African American children are often told by the white establishment that “education” is the way to obtain equality yet, at the same time, black children are not given equal educational opportunities.
They are told to get a quality education at the same time their schools are underfunded, have old textbooks, and have overly stretched teachers, says Ray Freeman, vice-president of the Warrensville Heights School Board in Northeastern Ohio.
The “achievement gap” is evident, according to Freeman and Judge Gayle Williams Byers of the South Euclid, Ohio Municipal Court.
Black students with the same years of schooling do not perform overall as well as whites.
But, it’s not the black child’s fault.
They are told to succeed but not given the tools to succeed. Freeman adds. They are short-changed in many different ways on their educational experience.
Freeman is a midwestern regional member of the National School Board Association and travels the country visiting schools, especially in impoverished neighborhoods. He says the achievement gap is nationwide and not just regional.
Black children just are not given equal opportunities for success, Freeman and Byers note.
Often black children are given low expectations by whites for academic acumen equal to their white counterparts. There also is the expectation of the pipeline to prison for many black men instead of academic success.
Black young men and young women are not “expected” by white culture to have equal academic prowess to whites, says Freeman. But he contends that is so wrong.
Therefore, black students are not given many of the same opportunities. Freeman and Byers are firm believers that co-curricular activities in predominately black schools are lacking. Little is offered beyond sports.
Freeman suggests that there should be an array of co-curricular opportunities in black schools that would spark academic interests and a desire to succeed. He says that these activities are just as important as the rigor in the academic classrooms.
An African-American father and a black mother explain how they need to warn children about possible violence against them by police or others. This starts at a very young age and continues through young adulthood in a repetitive manner.
It’s called “The Talk” and it happens in every black family with children, says Isaiah Simmons, a father, a minister, and a court bailiff. Simmons has a son and a daughter and also has mentored his teenage nephew and niece.
“The Talk” gives practical tips to young blacks about how to behave if confronted by a police officer or another person in authority, where to put their hands and what to say or not say.
These are not just parental lectures but instead are survival tips delivered by parents so that their children stay alive.
I tell my son that when he goes out …I just want him to come home alive, says Gayle Williams-Byers judge of the South Euclid Municipal Court. Do whatever it takes to comply to protect your life, she says to him. We can work out the other details later, she adds.
However, both Judge Byers and Simmons question whether “The Talk” is even relevant anymore because the level of police violence against blacks does not seem to match any form of aberrant behavior. Blacks can do everything correctly and still be subject to police abuse.
Special instruction for black children starts way before teenage years.
Judge Byers says she started very young with her son and other young relatives to tell them that they unfortunately need to work twice as hard to reach half of the success levels of white culture.
Our culture, still in 2020, is stacked against a black child succeeding at the same level as his/her white counterparts.
The violence and other societal factors place an extra burden on black parents to rear their children safely.
Too often we, as a country, focus only on the incidents of violence perpetrated on African Americans by police officers instead of looking at the total picture of racism that perpetuates the criminal justice system from the streets to the courtrooms, says Judge Gayle Williams Byers, of the South Euclid Ohio Municipal Court.
Racism goes well beyond what happens in the streets, she says. It truly is systemic.
Judge Byers complains of over-policing in minority neighborhoods.
“Overall, the issues related to police brutality and its intersection with black folk is “ground zero.” While the media has largely focused on the overreaching and many times illegal police tactics employed while interacting with the black community, they have overlooked the role that City Councils and Courts often play in setting these confrontations in motion,” says Judge Byers.
She also claims that City’s use courts and over-policing as revenue streams.
“Often, local governments use police forces and courts as revenue generating ATMs or piggy banks. They pressure police chiefs, officers (with required ticket quotas) and court officials to increase traffic and low-level criminal enforcement fines and fees without regard to public safety or tangible outcomes. The vast majority of the people who are targeted with these often heavy-handed enforcement measures to meet these monetary targets are Black, brown and poor people,” she adds.
Under these processes, blacks are often stopped and searched with little reasonable suspicion and arrested with only the barest probable cause. They then are expected to post bonds that many times, Mark Zuckerberg couldn’t afford and the scheme, in many cases, is to make it hard for them to keep their court date, she notes.
If they are working, then often they are forced to choose between keeping their job or maintaining their court obligation. If they don’t come to court, their bond is forfeited to the city/county government and a warrant can be issued for their arrest. Reasonable or tangible access to justice is not even considered, according to Judge Byers.
While in court, blacks are confronted by an often-times confusing system that is dominated by whites and stacked against the defendants.
Judge Byers says that to effectuate true reform that the whole criminal justice system must be scrutinized and not just the activities of the police in the streets.
“The problem is that the system itself is inherently broken,” Judge Byers says “and we haven’t even tipped the iceberg about the Racism that masquerades as disrespect but is far more insidious.
Judge Byers has initiated a “night court’ in her jurisdiction to make it easier for people to come to court, because true access to justice should be more than a mere modern day slogan.
In 2012, Gayle Williams Byers was elected to become the first black judge for the South Euclid Municipal Court in Northeastern Ohio. She came to the job with a wealth of experience after being a Congressional staffer on Capitol Hill and after spending nearly a decade as an Assistant Prosecutor in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland-area).
However, despite her election win, her experience and the honor of being the first female black judge in her court, she confronted forms of overt and covert racism from the start.
Over the past eight years, it has been one racial insult or slight after another being generated by the white power establishment in her community. Repeated efforts have been made to intimidate her, question her character, and to minimize her powerful position.
“If I, as judge, get treated in a racist manner, I can only imagine what happens to the average black person in the streets,” Judge Byers says. “We need to have a real and meaningful conversation about race as it permeates all aspects of society.”
South Euclid is a racially diverse community with about 50 percent of the population being African American and other people of color. However, the Mayor, police chief, city law director and five of the seven council positions are filled by whites.
The first racial incident happened to Judge Byers about six months after taking office when the police chief, law director and some members of council met with the judge to discuss one of her rulings with which the police chief disagreed.
The chief started his presentation by saying to the white group: I’m not here to “lynch” the judge, according to Judge Byers.
Judge Byers took great umbrage at the lynching reference. She said she had an immediate and intense reaction that the white chief of police would utter those words to a black female judge to minimize her and her elected position as head of the local judicial system.
She remembers digging her fingers in the arms of her chair.
This was only the beginning of one incident after another. Despite being chosen by the electorate for a second term, she has been falsely accused of not knowing her place, dishonesty, laziness and other racial tropes by white office holders.
They even installed ceiling cameras in her jury room without any consultation with her about the sanctity of jury privacy.
Even though she receives national honors and accolades for excellence, she still must fight racial battles with her own city administration. For example, Judge Byers has been selected as the only Judicial Fellow to the National Judicial College, a prestigious judicial position. Yet, that honor has been besmirched and marginalized by whites in power.
Judge Byers calls on white allies to become anti-racists. She says it is not enough to say you are not racist. Instead, you have to fight racism by being ANTI-RACIST.
Hear Judge Byers tell her story on this week’s Spectrum Podcast. This will start a series of serious conversations about racism in American.