Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wake County, North Carolina Protests, Arrests to Stop Resegregation

Wed, Jul 21, 2010 08:21 AM

Protests, arrests mark Wake schools meeting

RALEIGH--Hundreds sang and marched downtown to fight the possibility of resegregated schools, two high-profile civil rights leaders got arrested again for the cause and police hauled handcuffed protesters out of a chaotic, and disrupted Wake County school board meeting.

But also on Tuesday, board chairman Ron Margiotta responded to the day of protests, arrests and fierce criticism with a pledge aimed at the
central complaint of civil rights activists and other opponents. He
vowed, without specifics, that the board majority's controversial
proposal to assign students closer to their homes would not create
schools full of poor or minority children.

Before the afternoon meeting descended into a tangle of chanting
protesters collared by determined police, Margiotta also promised in
an opening statement that the board would not be distracted by its
critics from a return to neighborhood schools.

Margiotta heads a coalition determined to end the Wake schools'
longstanding emphasis on maintaining balanced schools based on
students' economic background. However, he said, the goal of
establishing community school zones need not relegate low-income
children to low-end schools.

"This board does not intend to create high-poverty or low-performing
schools in the new zone assignments," Margiotta said.

Opposition board member Keith Sutton responded later: "I'm not going
to say it's not possible, but it'd be good to have that in writing as
part of a plan."

Pastors arrested

Just one floor and a minute's walk away from the board meeting room,
the Rev. William Barber, head of the state NAACP, and the Rev. Nancy
Petty, senior pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, were arrested
as they stepped onto the property of the Wake school board
administration building, defying a school district letter barring them
from the grounds.

Shortly after leading a downtown march, Barber, a Goldsboro pastor,
stepped out of an SUV and was met near the building entrance by Harold Lassiter, head of security for the school district.

With Petty by his side, Barber read aloud an open letter to Margiotta.
Lassiter asked whether Barber, who along with Petty, Duke University
professor Tim Tyson and activist Mary D. Williams were arrested for
disrupting a June 15 school board meeting, had prepared written
assurances he wouldn't disrupt the afternoon school board meeting as
required by a school board letter.

Barber said they had not. Officers then arrested Barber and Petty and
led them away in plastic wrist restraints to the Wake County jail.

Big agenda, little action

Inside, the board had a full agenda of items, including addressing
projected elementary school overcrowding and preparing a job
description for a new superintendent. In the end, not much got done.
The public comment period, which had been dominated in recent months by opponents of the board, began with remarks by several board supporters, apparently in response to Republican calls to show support for the majority. "Busing and diversity programs do not increase the quality of education for our children," said Bill Randall, a Wake County parent as well as the Republican candidate in North Carolina's 13th Congressional District.

But about halfway through the comment period, speaker Carolyn Coleman, a Guilford County commissioner, began a loud complaint to the board about its policies on diversity, then brought more than two dozen protesters forward to join her in chants of "Forward ever! Backwards never!"

Protesters refused to relinquish the podium, most board members walked out to a nearby room and Margiotta threatened the protesters with arrests. Soon, armed police rounded up those who continued to resist, handcuffing and dragging some out bodily .

Out of 16 protesters arrested inside the meeting room, only three gave
Raleigh addresses, according to police records. Another, the Rev.
Curtis Gatewood, of Oxford, second vice-president of the state NAACP, suggested that Margiotta was a racist during an earlier school board meeting this year. Like Barber and Petty, they were arrested for
second-degree trespassing, a misdemeanor.

Sutton steps into frenzy

Board member Sutton at one point was in the midst of the fray. "I was
trying to defuse the situation and make sure people weren't treated
too roughly," Sutton said. "One of the officers grabbed me and held my
arm behind my back before he realized who I was."

By about 5:15 p.m., Margiotta approached the remaining members of the public and got an agreement to let 10 more speak.

Duane Cutlip, a Republican candidate for state house in Wake County,
said the demonstration was unfortunate because it wasn't solving
problems and because it involved adults taking advantage of young

"We have to come together as adults and discuss the differences rather than falling into theater," Cutlip said.

Yevonne Brannon, a former Wake County commissioner and a leader of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, said the demonstrations and arrests saddened her.

"We should not be in the position that we have to have students,
parents, grandparents and community leaders arrested to make sure our schools are not resegregated," Brannon said.

The afternoon's arrests of Barber and Petty brought comments pro and
con. Said board supporter Jeff Moise, "It's a shame to get arrested on
purpose. It sets a bad example for our children."

Speaker Lynn Edmonds granted that it must be hard for the board to
deal with complaints, but added: "It is amazing to me that in the
United States of America, this body has barred specific members of the
public from attending this meeting."

Even amid the theater of demonstrations and civil disobedience, the
five-member board majority on the nine-member panel forged ahead with plans that, directly or indirectly, move them closer to their goal of
student assignment based on zones.

Earlier Tuesday, Margiotta proposed generally limiting school board
meetings to one per month, instead of the customary two, with one or
two work sessions each month. In addition, Margiotta suggested the
elimination of the board's standing committees, saying that having
items discussed in committees, at work sessions and at public meetings led to repetition and wasted time.

Some members said the approach would not allow time for consideration of items before they had to be voted on.

"Let's try it and see how it works," Margiotta said, suggesting that
the proposal could be tried for three or four months as a test.

Later he added, "The intention was to try to streamline our process."

A resolution calling for the change on a trial basis passed on first reading.

"I don't see how board members could be up to speed on all the items
we work on," member Kevin Hill said. "I am beginning to get frustrated
with making decisions with 12 minutes to think about it."

Staff writer Matt Ehlers contributed to this article. or 919-829-8929

Racial tensions roil NC school board; 19 arrests


RALEIGH, N.C. — Protesters and police scuffled Tuesday at a school
board meeting in North Carolina over claims that a new busing system
would resegregate schools, roiling racial tensions reminiscent of the

Nineteen people were arrested, including the head of state NAACP
chapter who was banned from the meeting after a trespassing arrest at
a June school board gathering.

"We know that our cause is right," the Rev. William Barber said
shortly before police put plastic handcuffs on his wrists before the
meeting started.

Inside, more than a dozen demonstrators disrupted the meeting by
gathering around a podium, chanting and singing against the board's

After several minutes, Raleigh police intervened and asked them to
leave. When they refused, the officers grabbed arms and tried to
arrest the protesters. One child was caught in the pushing and
shoving, as was school board member Keith Sutton, who was nearly
arrested before authorities realized who he was.

"Hey, hey, ho, ho, resegregation has got to go," some protesters chanted.

Sutton, the only black member of the board, said he went into the
crowd to try and calm things down and encourage officers not to use
such strong force. He said he felt insulted that he almost got
arrested and believes the officer who tried to detain him owes him an

"I'm just real dismayed and disappointed," Sutton said.

The Wake County School Board has voted multiple times over the last
several months to scrap the district's diversity policy, which
distributed students based on socioeconomics and for years had been a model for other districts looking to balance diversity in schools.
Several school board members elected last year have built a majority
in favor of focusing on neighborhood schools.

The board's chairman, Ron Margiotta, said the panel would not be
distracted in its effort to "provide choice and increased stability
for families."

"This board does not intend to create high poverty or low-performing
schools," he said to scoffs from the crowd.

At a morning rally that drew 1,000 people, speakers quoted Martin
Luther King Jr., remembered the days of segregated water fountains and likened the current situation to the landmark Brown v. Board of
Education battle. Barber talked about America's legacy of racial
strife to galvanize the crowd.

"Too many prayers were prayed," Barber said. "Too many lives were
sacrificed. Too much blood was shed. Too many tears were shed. We
can't turn back now."

Barber's supporters believe the new policy will resegregate schools.
They carried signs that read: "Segregate equals hate" and "History is
not a mystery. Separate is always unequal."

George Ramsay, a white former student body president of Enloe High
School, said it was necessary to keep the diversity policy in place to
prepare students for an increasingly connected world.

"It is shortsighted to ignore the way students like me have been
enriched by diversity," Ramsay said.

Trading Places: A North/South Reversal on Civil Rights

Today in Raleigh, North Carolina, protesters have raised a ruckus
against the actions of the newly-elected school board. Certain
members, supported by local Republicans, want to separate schools into racially distinct enclaves of rich and poor by killing a long-standing
diversity policy. There have been lawsuits, candlelight vigils, news
conferences, and arrests. A month before the rally, NC NAACP President Rev. William Barber was hauled to jail from a sit-in. He's on the steps of the capital today along with church groups and other citizens determined not to roll back the clock on desegregation.

Sounds like a throw-back, right? Until you realize that 4 of the 5
members of the board's controlling bloc are from the North. These
northern transplants, it seems, want to do things the way they do them
back home. They say they want to give children the advantage of
attending neighborhood schools, rather than uphold Wake County's
long-standing commitment to ensuring socioeconomic parity through its
busing policy. In an ironic reversal, drawling southerners are trying
to convince Yankees to be sensitive to the Jim Crow-shadowed past,
while white school board members are giving the NAACP lessons on Brown v. Board of Education.

What is going on?

I grew up in Raleigh during the 70s and 80s, and I have lived in New
York for most of my adult life. Whenever the subject of race comes up,
I get treated to a lot of piousness from my northern friends. They
talk a good game (in politely lowered voices) about the need to heal
racial wounds and overcome prejudice. But most of these folks went to
school at places where people looked and talked just exactly like
them. So their attitudes have a certain theoretical quality.

This is how it went down in my town: between kindergarten and high
school graduation I attended seven different public schools. I was
yanked out of one, plopped into another, bused all over creation, and
dumped into classrooms with people whose accents, skin color, and
background were radically different from my own. My parents didn't
like having me shipped across town into unfamiliar places, any more
than the parents of my northern friends would have liked it. But they
put up with it because it was the right thing to do. Southern liberals
wanted to see the school system integrated so that all the children --
not just their own -- would have a shot at a decent education. There
was often hell to pay for this perspective. My father nearly lost his
job as a college professor for daring to protest racial injustice in
education. But they fought it out, took the heat, and helped their
communities come out in a better place. They didn't just talk about
the need to sacrifice for their beliefs. They lived it.

On the way to my middle-class subdivision, the elementary school bus I
rode stopped at the housing projects where the city's poorest black
kids lived. Occasionally there was tension of a very bad kind. My
school books were knocked to the ground. Ugly slurs were whispered in my ears. I remember rumors of knives drawn in racial clashes at
football games. But I also recall my black friend Tijuana from 5th
grade, who showed me how to make elaborate corn-rows in my hair. And I remember going to parties in the housing projects with the high school basketball players, listening to rap music and learning to diffuse
tension with a good belly laugh.

Growing up in the desegregation era wasn't easy. But the busing policy
tuned me into a broader range of human channels than those available
to kids who attended school in bastions of northern white privilege. I
find myself more at ease talking about racial issues because I have
lived through some of their consequences. I don't, for example, lower
my voice when I say the word "black." And I can joke about things that
would alarm my northern friends of both races - like the fact that a
black southern pal with ancestors of a similar Virginia surname
habitually calls me "Cuz."

This ease of communication comes from a lifetime of talking, sharing, and listening to people who sat beside me in the classroom and shared my seat on the bus. It's one of the privileges that a torpsy-turvey background in a southern public school system gave me. The black kids from the projects got better schools and better teachers, and I got a sense of belonging to a human family bigger my own small neighborhood.

What the northern transplants on the Wake County school board don't
realize is that they will be doing their own children a disservice by
narrowing the range of their experience and leaving them awkward and
fearful in the presence of those who are different.

Reverend Nancy Petty of Raleigh's Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, who presides over the congregation I belonged to as a child, has stood up in support of today's protest, vowing to "stand together as people of faith and make a statement that we are here for justice."

Stand together, learning together, eating together and laughing
together. The Wake Country public school system allowed me to
experience these things as I grew up. And I sure wouldn't trade places
with anyone denied them.

Posted on Sun, Jul. 18, 2010

Fear of `resegregation' fuels unrest in NC

AP National Writer
The News & Observer

In a February 2010 photo, Wake County School Board member Debra
Goldman and Chairman Ron Margiotta were shown just after
Superintendent Del Burns announced his intention to resign over the
Wake County Board of Education's decision to scrap a much-praised
busing-for-diversity program. The Wake County Board of Education's
decision to scrap a much-praised busing-for-diversity program has
sparked a public backlash not seen for decades in these parts. In the
annals of desegregation, Raleigh is barely a footnote.

Integration came relatively peacefully to the North Carolina capital.
There was no "stand in the schoolhouse door," no need of National
Guard escorts or even a federal court order.

Nearly 50 years passed - mostly uneventfully, at least until a new
school board majority was elected last year on a platform supporting
community schools.

The result has been turmoil.

The superintendent resigned in protest. A coalition of residents and
civil rights groups filed suit. Months of rallies, news conferences
and candlelight vigils against the feared "resegregation" of the
state's largest school district culminated in the recent arrests of
four activists for refusing to vacate board members' chairs.

Locals are lecturing Northern transplants about the Jim Crow past;
white school board members are quoting Brown v. Board of Education to the NAACP.

"We're not going to sit idly by while they turn the clock back on the
blood, sweat and tears and wipe their feet on the sacrifices of so
many that have enabled us to get to the place we are today," says the
Rev. William J. Barber II, head of the state NAACP chapter and one of
the four protesters arrested for trespassing at the June 15 board

But John Tedesco, part of a new board majority, says it's the NAACP
and others who are "trying to play with the old '60s playbook for
rules for radicals" to preserve a policy that is no longer needed, and
wasn't working anyway.

"This isn't 1960," he says.

It's not. But in 1960, when desegregation first came to the Raleigh
city schools, there was no pitched battle.

In September of that year, 7-year-old William Craig Campbell - whose
janitor father was head of the local NAACP chapter - braved a gantlet
of spit and epithets and walked into the Murphy Public School.

Despite petitions by 400 parents opposing desegregation as "not in the
best interests" of white children, Campbell remained; one day, he
would become mayor of Atlanta. Raleigh city schools integrated
gradually, and relatively quietly.

Wake County was another story.

Between 1968 and 1976, Raleigh's white population dropped by 11
percent, and this "white flight" turned areas just outside the
Beltline encircling Raleigh into what one educator called "trailer
city." A 1968 editorial in The News & Observer warned that Raleigh was in danger of becoming a "little Chicago ... with hostile black
consciousness and separatism growing with resegregation."

A proposal to merge the two districts was put to a referendum in 1973,
and was defeated by a 3-1 margin. But three years later, the two
systems were joined by an act of the state legislature.

Over the years, the united school district tried to integrate in all
sorts of ways. Students were bused into town from county
neighborhoods. All sixth graders were sent to four downtown centers. A
network of magnet schools was established, though by the 1980s, most of those bused were minorities from downtown.

By the 1990s, the federal courts began issuing rulings discouraging
forced racial integration. So at the beginning of 2000, in an effort
to head off a lawsuit, the board adopted new diversity standards,
replacing race with income. Under the policy, the goal was to have no
school with more than 40 percent of its students on free or reduced
lunch, or more than a quarter scoring below grade level.

With 140,000 students in 160 schools, Wake County was the largest of
about 70 districts across the nation using socio-economic status to
maintain diversity. The system was considered a model for those
looking for a way around race-based assignment scheme rejected by the courts.

"It (the Wake County system) really was a beacon, a flag around which
more and more people were rallying as they saw the positive effects of
this," says sociologist Gerald Grant, a professor emeritus at Syracuse
University and author of the book "Hope and Despair in the American
City: Why There are No Bad Schools in Raleigh."

But some parents grew tired of sending their children off on long bus
rides. Others said the policy may have brought whites and blacks
together, but it wasn't really helping blacks educationally.

And there are those who say people forgot how bad the bad old days were.

"For folks who were there and lived through it, there's a real sense
of a collective forgetting, a collective amnesia," says James
Leloudis, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill who was in high school when the county system integrated.

"There is a kind of tragic disremembering."

Part of the story is that Wake County is increasingly populated by
people who did not grow up here and do not feel the tug or burden of
that history. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about half of Wake
County's residents were born outside North Carolina.

"The population shift is HUGE," says Grant, who briefly taught at a
Raleigh high school while researching his book. "You had folks moving
down there from Lexington, Mass., and buying a $275,000 house, and
they thought a white school came with it. But when they got down
there, they found their kids were getting on a bus."

At a recent conference at North Carolina State University, Grant
jokingly told supporters of the diversity policy that their biggest
mistake was that they "didn't build the gates on all the roads leading
to Raleigh to keep all those damn Yankees out of here" - people like
New York native Tedesco, one of four new board members chosen in an election last fall that saw just 8 percent turnout.

"They were well coordinated, well funded," says Grant. "They got their
message out, and they gathered the discontented."

Immediately after taking office, the new 5-4 majority began
dismantling the old diversity plan. The response was equally
immediate. In February, Superintendent Del Burns - who started as a
special education teacher in 1976 and had led the district since 2006
- resigned.

"It is clear to me that I cannot, in all good conscience, continue to
serve," he said.

Supporters of the old assignment policy sued to have the board's March 23 vote overturned, alleging open meetings violations. A judge
dismissed the suit, but the plaintiffs have appealed.

On June 15, when the board rejected Barber's demand for 45 minutes to address the full panel, he and three others occupied the board
chamber. The only way they would leave, they said, was in handcuffs.

Police obliged.

Following their release, the newly dubbed "Raleigh 4" published an
open letter titled "Thoughts While we were Being Handcuffed, and
Processed at the Wake County Jail on June 15 after Engaging in an Act of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience" - a direct allusion to Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

"There is a tragedy unfolding in Wake County, but it is not confined
to Wake County ... ," the letter read. "The shadow of resegregation is
falling across the state of North Carolina and the nation."

The Wake Education Partnership released a study in February arguing
that any assignment plan which relies on sending children to their
closest school "would quickly create dozens of capacity problems."

"If all of today's students were assigned to their closest schools,
for example, about two dozen buildings would be at 150 percent of
capacity," the group wrote. Such a system would also undermine the
magnet system, the group claims, leaving "older neighborhood schools
under capacity, disproportionately poor or both."

Tedesco counters with a University of Georgia study, presented in May, that found the number of schools not meeting the district's diversity goals had actually tripled during the past decade. The researchers blamed the trend on a lack of political will and an explosive growth rate - as many as 7,000 new students a year - that made it difficult to follow the policy.

Board Chairman Ron Margiotta says the protests, lawsuits and
candlelight vigils are "an attempt to circumvent the will of the
people in this county." But opponents point to a board-sponsored
survey that showed more than 90 percent of parents were satisfied or
"very satisfied" with their children's' school assignments.

The dispute has become vitriolic - and personal.

A columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh recently called
Margiotta and Tedesco "a couple of carpetbagging Northerners." And
Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker referred to the board majority as "people who are not from the area, who don't share our values," and announced the formation of a group to ensure that any new student assignment plan doesn't violate the state constitutional guarantee of a sound education.

The NAACP's Barber admits busing supporters were caught napping last fall. But with five seats - including Margiotta's - up for grabs next
year, they are determined to keep up the heat to counter what "the
anti-diversity, right-wing, tea party-sympathizing, resegregationist
caucus is doing in Wake County."

Margiotta says opponents are judging him and the others on a plan that is at least year from being finalized. And he says they are
attributing motives to him with no way of knowing what's in his heart.

"Segregation is something that's a foreign word to me, something I've
never lived through or have any understanding of," says the New Jersey native, who moved to the area about a decade ago.

Pittsburgh native Patrice Lee and her family moved 11 years ago from
Jacksonville, Fla., to the town of Cary - whose name, locals joke, is
really an acronym for "Containment Area for Relocated Yankees." During that time, she says she has watched in frustration as test scores and graduation rates for low-income students declined.

"That policy was not accomplishing the educational purpose," says Lee, co-founder of the group WakeCARES. "It was accomplishing a social purpose. And the social purpose was to have diversity in schools."

Lee, who is white, has three children who currently attend magnet
schools about 24 miles away. She and others who support the board's
actions are tired of being labeled as racists.

"When you don't have the facts on your side and you don't have the
truth on your side, you throw a trump card and fake it," says Lee, who
has another son who recently graduated from Wake schools and a fifth
set to enter kindergarten next year. "It's become a circus."

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