By Eric Stradford
AMWS April 12, 2015, Atlanta – There is a “Scandal” unfolding in the heart of Atlanta. Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter is expected to decide, tomorrow, the futures of educators accused of cheating on standardized tests. Baxter’s sole decision to free the APS 11 comes at the high cost of lost time, lost money and lost rights of citizens vs felons.
As unbelievable as it may seem, even the Olivia Pope character conjured up in creator Shonda Rhimes’ mind could be charged and jailed for violations of The RICO Act. It’s anybody’s guess who could be next. On Wednesday, April 1, 2015, a “real life” Atlanta jury convicted 11 defendants, a mix of Atlanta public school teachers, testing coordinators and administrators — of racketeering, a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison.
One obvious omission from mainstream news plots is that all 11 defendants are African American—an exclusion justified by a diverse complexion of professionals involved in a highly complex “not-a-race” case. On the bench, The Honorable Jerry Baxter has managed a slew of objections, motions, and maneuvering to demonize working folk for a flawed public education system.
The Reverend Dr. Bernice King, CEO, The King Center, joined thousands of concerned citizens from across the United States in calling on Judge Baxter and District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. for leniency in their sentencing decision. For the record, The Reverend Dr. King is Black. District Attorney Howard is Black. Most of the concerned clergy, many of the outraged citizens and the 11 convicted educators also happen to be Black. But the Atlanta cheating scandal is as much about race as it is about racketeering. More RICO Act charges can be expected as scapegoats in the much broader "school to prison pipeline" scandal expose constitutionally protected “organized crime” bosses in America's education, prison and political systems.
Before Judge Baxter ordered the 11 Black folks off to jail, District Attorney Howard fondled The RICO Act to prosecute "a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation," resulting in the indictment of some 34 employees of the Atlanta Public School system. Howard, an African American male, whose “innovative ideas have left an indelible mark on the local justice system and the community at large,” may himself have been subjected to "a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation," that compelled him to produce economic outcomes by any means necessary.
But Judge Baxter and District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. are by no means alone in their modern day demonstration of a Sanhedrin Court. Chief Judge Gail S. Tusan, a Black female who happens to oversee the Atlanta Judicial Circuit – 5th Judicial Administrative District, will need to weigh 11 convictions against a 400 year history of injustice and her own calling to administer justice for all. The “sistah” might just be the Moses who can whisper softly into ol’ Pharoah’s ear, “#LETMYTEACHERSGO.”
Even the lovely Yolanda L. Lewis must weigh her worth within a system in need of greater community trust. As Superior Court of Fulton County Administrator, Lewis stands on a commitment “to operational transparency and forming stronger bonds within the community we serve.” As a result of Lewis’ role, court administrators across America may become more accountable to commitments for 21st Century community engagement.
In the creative legal minds of D.A. Howard and Judge Baxter, the threat of a RICO indictment can force defendants to plead guilty to lesser charges, in part, because the seizure of assets would make it difficult to pay a defense attorney. Despite its harsh provisions, a RICO-related charge is considered easy to prove in court, as it focuses on patterns of behavior as opposed to criminal acts.
The PATRIOT Act is perhaps a bit more difficult to prosecute because Washington has yet to connect threats associated with “Haves and Have Nots” in America to Homeland Security. Clearly, the 11 educators subjected to Judge Baxter’s decision bear some responsibility for the "culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation." Their individual and collective courage to plead not guilty may earn them consultant roles in a soon to be envisioned Tyler Perry-Shonda Rhimes joint venture episode.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s role in sowing suspicion about the veracity of test scores dating back to 2009 may provide Judge Mablean’s character the best evidence yet that mainstream press feeds the School To Prison Pipeline. Perhaps one thing in common that Judge Baxter shares with Tyler Perry’s Judge John John Crier is the cast of characters portraying real and or fictitious Haves and Have Nots. But the “Judgment Day,” drama expected to unfold in Atlanta may not fully be revealed until the next television season.
In real life, more than 3000 concerned supporters signed online petitions asking Judge Baxter to #LETMYTEACHERSGO. Their voices and yours may help a system of laws find balance between “retribution and rehabilitation.” Perhaps balance in today’s judiciary will best define American justice for America’s future, and the shared vision of a more just and humane society.