote in a column, “The awakening of Sleeping Beauty—The Golden Age of the New Cultural Revolution Begins A Seven Day Celebration with Prince—A Tribute to Paul Robeson and Mei Lanfang” which appeared in 2000 in The Final Call newspaper. In the column, she shared her experience touring Paisley Park.
“The Honorable Elijah Muhammad desired that our entertainers and performers would become spiritually awakened to the knowledge of themselves by placing God in the forefront of their creative gifts and influences,” she wrote.
“The man named Prince appears to be sincerely motivated and guided by a genuine spirit of godliness seeking to escape the entrapments of a dying world,” Mother Tynnetta Muhammad continued.
Prince has empowered many young adults through Yes We Code, a national initiative to connect 100,000 men and women from low opportunity backgrounds to high-paying careers in technology.
“Prince’s struggle as a gifted artist to reclaim his own name on the basis of Freedom, Justice and Equality, pitted in a legal battle with Warner Brothers Records, has placed him in a vanguard position as an example for others,” she observed.
Prince was one of the last few great artists who had a chance to make a lot of money but did not really care a whole lot about money, said Dr. Boyce Watkins, entrepreneur, writer and analyst.
“He seemed to have value systems that went beyond money, which to me, it kind of propels him ahead of most other entertainers, because since Prince died, people have talked about what kind of philanthropist he was and how much he cared about his community, and also how much he cared about making good, independent music,” Dr. Watkins said.
He was a good artist, and he defended his right to be an artist, even in the face of corporate control and manipulation, Dr. Watkins said.
Dr. Boyce Watkins, the “People’s Scholar.”
“A lot of people think that freedom of speech or creative freedom comes in the form of music where they’re calling women all kinds of derogatory names and rapping about Black men killing each other, but that’s not creative freedom. That’s corporate speech, what corporations tell you to say,” he argued.
“Prince stood up to corporations and said, ‘You’re not going to control me,’ and a lot of people admired him for that,” Dr. Watkins said.
Many also admired Prince because he understood he was more than an artist, Dr. Watkins said. “He understood that you can’t be a ‘successful’ Black man if you’re not doing anything for other Black people,” he said.
Dr. Watkins believes Prince set the tone for the next 30 years with what he did with the film “Purple Rain” in 1984.
“That’s what most people know him for, even though he’s made a lot of music since then. He’s put out 39 studio albums, and they say that 70 percent of his music has not been released, which is really amazing,” Dr. Watkins said.
“What we’re looking at is somebody who is really committed to the craft. He studies. He rehearses. He practices. He does due diligence in terms of making sure that his performance and skill level is up there, and he takes his time, and he is very particular about what he was going to let out, what he wasn’t,” said Davey D.
“That sort of work ethic I think we take for granted but it’s not seen in a lot of people,” he said. Some artists turn out projects quickly so they can be consumed versus taking time and getting it right. “They’re just like, Hey. We just want you to get this out, and don’t worry about yo’ur audience. They’re not smart enough. They’re not worthy enough. They’re not insightful enough to know the difference between you taking your time and getting all the right equipment, and right notes, and players or musicians to do your thing versus just doing any old thing,” he said.
Prince was in a class of musicians and singers that set a high bar in the entertainment industry. He was in the company of Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson, Rick James, Barry White and others that were always on point, Davey D added.
Prince of the 1980s is largely remembered and celebrated, but there was so much more than that that he wanted to do, a tearful Van Jones, Prince’s friend and one of his attorneys, said in various TV interviews.
Logo for Prince’s charity known as “Love 4 One Another”.
According to Mr. Jones, it was Phaedra Ellis Lamkins, a young, Black woman in the labor movement, Prince’s manager, who went to war to get his catalogue back.
Prince wanted to make children’s cartoons, control his own music, and help children, he said. Prince cared so much just about ordinary people, Mr. Jones stated during the Dr. Drew show on the cable Headline News channel.
Prince has empowered many young adults through Yes We Code, a national initiative to connect 100,000 men and women from low-opportunity backgrounds to high-paying careers in technology. Prince helped launch the initiative at the 20th Anniversary Essence Music Festival, July 4th, 2014.
“It’s so hard to talk about your friend in the past tense,” Mr. Jones said.
Family and friends had an intimate ceremony April 23 after Prince’s remains were cremated.
Publicist Yvette Noel-Schure said the celebration of his life included his “most beloved” family, friends and musicians. She said a musical celebration will be held at a future date.
The list of people who attended was not announced, but Prince’s sister Tyka Nelson and brother-in-law Maurice Phillips were seen on the grounds of Prince’s estate Paisley Park, as well as friends such as percussionist Sheila E. and bassist Larry Graham.
Prince’s Paisley Park Studios
Prince was found unresponsive April 21 in an elevator at Paisley Park, and an autopsy was done. Authorities have not declared a cause of death and said results could take days or weeks.
His sudden death brought different stories and concerns about whether it was from natural causes or some other nefarious means. Prince was known for clean living.
For 25 years Jaye Delai has entertained audiences around the world on the radio. The announcer’s distinctive voice has been heard on radio stations in large cities such as Charlotte and small towns playing the music of Black America for decades.
“Prince Rogers Nelson was one of the most incredible talents this world has ever seen,” he said. “However it is his creative genius, his business mind, and humanitarian efforts that set him apart.”
“Prince was one of the most vocal artists as well when it came to the fair and equitable treatment of artists. He fought Warner Brothers over the rights for his catalog of music, his name and more. When he wrote slave on his face he also said that these industry contracts make slaves out of performers,” he said.
(Nisa Islam Muhammad and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)
Minister Farrakhan’s statement on Prince’s passing:
Michigan Legislature still debating provisions of bills that would end DPS
Current Detroit Board of Education, parents file class action lawsuit citing irreparable harm to Detroit’s children under state control
Retaliation continues against teachers who closed 80 percent of Detroit schools during walk-outs protesting building conditions
By Diane Bukowski
April 24, 2016
Detroit Board of Education President Herman Davis stands at right as schools activist Helen Moore speaks at press conference announcing lawsuit for DPS kids April 7, 2016.
DETROIT – The far right-wing war to dismantle the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) district continues; a July 16 DPS “execution date” is set under pending state legislation.
Meanwhile, DPS board members and parents await the results of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed April 6 against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and his Emergency Managers (EM)’s, and Detroit teachers face continuing attacks for a series of walk-outs that shut down 80 percent of Detroit’s schools earlier this year.
“The war is on,” Detroit Board of Education President Herman Davis said during a press conference April 7 on the lawsuit. “We must move forward as a community, and stop the school to prison pipeline. This is just like in slavery days. They are taking our Black children and selling them to the highest bidder. It’s genocide.”
Davis compared attack on DPS to slave auctions of previous era.
On the legislative front, the State Senate has approved bills 710, 711, 819, 820, 821, and 822, which would replace DPS with a “community district” including charter schools, all under state control, and abolish the current Board.
The new board would answer to the same State Financial Review Commission that controls the city of Detroit under the bankruptcy plan.
It would also create a “Detroit Education Commission” appointed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, to determine school siting. (See earlier VOD article, linked below, which laid out provisions of the bills.)
Senate members and their supporters in the Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children, co-chaired by Rev. Wendell Anthony, with Walbridge Aldinger CEO and Snyder ally John Rakolta, Jr., among others, are now wrangling with members of the House of Representatives over whether the legislation is sufficiently pro-charter school.
Michigan State Sen. Coleman A. Young II
But State Sen. Coleman A. Young II (D-Detroit), expressed his complete opposition to the Senate bills during debate in the Senate.
“I want to make it clear that this is not a bailout,” Young said. “This is repaying DPS money that the state put into debt in the first place, and it’s not enough money for the debt that the state put DPS in. . . .there is no academic reform or support in this whatsoever. Sixty‑six percent of the children in Detroit Public Schools are not proficient in reading. Forty-seven percent of the city is functionally illiterate. This, to me, seems more about governance, contracts, and who gets the money than about doing what is best to educate our children.”
(See link below story for VOD’s earlier description of Senate bills.)
Student of Detroit’s historic multi-cultural Chadsey High School speaks at school board meeting against Chadsey closure March 10, 2005. Despite repeated walk-outs by Chadsey students, the school closed anyway.
On April 20, 31 state Republicans signed a resolution to dissolve the elected State Board of Education and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction which it appoints.
Under terms of the resolution, the governor would appoint a director of a state Department of Education. Such an action, however, would require a state constitutional amendment.
The resolution’s sponsor, State Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Township), said “It has become increasingly obvious that students in Detroit would be better off if DPS simply went away,” in an op-ed in the Detroit News April 9. He proposed instead that the state issue voucher payments to parents to send their children to private schools.
But Detroit school board members, parents, and their attorney Thomas Bleakley said April 7 that state control has been responsible for the Detroit district’s extreme distress, pointing to the chart below.
Accompanying the package was a letter asking the public in part to “Oppose any dissolution or replacement of Detroit Public Schools. . . .oppose any further intervention and/or experimentation on Detroit schoolchildren . . . demand that the State of Michigan conduct a specific audit to determine the causes and origins of the DPS deficit . . . .[and] immediately empower the current and already elected School board. (See full letter at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/DBEletter.pdf.)
Detroit Board of Education press conference on lawsuit, April 7, 2016. Board member Elena Herrada is speaking.
The lawsuit, Pauling et al v. Snyder et al, filed against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, his Emergency Managers, and their cronies April 6, says the state is waging an unbridled assault on the right of Detroit’s children, particularly children of color, to a “free, public, adequate and worthy education,” in the words of Bleakley. It asks for a trial by jury and “compensatory and punitive damages.”
The long-closed Frederick Douglass High School on Detroit’s east side has left a community full of vacant storefronts and homes.
“There is a now a greater percentage of school drop-outs, more children are entering the criminal justice system, and more cannot get in college,” since state control, Attorney Bleakley said.
School board member Elena Herrada said the number of children being suspended, with no recourse, is rising. There are only two suspension hearings officers, and no translators for Spanish and Arabic-speaking parents.
A Michigan American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) study, “The School to Prison Pipeline,” earlier found that children of color, particularly Black children, are disproportionately suspended across the state, leaving them to the mercy of the streets.
Students have been left without schools, period. The majority of DPS schools have been closed since the state takeover, leaving 89 bona fide public schools in 2016, out of 261 in 1994, depriving entire communities of the institutions that once anchored them.
Detroit Board of Education member Lamar Lemmons.
“Seventy-seven school buildings have been bundled and given to the City of Detroit to pay an alleged water drainage debt,” Herrada said. “Art, music and math teachers have been cut from the budget. Teachers have had their pay cut and their health care benefits slashed. Take our children out of these oppressive warehouses!”
Speakers also expressed absolute opposition to the Senate bills.
“We vehemently oppose the Senate bills,” Board member Lamar Lemmons said. “They are nothing but a bait and switch tactic, giving the illusion of democracy with an ‘elected’ school board [answering to the State Financial Review Commission] in place of the duly elected board which now exists, which we call the ‘School Board in Exile’ because all our powers have been stolen under the EM.”
He added, “Both the Community School District and the Detroit Election Commission allow the Mayor to pick charter schools for his friends and campaign contributors. More millage dollars and construction dollars are involved in the plan. If these are such great ideas, why don’t they have them in Grosse Pointe? Don’t Jim Crow Detroit!”
Kathy Carthron (featured in Channel 7 video above) has an eight-year-old autistic son attending DPS, which has closed facilities for special needs students including the Oakman Orthopedic School and the Detroit Day School for the Deaf. DPS has merged their students with the general population of students, with teachers untrained in handling their needs.
“My son has been abused in Detroit Public Schools,” Carthron said. “They have left him sitting in a mess in diapers. He doesn’t have enough time to eat. This is against the law. ”
DPS parent Kathy Carthron speaks, with board members Ida Short and Tawanna Simpson to her right.
She said her son was “kidnapped” by Checker Cab after being left without a way home on a day when school ended early.
“This attack on public education is going on all across the country,” said Helen Moore, founder of the Keep the Vote No Takeover Coalition. “Black and Brown children are being harmed irreparably by corporate interests who want to profit from public education.”
She cited in particular New Orleans, which now has the nation’s first all-charter school district, called the Recovery School District. Seventy percent of charter schools are operated for profit. Parents there have also filed a class-action lawsuit. (See video below.)
Meanwhile, a May 16 hearing has been scheduled in an ongoing state lawsuit titled, “The School District of the City of Detroit v. Detroit Federation of Teachers et al,” which targets teachers who earlier participated in a series of well-publicized sick-outs. The actions drew broad attention to the horrific conditions in what is left of Detroit’s public school buildings.
Large demonstrations have been held by teachers, parents and students outside the hearings, held at Cadillac Place on W. Grand Blvd., which houses the State of Michigan’s Detroit offices. (See video at top of story.) The sick-outs have received national coverage, including in the pages of Time Magazine. (See link below story.)
Protesters outside Cadillac Place during earlier hearing on lawsuit v. teachers who called in sick.
Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens earlier denied the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction against the walkouts. In ordering the May 16 hearing, to be held at noon, Judge Stephens said, “The issue here is whether the defendants engaged in conduct which was in violation of the EM [order] 1-15 but protected by the First Amendment.”
Her order, at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/School-district-v-DFT-order.pdf, cites language from the Michigan Public Employee Relations Act (PERA), which says, “This act does not limit, impair, or affect the right of a public employee to the expression or communication of a view, grievance, complaint, or opinion on any matter related to the conditions or compensation of public employment or their betterment as long as the expression or communication does not interfere with the full, faithful, and proper performance of the duties of employment. [MCL 433.201.2].”
Chicago Teachers Union protest at Bank of America.
The Chicago Teachers Union has repeatedly struck and conducted informational rallies against the dismantling of schools in that city, taking a much stronger and more effective stance than the current DFT since its previously elected president Steve Conn was ousted for his militancy.
Singled out for attack in the lawsuit are Conn and Nicole Conaway, who taught at the now-privatized Catherine Ferguson Academy for pregnant students and their children. They became nationally known when they walked out to stop the dissolution of their school.
Some of Michigan’s juvenile lifers: (l to r, top through bottom row), Cortez Davis, Raymond Carp, Dakotah Eliason, Henry Hill, Keith Maxey, Dontez Tillman, Charles Lewis, Jemal Tipton, Nicole Dupure, Giovanni Casper, Jean Cintron, Matthew Bentley, Bosie Smith, Kevin Boyd, Damion Todd, Jennifer Pruitt, Edward Sanders, David Walton (photos show some lifers at current age, others at age they went to prison).
U.S. Supreme Court ruled Jan. 25 in Montgomery v. Louisiana that Miller v. Alabama decision declaring JLWOP unconstitutional is retroactive
But MICHISSIPPI’s juvenile lifers still have “many rivers to cross” in state with 2nd highest number of JLWOPer’s in U.S., under Snyder administration
Another state juvenile lifer commits suicide after 23 years, says attorney
“All but the rarest of children” are not incorrigible, and should not be left in prison to die, says USSC
By Diane Bukowski
April 10, 2016
Henry Montgomery, 69, in Angola Prison in Louisiana since 1963
DETROIT – The fates of at least 364 Michigan prisoners sentenced to die in prison as juveniles, a/k/a to “life without parole,” hang in the balance after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Montgomery v. Louisiana ruling affirming the appeal of George Montgomery, a Black man who was 17 when charged with killing a white deputy sheriff in the deep South.
Almost four years after the court found such sentences unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual” in Miller v. Alabama, it finally ruled that Miller was fully retroactive across the U.S. Courts in only four states, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota had persisted in declaring that Miller did not apply to already incarcerated prisoners, many of whom had already spent decades behind bars.
In Michigan, two-thirds of juvenile lifers have spent at least 25 years in prison. At least 70 percent are people of color, most of them Black. Michigan has the second highest number of juvenile lifers in the U.S. Under the current state administration, they still face “many rivers to cross” in the wake of the Montgomery ruling.
Edward Sanders at 17 (r) with friends in Detroit.
“All praises are due to Allah,” Detroiter Edward Sanders said of the decision. He was 17 when he was convicted of first-degree murder in a 1975 drive-by shooting where he did not pull the trigger.
“I am thankful for our Lord’s Mercy,” Sanders continued. “The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Montgomery vs Louisiana is a great step back into our humanity; a child is never the same as an adult. I am thankful to the many people and groups that worked to this end. I prayed for this day. First for myself . . . and then for others in my situation. The short time in which we went from juvenile courts to adulthood in our society as it reacted to very young children is sad. [Islamic law] says children are not adults and should not be addressed the same under the law. In Islam this is not a modern law, nor is it in this society.”
Sanders is now 58, and has spent the last 41 years in Michigan prisons. He is currently at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, classified at the low security level of two.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy
During his time in prison, Sanders obtained his bachelor’s degree, and continued to study the law. He taught classes at Mound Road Prison in Detroit, and has functioned as a jail-house lawyer for many years, helping other inmates with their cases. He has said he wants to work with at-risk youth upon release.
“Henry Montgomery has spent each day of the past 46 years knowing he was condemned to die in prison,” Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority in the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
“Perhaps it can be established that, due to exceptional circumstances, this fate was a just and proportionate punishment for the crime he committed as a 17-year-old boy. In light of what this Court has said in Roper, Graham, and Miller about how children are constitutionally different from adults in their level of culpability, however, prisoners like Montgomery must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.” (See USSC decision at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/USSC-Montgomery-v-LA.pdf.)
Henry Montgomery booked at the age of 17 in East Baton Rouge, LA, allegedy for killing Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Hurt; media called him “Wolfman.”
The court found that its 2012 Miller decision involved substantive, not procedural, issues under the Constitution and therefore was retroactive. It thus disagreed with opinions by Michigan’s attorney general Bill Schuette, who filed an amicus brief opposing Montgomery’s appeal, and other state officials and courts.
“A State may remedy a Miller violation by extending parole eligibility to juvenile offenders,” Kennedy said regarding implementation. “This would neither impose an onerous burden on the States nor disturb the finality of state convictions. And it would afford someone like Montgomery, who submits that he has evolved from a troubled, misguided youth to a model member of the prison community, the opportunity to demonstrate the truth of Miller’s central intuition—that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change.”
He noted further, “Although Miller did not foreclose a sentencer’s ability to impose life without parole on a juvenile, the Court explained that a lifetime in prison is a disproportionate sentence for all but the rarest of children, those whose crimes reflect ‘irreparable corruption.’”
Atty. Mark Plaisance argued case in front of USSC for Henry Montgomery.
Attorney Mark Plaisance of Baton Rouge, LA argued the case for Montgomery, as a representative of the Public Defender’s Office. He was backed by amicus briefs filed by dozens of other organizations.
“We were well pleased with the decision,” Plaisance told VOD. “It’s the next step in the court’s evolution on how it believes the justice system should address juvenile offenders, that they are not fully knowledgeable about what they are doing. The Supreme Court said it would leave [implementation] up to the states, but Justice Kennedy said based on the states’ arguments that reviewing all cases would be burdensome, it would be easily resolved by states just sending such prisoners straight to parole hearings. He dropped a big hint.”
Montgomery, a sophomore in high school, was two weeks past his 17th birthday in the rural South of 1963 when he was arrested for killing white deputy sheriff Charles H. Hurt of the East Baton Rouge Parish. Newspaper accounts at the time called Montgomery the “Wolfman.”
STILL SLAVERY IN PRISON: In this Aug. 18, 2011 photo, prison guards ride horses that were broken by inmates as they return from farm work detail at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
He was at first sentenced to death, but his conviction was overturned on an appeal alleging substantial racial bias at trial. He was retried and sentenced to life without parole. He has spent his time since then at Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison, named after the country from which many Africans were kidnapped to spend their lives as slaves in the area.
Plaisance said Montgomery remains in Angola more than two months after the Supreme Court decision, because the Louisiana Supreme Court has yet to respond to the high court’s order remanding the case to it for a compliant ruling.
Here in Michigan, most juvenile lifers remain in limbo as well, due to various state statutes and court rulings. Two exceptions are Cortez Davis and Raymond Carp, whose cases under Miller had already been heard and denied by the Michigan Supreme Court, on grounds that Miller was not retroactive.
USSC has remanded Juvenile lifer Cortez Davis’ case to the Michigan Supreme Court.
State records indicate the USSC remanded their cases to the MSC for re-consideration under the Montgomery ruling as of April 8.
But for other Michigan juvenile lifers, the situation is complex. The merciless attitude of the current administration under Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette was summed up in an amici curaie brief filed on behalf of Michigan “and 15 other states.”
“As guardians of the community’s security, the amici States note that these offenders are as a category some of the most dangerous,” Schuette’s brief says in part. “They committed the gravest crime—murder. And they have been incarcerated for virtually their entire adult lives. Requiring the States to resentence hundreds of offenders, many of whose crimes were committed decades ago, would undermine the community’s safety and would offend principles of finality.”
While the USSC suggested, but did not require, that all juvenile lifers be made parole eligible, Michigan’s legislature earlier enacted statutes mandating procedures for re-sentencing to long terms of years instead, if Miller was found to be retroactive.
Juvenile lifer Edward Sanders
Under MCL 769.25a, prosecutors in each county have 180 days from the date of the retroactivity decision to file a motion seeking re-imposition of LWOP in selected cases. If they do not file such a motion, the defendant must be re-sentenced to a minimum term of 25 to 40 years, with a maximum term set at 60 years. Prisoners who have served more than 20 years are given priority for re-sentencing. See http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Juvenile-lifers-mcl-769-25a.pdf.
“I look to be resentenced to a term of years,” Sanders reacted. “I am not considering the Michigan parole board who told me back in 1982-83 that it would support me in a commutation request that never happened due to the change in its policy to ‘life means life.’ I am willing to have a court reconsider my past 41 years in prison and the facts of the case plus I do have new evidence addressing intent in this case that show there was never a first-degree murder. However, I accept my actions . . . . [but] I am not the child of 1975, I am an adult of 2016.”
Stephen Marschke, parole board director under Engler.
Former Michigan Gov. John Engler
Michigan’s parole board under Governors since John Engler has had a merciless reputation. Engler converted the board from civil service employees to gubernatorial appointees. One of his first parole board directors, Stephen Marschke, a former Berrien County Sheriff with a brutal reputation, coined the phrase, “life means life.”
Prior to that, law and practice regarding parolable life was that a prisoner could apply for parole after 10 years. Afterwards, Michigan’s prison population skyrocketed, now taking up one-third of the state’s budget.
Anthony Shamont Jones remains in prison after 35 years despite the reduction of his sentence to parolable life in 2011.
In the first case in the U.S. after Miller, Anthony Shamont Jones, 17 when he was convicted of first degree murder in 1979, won a parolable life sentence in Kalamazoo County’s Ninth Circuit Court in Dec. 2011. He had run from the scene of a store owner’s killing and was not the shooter.
But almost five years later, he remains incarcerated at the Chippewa Facility in Kincheloe, MI, also at the low security level of II, like Edward Sanders.
His situation highlights the problems parolable lifers also face in merciless Michigan, now known as MICHISSIPPI to many in the wake of the state’s poisoning of the entire city of Flint under Governor Snyder’s Emergency Manager law, and the proposed abolition of the Detroit Public Schools district.
Michigan’s prosecutors including the likes of Wayne County’s Kym Worthy, Oakland County’s Jessica Cooper, and Berrien County’s Michael Sepic have in the past vehemently opposed giving juvenile lifers a “second chance” through any means, during hearings before Michigan’s legislature.
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy testifies at state legislature with AP Richard Moran at her side.
The Montgomery decision said, “a lifetime in prison is a disproportionate sentence for all but the rarest of children, those whose crimes reflect ‘irreparable corruption.’”
Assistant Defender Peter Van Hoek of the State Appellate Defender’s Office says it is a toss-up whether prosecutors will seek to re-impose JLWOP on a large or small number of prisoners.
“While no one yet knows in how many of the retroactive cases in Michigan . . . the prosecutor will file for LWOP sentencing, it is likely they will not keep that number down to only rare cases,” Van Hoek said in an email to VOD.
“Even if they file for LWOP sentencing in a particular case, it will still be open for negotiation,” Van Hoek went on. “If an agreement is not met to sentence to the 25-40 to 60 year term, then a full sentencing hearing, under the Miller factors, will have to be held before the decision is made whether to re-impose a LWOP sentence or a term of years.
Peter Van Hoek, of SADO
Such hearings will be very involved and detailed, comparable to that portion of a death penalty case where the decision is made to either impose the death penalty or a prison term. While of course the defense will argue that the particular case does not fall within that rare number where LWOP sentences are appropriate, that decision will be up to either the judge or a new jury, depending on how a different line of cases is resolved in Michigan.”
Charles Lewis of Detroit was a musician and singer with his own band at the age of 17. On the Facebook page set up by his sister Wendy, he says in part, “I’m a writer, a musician, a comedian, an actor and most importantly, a God fearing Black Man. My struggle is the struggle of thousands of Black men in America.” In an earlier letter, he said regarding Miller, “The U.S. Supreme Court . . . decided that no civilized country in the world sentences juveniles to prison for the rest of their lives. This is the only ‘civilized’ country in the world that sends children to prison forever at such an alarming rate.”
Lewis has always contended his innocence, which also presents a problem regarding whether the state statutes can accomplish justice. He said in a Jpay email as follows:
Charles Lewis at 17; Facebook photo
“As you may or may not know from reading the briefs and motions filed in the United States District Court, I’ve been locked up for the past thirty years without a conviction.
I was arrested August 1, 1976 in the law office of attorney Gerald Lorence. I told Lorence that I was not involved in the case and was at the local 212 on the night of the murder. He assured me that I would be out in two weeks. That was nearly 40 years ago.
Gerald Lorence was removed from my case and . . . lawyer M. Arthur Arduin was appointed to represent me. Arduin . . . .came to see me one time in the County Jail prior to trial. . . . I was arrested, charged and eventually convicted of first degree murder for the murder of off duty Detroit Police Officer, Gerald Swpitkowski. Officer Swpitkowski’s partner Dennis Van Fleteren testified at two trials that he was actually talking to Swpitkowski when he was shot and killed. He testified that the shot that killed Swpitkowski came from the driver’s side of a white Mark IV that was driven by Leslie Nathanial. Van Fleteren testified that he was the best friend and partner of the deceased and started the night off with him.
Leslie Nathanial was arrested hours after the murder, and released, without explanation hours later.
There are a million things that I would like to say regarding the juvenile life without parole situation. First, most people miss the real point. Most juveniles charged with first degree murder are poor and come from poor families. My parents could not afford to hire a lawyer to represent me. And, none of the juvenile lifers that I know had paid attorneys.
Charles Lewis today, after 41 years in prison since the age of 17.
Here is the difference between a paid lawyer and a lawyer appointed by the State. Jeffrey Mulligan testified as my 15 year old co-defendant; he had a paid lawyer and did not do one day. His lawyer worked out a deal for him to testify against me in exchange for his freedom. Ronald Pettway testified that he was a 16 year old accomplice; his paid lawyer worked out a deal for him to testify against me in exchange for his freedom. Mark Kennedy testified that he was my 16 year old accomplice and his paid lawyer brokered a deal for him to testify against me in exchange for his freedom. In my case a State lawyer was the difference between freedom and thus far, I’ve served a few months short of 40 years. Hell of a difference!”
Lewis and his attorneys have argued his case in both federal and state courts, on grounds his innocence as well as seeking his release under Miller and now Montgomery. At one point in the process, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Gershwin Drain ordered the charges against him dismissed (see below).
Lewis has a state “show cause” hearing scheduled in front of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard April 21 at 9am to address the matter. She has reportedly ordered that the file be produced for his hearing. Lewis contends strongly that he should be immediately released.
U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett OMeara
Also in play is a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John Corbett O’Meara in January, 2013 that made all Michigan juvenile lifers eligible for parole, in the Hill v. Snyder case involving 13 juvenile lifers, brought by Attorney Deborah LaBelle for the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Although the case named particular plaintiffs, O’Meara intended his ruling to affect all of the state’s juvenile lifers.
“Indeed, if ever there was a legal rule that should – as a matter of law and morality – be given retroactive effect, it is the rule announced in Miller,” O’Meara said in an eight page decision after lengthy hearings. “To hold otherwise would allow the state to impose unconstitutional punishment on some persons but not others, an intolerable miscarriage of justice.”
Snyder and Schuette have appealed O’Meara’s ruling, and it is still before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court. After the Montgomery decision, the state argued that the Hill case should be dismissed, in favor of enforcing the state statutes.
Attorney Deborah LaBelle
In pleadings on the case, LaBelle has argued that the state statutes do not conform with Miller or Montgomery because they do not provide for consideration of the 10 Miller factors. (See box.)
She reiterates that all Michigan juvenile lifers should be eligible for meaningful parole hearings taking Miller into account.
“The parties have litigated this case for six years,” LaBelle wrote in a letter to the Sixth Circuit Court. “Defendants first argued that mandatory life imprisonment without parole for children was constitutional, and upon issuance of Miller they opposed relief based on a retroactivity argument that was subsequently rejected in Montgomery. They now make a bare assertion that untried legislation cures the constitutional violations found by the District Court. Recently, we have lost another youth who committed suicide on October 28, 2015, after serving 23 years on a sentence that offered no hope of release. This Court should affirm the District Court’s decision, which was not an abuse of discretion, and remand for the lower court to implement appropriate remedial orders without further delay.”
DETROIT ATTORNEY FILES CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT FOR DPS STUDENTS ON BEHALF OF SCHOOL BOARD
Press conference Thurs. Apr. 7, 11 am, Fisher Building 3011 W. Grd. Blvd.; Board of Ed members, DPS parents to attend
Attorney Says State and Emergency Managers’ Failings of Detroit Public Schools is “Flint Crisis on Steroids”!
Lawsuit says Governor, other politicians, emergency managers and crooked vendors responsible for destroying life-long opportunities for thousands of impoverished DPS students.
MEDIA CONTACT: Sal Giacona (Phone: 313-421-9108)
Student at Mumford High School, then part of the EAA, tells media about terrible conditions there May 28, 2013 as Board President Herman Davis and member Elena Herrada listen.
Detroit, MI., April 5, 2016 — A major announcement will be made at a press conference and media opportunity on Thursday April 7 at 11 a.m. (ET) outside the main entrance of the Fisher Building located at 3011 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48202.
The press conference will feature Detroit attorney Tom Bleakley (pronounced Blake-Lee) who will provide information regarding the class-action lawsuit being filed on behalf of the thousands of impoverished Detroit Public Schools (DPS) children.
The treatment of these students by state officials since taking control of the school district in 1999, and aggravated by three recent consecutive emergency managers, has caused profound life-long damage to the students thanks to uncertified and inexperienced teachers, overcrowded classrooms, rat-infested gymnasiums and hallways, closing of neighborhood schools, wasteful and dumb management practices, massive funding of worthless experiments and other acts have all moved the Detroit Public Schools from the best-performing school district of over 100,000 children in the country to the very worst.
Parents, teachers and students rally to save Oakman Orthopedic School, the only one of its kind in Detroit, built to serve special needs students, on Aug. 27, 2013. The school was later closed by Gov. Rick Snyder’s EM Jack Martin.
The callous indifference of State officials to the needs of the children, in all aspects of their educational experiences, rises to the level of constitutional violations. The Detroit Public Schools Board is bringing the lawsuit, along with several named parents who will serve as class representatives. Bleakley, Board members, and several plaintiffs will be available for personal interviews after the press conference.
The unwarranted and unjust state takeover of DPS originally occurred in 1999 as a result of skillful fiscal and academic management the Detroit schools enjoyed a multi-million-dollar surplus, and their student test scores were at the state midpoint and rising despite pervasive resident impoverishment and the city’s myriad of social problems.
DPS student Sasha Alford participates in protest against state-appointed CEO Kenneth Burnley June 16, 2005.
“The filing of this action is being done with the intent of setting the record straight as to who is responsible for the current disastrous condition of the school district, as well as settling a longstanding score with the Michigan politicians for the benefit of the poverty-stricken children of the Detroit Public Schools.,” Bleakley said.
Bleakley is a trial lawyer who has represented thousands of children injured by drug products against the pharmaceutical industry, as well as cases involving constitutional issues. He is handling the case pro bono because he feels it is important for the children of the school district, unlike the governor and his underlings, to have a voice in these issues unsullied by big money interests.
Protesting tax foreclosures at Wayne Co. Commission meeting March 17 were (l to r) Beverly Kindle-Walker, Kamala El, Queen Mother Dr. Nefertiti-El, and Cornell Squires.
March 31st was deadline day for 30,000 County families currently occupying their homes to pay property taxes or face foreclosure and auction
Speakers tell Wayne County Commission March 17 that tax foreclosures illegal due to no value re-assessments; violate Indigenous Peoples rights
Protest held outside Wayne County Treasurer’s office March 23
Federal claims filed against County citing $100 billion in domestic terrorism insurance, by Squires, Schied, acting under law as private atty. generals
Alonzo Long, Jr. acquitted Feb. 1 on murder charges for defending his family against armed foreclosure bidders
By Diane Bukowski, Cornell Squires, and David Schied
April 4, 2016
Photo by Cornell Squires
DETROIT–Wayne County residents hit their government from all sides over the last two weeks to stop the pending tax foreclosures and auctions of 30,000 homes this year. Detroit and Wayne County homes have been virtually bombed out by such foreclosures for over 15 years, leaving neighborhoods looking like war zones, they say.
“Our property is being taken away, our school system is being taken away,” Kamala El told Commission members. “When are respect and human compassion going to manifest themselves in this city and county? Stop the corruption and thievery and give us our due!”
She cited common law rights under the Wayne County Charter, and the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, finally signed by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010. That declaration says in Article 26, “Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.” (See UN Declaration at http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/UN-Dec-Rights-of-Indigenous-Peoples-1.)
Many Black Detroiters have Native American ancestry. Many also claim indigenous sovereignty as descendants of the Moors, Black Africans who migrated to Europe and later the Americas independent of the slave trade.
El noted that no one currently occupies the office of Wayne County Treasurer, and called at least for a moratorium on all foreclosures until residents have elected a Treasurer.
Also raising the issue of indigenous people’s rights has been activist and “attorney in fact” James Cole, Jr. who helps people fight foreclosures from his home. Cole and others have found numerous irregularities in the practices of the Wayne County Treasurer’s office regarding foreclosures, including the use of unauthorized personnel to sign and notarize “Sheriff’s Deeds” issued after foreclosure takes place.
The extent to which anger is rising in Detroit and elsewhere about the devastation of the area was shown Feb. 1, when a Wayne County Circuit Court jury found Alonzo Long, Jr. NOT GUILTY of second-degree murder and other counts.
Long had defended his family against a father and daughter who bought his uncle’s home at auction in 2013, then tried to force family members out at gunpoint as they were in the process of moving the uncle anyway. The erstwhile landlords had not gone to 36th District Court to carry out the eviction.
Alonzo Long, Jr. with friend.
Attorney Lillian Diallo, who represented Long in an uphill battle, said that under the law, people have the right to self-defense and defense of others.
Cornell Squires, of We the People 4 the People, whose own home is on the foreclosure list, called the pending foreclosures nothing but domestic terrorism and violations of the RICO Act.
He presented the Commission with a “cease and desist” demand letter sent to then Wayne County Treasurer Richard Hathaway, Deputy Treasurer Eric Sabree and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans Feb. 23.
“We know that the County’s Treasury will soon hold public auctions of [properties], . . . many of which are being auctioned with the wrong tax bills, because the tax bills are not based on upon the true cash value. . .This poses a legal issue and the county treasury could be liable,” the letter reads in part.
Cornell Squires speaks at Wayne County Commission March 17, 2016.
Michigan law requires municipalities to conduct annual assessments of real estate values, or at the very least, reassessments every five years. Detroit had not done so for 20 years, until current Mayor Mike Duggan conducted a partial re-assessment over the past year. But, Squires said, that is not sufficient to make up for the years residents have been overbilled.
“The County and the City owe US money, not the other way around,” he said.
Instead, what the County has done is increase interest rates on delinquent taxes to 18 percent, while the City of Detroit is allowing wealthier neighborhoods like Palmer Woods and Sherwood to vote themselves additional tax assessments to qualify for better city services than other areas.
Protesters outside Treasurer’s office March 23, 2016.
On March 23, protesters from the Moratorium NOW! Coalition called for an immediate end to tax foreclosures outside the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office at 400 Monroe in downtown Detroit. Among the demands listed on their flier:
“We demand proper reassessment, and debt incurred by failure to properly assess be wiped clean! Stop Foreclosures and auctioning of homes based on “fraudulent” assessments!
Water bills are added to the property tax. Remove all water bill debt from property tax bills!
In a city where 43% live in poverty, the tax department does not notify people that they may be eligible for “poverty” or principal residence exemptions. Eligibility for “poverty” exemptions should be retroactive, and everyone needs to be informed of these exemptions!
THE NEXT DETROIT: Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans, being sued by USDOJ for illegal mortgage practices.
“The State of Michigan has just received a new grant of $74 million in Federal Helping Hardest Hit Homeowner assistance,” the flier continues.
“These funds must be used to pay delinquent property tax bills for occupied homes, not be diverted for ‘blight removal’ as was done last year. Place an immediate moratorium on tax foreclosures . . .to allow families the opportunity to access these new Step Forward Funds. Make the Banks and Gilbert pay for the blight they caused through their predatory lending policies.”
On April 2, David Schied and Cornell Squires, acting under law as “private attorney generals,” filed updates to their federal claims against Wayne County’s $100 BILLION Domestic Terrorism insurance policy, asking to compensate taxpayers who have had their homes foreclosed on. Wayne County carries that policy through the infamous AIG (American International Group), whose collapse in 2008, losing $99.2 billion in assets, helped trigger that year’s global economic crisis. AIG was bailed out with an $85 billion loan from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Domestic terrorism in Detroit: foreclosed and abandoned houses on the city’s east side.
Schied and Squires, along with members of their groups We the People for the People, and RICOBusters, are recruiting those who have lost their homes to foreclosure to join the lawsuit. A special meeting will be held as follows:
JOIN $100 BILLION FEDERAL CLAIM VS. WAYNE COUNTY DOMESTIC TERRORISM
Compensation for Foreclosed Homeowners!
Saturday, April 9, 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM
8530 Joy Road at Ohio, Detroit, Michigan.
For further information, call Cornell Squires at 313-460-3175
Chicago teachers rally, march through Loop after walkout
VOD editor: What is WRONG with our unions, politicians, preachers and others in Detroit and Michigan? Here, teachers unions support the final dismantling of the Detroit Public Schools, while Chicago Teachers demand the banks repay billions in interest swap deals and funds for Chicago Public Schools instead! (See link to VOD related story #1 on Chicago pensions below this story.)
ABC 7 Team Coverage
CHICAGO (WLS) — The Chicago Teachers Union took their battle against Chicago Public Schools to the streets Friday with a one-day strike at schools across the city before rallying downtown during the evening rush hour. Following the rally, thousands of teachers and their supporters left the Thompson Center to march through downtown. The group marched north on Clark, east on Wacker, south on Michigan Avenue and east on Monroe towards Grant Park. Teachers and their supporters descended on the Thompson Center to rally after a day of picketing that began early Friday morning. CTU members were joined by a number of labor organizations, students and activists who share the goal of mobilizing people to force Illinois lawmakers to fund public education.
TEACHERS PICKET OUTSIDE SCHOOLS ACROSS CITY
Chicago teachers on the move April 1, 2016.
Returning to the high school where she taught for several years, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis began her day visiting a vocal picket line Friday morning at King High School. Lewis hopes shutting down the nation’s third largest school district will wake up Springfield to provide more revenue.
With several unions supporting the one-day strike, the action is also an attack on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s anti-union positions.
“We have had a dormant labor union for many, many years and it will not get better if the labor movement doesn’t move,” Lewis said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was also a target in several school pickets, with many blaming him for the lack of funding and failed CTU contract negotiations – even though teachers rejected what Lewis called a “serious offer” back in January.
Teachers target Rahm Emanuel during earlier protest where they occupied the Bank of America and withdrew CTU funds from the bank.
“I hope they can come to the table and we can work something out and everybody work together instead of fighting against each other,” CPS teacher Marlene McGowan said. Emanuel visited students at one of CPS’ 200 contingency sites, where he criticized the strike but defended last Friday’s furlough.
“I don’t think the kids should pay a price for a political message. And there’s a difference between the economic hardships the city’s school district faces versus taking a political action and our kids paying a consequence,” Emanuel said. In response to what he called an “illegal” strike, Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool said Friday afternoon he has taken legal action against the teachers union by filing a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“We think it’s important that it be clearly established that whether children are in school and being educated is not subject to the whims of the Chicago Teachers Union leadership,” Claypool said.
Claypool said he is seeking a preemptive injunction against the teachers union for any similar strikes going forward, and is also asking that the union reimburse CPS and their partners for expenses incurred during the one-day strike. Calling the complaint “bogus”, a CTU spokesperson said in a written statement: “This was a one day job action. Their charges were filed after the fact and they seek to enjoin us from doing something [we] have no intention of doing again. We call on CPS to join us in fighting for more revenue for schools.”
CPS STUDENTS MARCH IN SUPPORT OF TEACHERS
Wendell Phillips High Senior Cameron Miller led dozens of CPS students who support Chicago teachers and are fed up with Mayor Emanuel, Gov. Rauner, and CPS leaders.
“It seems like the adults are actually acting like children and we’re the only ones mature enough to try and find a solution to our issues,” Miller said.
Teachers protest state attack on public schools.
With no state budget and no teachers’ contract, these CPS students said leaders are failing to lead on all levels.
“They belittle us. They slash our budget, they close our schools, they tell us we’re not good enough by their actions – and that’s why we’re here,” said Nidalis Burgos, a senior at Lincoln Park High School.
They marched downtown from the Thompson Center, to CPS Headquarters, to City Hall, where they delivered a symbolical pink slip to the mayor.
“The Board of Ed, the CEO of CPS, they only answer to Rahm Emanuel because they’re appointed by him, so they don’t care about us. They don’t value our voice. That’s how we feel, how teachers feel,” said Charles Kotrba, a senior at Whitney Young High School.
CALL FOR EDUCATION FUNDING HEARD ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES
Supporters of the teachers’ one-day strike also gathered on two Chicago college campuses Friday to call attention to the education funding problems.
After marching at Roosevelt High School on Chicago’s Northwest Side, teachers held a rally at Northeastern Illinois University where they held a symbolic outdoor funeral to “mourn the death of public education.”
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner–taking a cue from Michigan Governor Rick Snyder?
The teachers then joined hundreds of others for a rally at Chicago State University, which may have to close its doors because of major budget cuts. CSU counts on money from the state, but the state is still without a budget, so their future is unknown.
“We have been dealing with this since last July, it’s getting out of control and it’s very stressful on the students,” said Jack Ferguson, a CSU senior. The groups are determined to fight for change: more funding with less cuts to schools and teachers. Service and fast food workers also joined in, saying they want the minimum wage raised to $15 an hour. At virtually every rally, teachers and their supporters named Gov. Rauner as the principal villain withholding state education funding from public schools and colleges.
“This governor has abdicated his responsibility to the people of Illinois,” said Randi Weingarten, of the American Federation of Teachers. “We have a governor who is trying to take down the state of Illinois and all of its people with him,” said Roberta Lynch of AFSCME.
The Republican governor, who took office 14 months ago, appeared unimpressed. In a statement, he described the strike as “shameful” and “breaking the law,” adding “it’s the height of arrogance from those we’ve entrusted with our children’s futures.”
“Governor’s been there for a year now? And the governor is somehow responsible because CPS is on the verge of bankruptcy? I don’t think that makes sense,” said Michael Lucci of the Illinois Policy Institute. The Illinois General Assembly resumes its regular session next week. There’s no word whether the House or Senate will consider any bills related to CPS.
STRIKE IMPACT ON CPS FAMILIES
More than 340,000 children were out of the classroom Friday as a result of the walkout. The district opened more than 200 contingency sites for students during the one-day strike, including 107 schools, city libraries and park facilities, which offered free activities and lunch to CPS students. Many families in Chicago rely on CPS not only to teach their children, but also to keep them safe during the day.
At By the Hand Club for Kids in the city’s Austin neighborhood, an after school program became an alternative for CPS families during the strike.
By the Hand Club for Kids was alternate site during one day teachers’ walk-out.
“It’s critical that they have somewhere safe to go, and also a lot of parents have to go to work. So they need somewhere where they know their kids are safe,” said Bethany Arvan, By The Hand Club for Kids. Many students at Kennicott Park, one of the CPS contingency sites in North Kenwood, said they support their teachers. Some even planned to rally with the teachers on Friday afternoon.
“I think we should all fight for what we believe in. If something isn’t fair, we should all fight for something that is fair,” said Gayun Cannon, an 8th grader. “It’s kind of a lesson for me because the teachers are standing up for themselves and fighting for what they believe in,” said Emily Biggs, an 8th grader. “We have school for a whole year, I think one day won’t hurt that much, right?” said Sydney Thach, a 7th grader. Despite the one-day strike, teachers and students were in class Friday at more than 100 CPS-funded charter schools across the city. Charter school teachers are not a part of the Chicago Teachers Union and therefore, they did not take part in the strike. About 60,000 Chicago students are enrolled at charter schools.
CHICAGO – The Illinois Supreme Court sent Chicago back to the drawing board to fix two pension funds that account for half of a $20 billion unfunded pension burden that has dragged down the city’s credit.
In an 18-page opinion released Thursday, the state’s high court upheld Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita Novak’s July ruling that declared the 2014 overhaul of the city’s municipal employees’ and laborers’ funds unconstitutional because of benefit cuts imposed on retirees and employees.
“As we have explained, under the [constitution’s pension] clause, a public employee’s membership in a pension system is an enforceable contractual relationship, and the employee has a constitutionally protected right to the benefits of that contractual relationship,” the court wrote. “Thus, under its plain and unambiguous language, the clause prohibits the General Assembly from unilaterally reducing or eliminating the pension benefits conferred by membership in the pension system.”
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis wrote the unanimous decision; 2 justices recused themselves.
The high court rejected a state employees’ pension overhaul in 2015, also citing the pension clause.
The plan was to have put the two funds on course to achieving a 90% funded ratio in 40 years through benefit cuts and higher contributions from the city and employees. The city’s contributions were to rise from $177 million in 2014 to a projected $650 million in 2021.
The legislation phased in a shift to an actuarially required contribution from the current statutory requirement in which employees pay 8.5% of their salary and the city’s payment is based on a percentage of the total employee payments.
Those contribution levels have long fallen short of what’s needed to keep the funds solvent.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, formerly Obama’s Secretary of Education. He is a strong advocate of charter schools.
The ruling gives the city a near-term boost by freeing it of the requirement to make a nearly $100 million higher payment to the funds this year. The long-term repercussions are more profound because both funds are on track to exhaust their assets in the next 10 to 13 years.
“In the short run it buys them some relief and time but the city has had time to prepare for the decision and the market is going to expect a quick reaction from the city on what its contingency plan is,” said Richard Ciccarone, president of Merritt Research Services LLC.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered little detail on potential solutions.
CTU rally: will they starve the schools to profit the rich?
“My administration will continue to work with our labor partners on a shared path forward that preserves and protects the municipal and laborers’ pension funds, while continuing to be fair to Chicago taxpayers and ensuring the city’s long-term financial health,” his statement said.
Any prolonged setback in tackling the city’s pension ills could drive further downgrades and impact the trading value of its debt and future borrowing rates. Chicago’s ratings plummeted over the last several years, primarily due to the pension strain.
Wall Street bull shows its a– to pensioners.
It carries a junk-level rating of Ba1 from Moody’s Investors Service, with a negative outlook; BBB-plus ratings from both Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s with both assigning negative outlooks; and is rated A-minus with a negative outlook by Kroll Bond Rating Agency.
Moody’s recently warned that a “failure of the city to develop and implement an alternate plan to fund non-public safety pensions should the Illinois Supreme Court rule the city’s 2014 reform statute unconstitutional” could drive a downgrade.
“Moody’s will continue assessing Chicago’s actions to address unfunded pension liabilities,” Moody’s analyst Matthew Butler said in a statement after the ruling, “including any initiatives specifically aimed at the plans affected by today’s court decision.”
The court rejected both arguments laid out the city.
The city portrayed its reforms as preserving the pension funds rather than damaging them and argued that union acquiescence through negotiation at the time rendered the changes legal. The two were labeled the “net benefit” and the “bargained for exchange” claims.
Workers rally to protect pensions.
“Ultimately, the city’s ‘offsetting benefit’ theory rests on the proposition that what it deems as ‘modest diminishments’ are necessary to prevent insolvency in the future. Although we recognize that fiscal soundness is important, the General Assembly may not utilize an unconstitutional method to achieve that end,” justices wrote.
The court rejected the city’s contention that the legislative changes awarded stronger protections to annuitants’ benefits because of guaranteed funding provisions that made clear the city was on the hook for their retirement benefits.
“As we have explained, the Illinois Constitution mandates that members of the funds have ‘a legally enforceable right to receive the benefits they have been promised’ — not merely to receive whatever happens to remain in the funds,” the court said. “Since participants already enjoy that legal protection, we reject the notion that the promise of solvency can be ‘netted’ against the unconstitutional diminishment of benefits.”
The language appears to cast doubt that the city could successfully argue that it’s not on the hook should the funds exhaust their assets.
In Detroit’s bankruptcy, AFSCME Council 25 DID bargain away not only pensioners’ rights, but nearly all the assets of the City of Detroit. Here AFSCME Co. 25 President Al Garrett confronts protesters after he said AFSCME was withdrawing its 6th Circuit Court appeal of the Detroit bankruptcy eligibility decision. That decision represented the first time a bankruptcy judge overruled the State Constitution’s protection of pension rights.
The court said it considered the city’s characterization of the reforms as a “bargained for exchange” of benefits allowed under laws governing contracts, but concluded the agreement with a majority of unions failed to meet the needed threshold.
The members bringing the lawsuit had countered that all funds members and retirees were not necessarily represented by those at the negotiating table.
“Even taking as true the facts advanced to support the city’s claim, we hold that as a matter of law, members of the funds did not bargain away their constitutional rights in this process,” the court wrote. “In this case, it is undisputed that the unions were not acting as authorized agents within a collective bargaining process….the individual members of the funds have done nothing that could be said to have unequivocally assented to the new terms or to have ‘bargained away’ their constitutional rights.”
Lawmakers are looking to the court’s opinions for a roadmap on what reforms that could pass muster and the opinion appeared to leave the door open for changes that stem from a formal collective bargaining process.
The group “Reboot Illinois” has proposed numerous state constitutional amendments, including one to repeal the pension protection clause.
“The fundamental point here is that determination must be made, if at all, according to contract principles by mutual assent of the members, and not by legislative dictates,” the opinion said.
At the state level, lawmakers later this year or next are expected to consider a pension reform plan that would ask members to accept annual cost-of-living-adjustment cuts in exchange for pay raises being counted toward pensionable salary.
The Civic Federation of Chicago warns that the ruling “limits the options available to financially strained local governments throughout the state and points to the need for a constitutional amendment to clarify the State’s pension protection clause.”
“This should be yet another wakeup call to every member of the Illinois General Assembly and the Governor that they need to come together and work without delay to pass a balanced budget that will stabilize the state of Illinois financially and begin to address the pension and debt crises of the City of Chicago and so many local governments in our State,” the federation added.
“It’s long past time for elected officials to stop trying to end-run the constitution and shirk their duty. Pension funding challenges require funding solutions that must be constitutional and fair to all,” the four unions that mounted the successful challenge said in a joint statement.
Chicago faces a significantly bigger jump in contributions to rescue the funds from insolvency without union concessions, but will be hard-pressed to come up with a palatable revenue source. The city already enacted a $543 million annual property tax hike last year to cover rising contributions owed to the police and fire funds, which account for the other half of the city’s unfunded liabilities.
“The fact is taxes cannot be the only part of the solution,” Ciccarone said, saying some cuts are also needed and other forms of union concessions. “We are in store for higher taxes but I think the next area the city has to bargain on is issues of pay.”
Occupy Oakland marches in California against the banks.
The need for a new fix comes as uncertainty remains over whether the state will give final approval to Emanuel’s proposal to re-amortize the payment schedule on the city’s police and firefighters funds.
The big property tax hike is being phased in and this year falls $220 million short of what’s needed to cover rising payments on an actuarial basis because the city assumed the state would sign off on reamortization. That change has been caught in state political gridlock.
The city’s challenges are exacerbated by the overlapping burden on the tax base of the park district, Cook County, and the Chicago Public Schools’ – all with their own pension and/or budget headaches.
“In addition to growing leverage, we also continue to assess the role that fiscal stress of Chicago Public Schools plays in the city of Chicago’s credit challenges,” Moody’s said Thursday.
The judgment was unanimous among participating Justices Robert Thomas, Mary Jane Theis, Thomas Kilbride, Lloyd Karmeier, and Chief Justice Rita Garmen.
Justices Charles Freeman and Anne Burke recused themselves.
It marked the court’s third ruling that has affirmed the strength of the pension clause’ protections, first in a ruling that the clause applies to state employee retiree healthcare benefits and then in the 2015 decision voiding state pension reforms.
The city overhaul legislation — Public Act 98-0641 — was to take effect Jan. 1. The case is Jones, et al. v. Municipal Employees’ Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, et al. The city’s four funds are collectively 34% funded.
What is never mentioned by advocates of pension cuts is that the real robbers of government funds are the banks themselves. In Illinois, according to a report from Ballotpedia, Illinois state debt in 2012 was $321.4 BILLION. Chicago’s current debt load is $63.2 billion, of which $31.2 billion comes from pensions, while long-term bonded debt is $26.1 billion. Much of state and city debt is due from Wall Street-sponsored interest swap agreements that went south after the 2008 global economic crash. See chart below which shows the rate of Illinois state payments on swaps compared to the declining load on banks.
The International Business Times reported, “With the state’s financial woes deepening, banks — including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup — stand to take in as much as $1.45 billion on interest rate swap payments by 2033. That’s the conclusion of a new report from the ReFund America Project, which tabulated the costs stemming from the swaps weighing on the state’s books.”
The Chicago Monitor said, “According to a report from ReFund America Project, Chicago has paid or authorized $296 million in termination penalties, on top of a half-billion dollars in swap payments through 2015. Curtis Black in The Chicago Reporter stated ‘In 2012 Baltimore filed a class action lawsuit against JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America, and others charging that their artificial manipulation of LIBOR – a benchmark interest rate that was used in many of Chicago’s swaps – robbed their clients of millions of dollars in returns on investments such as interest rate swaps. In 2013, Philadelphia filed a similar suit. The banks being sued by Baltimore and Philadelphia include those that sold big swaps to Chicago and Illinois.’”
The Chicago Teachers Union and supporters occupy Bank of America Feb. 6, 2016, sustaining arrests. The union also withdrew $726 million of its funds from BOA as part of the challenge.
The Chicago Teachers Union, unlike unions in Detroit and Michigan including the UAW, AFSCME, and the American Federation of Teachers, which have capitulated regularly to demands for concessions, has taken on the banks in its battle to preserve its members’ rights, and to preserve schools and services for residents of Chicago.
The Monitor said, “More than three thousand teachers, staff, parents, students, and their supporters marched in Chicago yesterday for a fair contract for the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). The protest was in response to the threat of $100 million in cuts by CPS the day before. The protest centered on the Bank of America office on LaSalle Street to highlight the CTU demand for CPS to renegotiate toxic interest swap agreements with the bank. The day before members of the CTU visited the bank and withdrew $726 million of union funds deposited there. While protestors circled the building, sixteen union members sat down in the bank lobby and chanted. All were arrested and charged with misdemeanor trespassing and detained for six hours at CPD District One headquarters.”
Illinois Supreme Court ruling protecting Chicago city pensions:
DAREA Pres. Bill Davis denounces new DPS EM Judge Steven Rhodes outside his Ann Arbor area home March 12, 2016. Gov. Snyder puppet, in jail outfit, calls, “Stevie, come on down.”
State Senate bills would eliminate Detroit Public Schools, largest Black district in U.S. July 1; create “Community District” including charters
Current DPS bond debt of $2.9 billion to be paid off by new property tax levies
‘Elected’ board of ‘Community District’ will answer to State Financial Review Commission, State School Reform/Redesign Office
‘Detroit Education Commission’ only advisory, gets $1M/year for making school siting recommendations; members appointed by Mayor Duggan
By Diane Bukowski
March 28, 2016
DPS execution date set for July 1, 2016.
DETROIT – Bills in the Michigan Legislature which purport to “rescue” the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) district from an alleged $3.9 billion in debt that has been foisted on it under state control since 1999 would actually destroy DPS for good. The execution date is set for July 1, 2016.
DPS would be replaced by a “Community District” including charter schools attended by Detroit children. Its nine-member board be would elected this August by district, but have no real independence. It would answer to the State Financial Review Commission (FRC), which currently governs Detroit under the city’s bankruptcy plan. The FRC would appoint the Community District’s Superintendent and its Chief Financial Officer.
Under terms of the bills, which are SB 0710, SB 0711, and SB 0819, Detroiters’ school property taxes would soar to pay off $2.9 billion in current bond debt to the banks.
Michigan School Reform/Redesign Office website, now in Dept. of Management and Budget. Home page photo shows all Black students, who are being targeted, and hypocritically uses a quote from the late South African Pres. Nelson Mandela.
More public schools will close under orders from the State School Reform/Redesign Office, which has moved from the Department of Education to the Department of Management and Budget, if they are among the lowest five percent in “performance.” At least 20 to 25 schools are already on the chopping block for this year. (See website for new office at http://www.michigan.gov/sro/.)
Charter schools would be given time to correct their performance before their private authorizers close them, under advisement of a “Detroit Education Commission (DEC).” The DEC, whose board would be appointed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, would recommend the “siting” of new schools.
Current DPS board member Elena Herrada leads chants through DPS EM Rhodes’ neighborhood. New state legislation would abolish current board, elected only last November.
“This would complete the disempowerment of the largest majority-Black city and the largest majority-Black school district in the country,” current DPS board member Elena Herrada told VOD.
“All we want is the same thing the white districts have for their governing structure, the power to appoint a superintendent, and decide on opening and closing of schools as well as curriculum and all policies. We urge our Detroit delegation to stand with us in restoring the governance rights of our city. We urge them to do this even if they don’t believe we can win.”
Richard Clay, a former teacher at Northwestern High School, said, “Under these bills, the future of Detroit’s school children is very bleak. It’s unnecessary as well as unprecedented to totally close a large school district in the name of helping it. The new district would be nothing but a state takeover in sheep’s clothing.”
Richard Clay (r) marches with Jan Frazier at Rhodes protest March 12, 2016.
He said he believes the final goal of the re-structured district is to completely close all public schools in Detroit, replacing them with charters, as happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
In 2010, then U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “This is a tough thing to say, but let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘We have to do better.’ ”
Rev. Wendell Anthony, a co-chair of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit’s Schoolchildren (CFDC), responsible for the DEC idea, responded to claims that the legislation seeks to eliminate charter schools.
In fact, it encourages opening of charter schools, 70 percent of which are for-profit in Michigan, in a city which already has the second highest number of charter schools in the nation.
“I’ve been around education reform for a long time, but I have never seen this kind of ideological truth-bending on such an important issue,” Anthony said on the CFDC Facebook page. “We’re talking about the future of 100,000 children. I wish there were referees who could blow whistles on these types of flagrant fouls, and eject dirty players.”
NAACP Pres. Wendell Anthony with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Corporation Counsel Butch Hollowell at Freedom Fund dinner. Hollowell met illegally with Judge Michael Hathaway ex parte to stop 36th District Court verdict on water shut-offs protesters. Anthony is also a trustee of the Detroit General Retirement System, which withdrew its appeal of the Detroit bankruptcy eligibility decision from the Sixth Circuit Court.
An article on the CFDC Facebook page says, “The DEC is designed to make it easier for proven charter operators to enter Detroit and for existing high-performing schools to replicate. Also, any denial of opening can be appealed to the State Superintendent, who can overrule the DEC’s decision. . . .
“The facts are that Detroiters have more than 50 different school operators to choose from under 14 different authorizers – we have for-profits, nonprofits, districts … there is no shortage of choice – but there is a clear shortage of quality. The DEC would ensure families have quality choice.”
Herrada said the Coalition should be called “The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Contractors.”
The bills, which the Michigan Senate is likely to take a final vote on this week, are a devious attempt by state and city officers and religious and community “leaders” to deceive residents of the largest majority-Black city in the U.S. where 59 percent of the children live in poverty into accepting not just second, but third class citizenship.
Following are key terms of the bills, including SB 0710, SB 0711, and SB 0819. Texts of the bills are included in links below articles.
DPS DECEIT #1 (MO’ TAXES, MO’ $$ FOR BANKS)
Detroit bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes is now DPS EM.
The Detroit Public School (DPS) district would be tossed in the dustbin of history after it pays off a total of $3.4 billion in outstanding debt. That includes $2.9 billion in BOND debt paid by creating new voter-approved property tax levies. If voters do not agree to the levies, their constitutionally-required vote could be overturned by a state judgment levy.
That is because DPS currently operates under the control of state-appointed “transitional” (read “emergency”) manager Steven Rhodes, the former bankruptcy judge whose plan obliterated public ownership of the City of Detroit using the State Dictator’s Public Act 436, which has invalidated voting rights and stolen assets in Michigan’s majority-Black cities.
Protest at Wayne County Treasurer’s Office March 23, 2016 against tax foreclosures pending for 30,000 Detroit families. Geo. Errol Jennings holds front sign.
A Senate Fiscal Analysis of SB 710 says, “the bill would allow a district, with the approval of the State Treasurer, to issue ‘school financing stability bonds’ for the purpose of eliminating an operating deficit or refunding or refinancing outstanding State aid anticipation notes issued through the Michigan Finance Authority; to pledge as security for repayment State school aid payment, school operating tax revenue, or other revenue; and to enter into an agreement with the Department of Treasury or the Michigan Finance Authority for direct payment of school aid to the Authority or a designated trustee.”
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and others have primarily discussed paying off $515 million in DPS’ current OPERATING debt, plus $250 million in start-up costs for a new “community district,” through current state per-pupil revenue over the next 10 years. In 2015, 40 percent of state per-pupil aid for Detroit went to pay off DPS debt to the banks, at one point, in 2007, it was 90 percent.
Rhodes’ house, at 1610 Arborview Blvd. is hidden in the backwoods behind working-class homes near Ann Arbor. According to Zillow, it is worth over $600.000. Rhodes doesn’t have to worry about foreclosure!
Under terms of state law, DPS cannot declare bankruptcy. Its debts are a liability of the state, including the $2.9 billion in bond debt, most of it engineered through the Michigan Finance Authority, says a recent state treasury report. The report says that if the state paid off district debts, it would cut funds available for other municipalities and school districts. As in the Detroit bankruptcy, the report puts most of the blame for $1.3 billion of the debt on DPS pensioners, who are paid through a state-run school pension fund.
This deceit is being perpetrated as 30,000 Detroit families face property tax foreclosures March 30, meaning even less revenue for Detroit and less per-pupil aid from the state (which is based on property tax revenue).
DPS DECEIT #2 (STATE REIGNS SUPREME)
The “community district” which would replace DPS would be governed by a nine-member board elected this August for initial staggered terms of three, five, and seven years, under what is being touted as a return to Detroit electoral control. Rhodes will decide a month before the election which districts get the longer terms.
State Financial Review Commission for Detroit would also oversee both DPS and its replacement Community District. Members are Detroit “Mayor” Mike Duggan; Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones (who would be replaced by district Superintendent and board chair); State Treasurer Kevin Clinton; State Budget Director John Roberts; Darrell Burks former senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers; Stacy Fox, former deputy EM under Kevyn Orr, Dupont Senior VP, Roxbury Real Estate; Lorron James ,VP of James Group Int’l, military contractor with Lockheed Martin; Bill Martin, founder of First Martin Corp., a real estate, construction, and development firm; Tony Saunders, former director at Conway McKenzie law firm, prime player in Detroit bankruptcy.
On financial matters, however, the board would answer to the same state Financial Review Commission (FRC) which governs the City of Detroit under its bankruptcy plan. The community district superintendent and board chair would be added to the FRC membership as regards DPS matters, just as Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones sit on the FRC for Detroit.
“A community district is subject to financial oversight by a Financial Review Commission to the extent provided under the Michigan Financial Review Commission Act, 2014 PA 181,” Sec. 387 of Senate Bill 710 (substitute), reads. “The appointment of a chief financial officer for the community district is subject to the approval of the Financial Review Commission . . .” SB 711 says the district superintendent would also be appointed by the FRC.
Hanneman Elementary School, one of 210 DPS schools already closed since 1999. The near west side community where it was located is now bereft of all schools neighborhood children can walk to.
The FRC would approve all school budgets, deficit plans, contracts including those with DPS workers, loans from the banks and the state, school openings and closings, and other financial matters. The Senate version of the bills do not include House provisions to replace teachers’ contractual seniority requirements with “merit,” or hire non-certified teachers, likely a concession to the Michigan and Detroit Federations of Teachers, which have endorsed the Senate package.
However, charter schools are not required to hire certified teachers, and they are not subject to union contracts with the DFT.
The current DPS, called a “qualifying school district” under the legislation, would also be subject to FRC control, and it appears likely that no current school board member could run for the new community district board.
SB 0170 reads, “a member of a school board for a qualifying school district [meaning the current Detroit district] may not also serve as a member of a school board for a community district that has the same geographic boundaries as the qualifying school district.”
Maureen Taylor of Michigan Welfare Rights participates in protest calling for cancellation of Detroit and DPS debt to the banks, on May 9, 2012.
Until its dissolution upon debt pay-off, the current school board’s responsibilities would consist only of “Certifying and levying taxes for satisfaction of the debt in the name of the qualifying school district, conducting school district elections, doing all other things relative to the repayment of the outstanding debt, including levying or renewing a school operating tax or refunding or refinancing debt at a lower rate, and doing all other things relative to the dissolution of the district.”
The community school district would also seize control of Detroit’s public libraries.
Wall Street is calling the shots here.
Crain’s Detroit Business reported March 10, “Moody’s Investors Service said Thursday it is keeping a negative outlook on the district’s Caa1 general-obligation bond rating, a view it said rests on the ‘challenge to remain financially viable absent state intervention and does not assume passage of any new legislation.’ That rating is seven steps below investment grade.”
But of more concern to the state are threats from Wall Street that would affect Michigan’s credit ratings. During Detroit bankruptcy proceedings, while Detroit’s ratings were in the sub-sub-basement, Michigan’s ratings soared as Wall Street cheered the bankruptcy.
Joe O’Keefe of Fitch Ratings and Stephen Murphy of Standard and Poor’s sell a pig in a poke to the Detroit City Council Jan. 31, 2005: $1.5 BILLION in so-called pension obligation certificates. The amount later rose to $2.8 billion due to defaults, late fees and other penalties and was cited as a factor in the Detroit bankruptcy. Photo by Diane Bukowski.
“Looming financial emergencies in Flint and the Detroit Public Schools have caused Standard & Poor’s to lower its outlook on Michigan’s outstanding debt,” Crain’s reported March 18.
The S&P outlook decreased from positive, meaning future upgrades are likely, to stable, meaning the ratings of AA- for the state’s general obligation debt and its A+ rating for appropriation-backed debt will not change.
S&P credit analyst Carol Spain told Crain’s, “The revised outlook reflects our view that rising costs tied to the Flint water crisis and (DPS’) distressed financial position will limit the state’s ability to build reserves over the next two fiscal years.”
DPS DECEIT #3:
A “Detroit Education Commission” would co-exist with the community district board, primarily in an advisory role. It would make recommendations on the “siting” of new schools in the community district, with a strong emphasis on creating more charter schools, which already educate more students in Detroit than do public schools, siphoning off state per-pupil funding.
The commission would be funded by up to $1 million a year for up to 10 years.
Agnes Hitchcock speaks at last year’s “Blackinaw Island” convention outside her north end home in Detroit. “This is nothing but the Next Detroit” she said of Detroit school bills.
“An education commission is subject to the leadership and general supervision of the state board over all public education,” SB 0170 reads. “An education commission may accept and retain money or other assets from any public or private source for the purposes of performing its functions and satisfying its obligations under this act and creating and providing incentives for public schools to locate in areas identified as priority zones . . .In distributing funds or assets to public school ENTITIES, the Education Commission shall not discriminate between classes of public school entities.”
Those entities include charter schools.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan would appoint the board of the education commission. It is to include two members with experience in running “public school academies,” (a/k/a charter schools), two with experience in running public schools, one parent of a student in a charter school, one parent of a student in a public school, and one member with “experience in public school accountability systems and school improvement.”
“The schools they are setting up are for the Next Detroit’s children,” Call ’em Out leader Agnes Hitchcock said. “The children are gone; the last twenty years of education has been like trash. What can the kids do? What do they know—uneducated as they have been by DPS under state control?”
Wendell Anthony at podium of Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children.
The “education commission” is the brainchild of the “Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.” Herrada said the Coalition should be called The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Contractors,
The Coalition is co-chaired by the NAACP Detroit President Rev. Wendell Anthony, Skillman Foundation CEO Tonya Allen, Michigan American Federation of Teachers President Dave Hecker, Walbridge Aldinger CEO John Rakolta (a close ally of Gov. Snyder), and Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation CEO Angela Reyes.
Others represented are the Detroit Regional Chamber, Quicken Loans, Cornerstone Schools (infamous in Benton Harbor for privatizing schools there), General Motors, the UAW, DTE, New Detroit, The Boggs Center, Charlie Beckham of Mayor Mike Duggan’s office, former DPS EM Roy Roberts, current DPS board member Lamar Lemmons, State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, and a variety of other corporations and individuals including a smattering of teachers. (Click on http://voiceofdetroit.net/wp-content/uploads/Coalition-for-the-Future-of-Detroit-Schoolchildren.pdf for a full list.)
Selling Detroit school children down the drain.
“Any so-called progressive Black leaders supporting this legislation are traitors to our Detroit schoolchildren,” Clay said. “They’ve sold them down the drain.”
Helen Moore, leader of Keep the Vote No Takeover, said on Facebook, “Without an education that we control we still have second class citizenship. Join us at meetings for the new freedom school movement in Detroit at 11825 Dexter (at Elmhurst). Enough is Enough: a plan promoted by the governor and his racist war on our children. Anyone who supports this dismantling of our schools is our children’s enemy. You are targeted by us. Don’t run for dog catcher. You will not win even with the payoff money and promises they give you. We will post your names for all to see. It is up to us to end the tyranny.”
Shahidah Muta added, “We have always had many of our own who secretly supported what our government has always done. Importantly, many of our church leaders are in on the game too, either by their silence or becoming operators of schools themselves. I’ve always said that for this dismantling to take shape, we have plenty of feeders opening the doors for them. This dismantling has to be stopped on this end, and until that happens we are spinning our wheels.”
Shahidah Muta with new grandbaby. What future is there for the children of Detroit? Facebook photo.
Jeffery Gields, a former DPS worker and activist through the last decade of attacks on DPS, had a more sinister take in his Facebook comment.
“The people are weak, lack will and sacrifice,” he said. “The Black organizations (i.e. NAACP, Urban League and others) have sold their souls to the devil.
The ‘dry run’ is complete. The state takeover of our schools, PA 436, right-to-work, pension cuts, poisoned water and the elimination of straight party ticket voting all done without one fight, skirmish, mass direct action, nor a grape being thrown reflects very poorly on the people. Next up, from the oppressors, more foreclosures, more charters, increased taxes, more redlining, more devastating legislation and eventually premature death because of stress, lack of knowledge, lack of organization and fight.”
SB 0710 has already received a third reading and been sent to the appropriations committee. Other bills are in similar processes. Further information on them can be found on the Michigan Legislature website at