Sunday, April 12, 2015

Judgment Day for Public Education

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.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Two Easter Back Stories

Judas Iscariot and The RICO Act

By Eric Stradford

AMWS, April 4, 2015, Atlanta -- As eleven public school educators sat pondering their futures, historic Easter Sunday outcomes added one ray of hope to otherwise uncertain futures.  Neither the trial, the conviction nor the unjust punishment is how the story ends.  For 2.1 billion Christians worldwide, the indisputable, uncontroversial truth stands -- HE GOT UP!

It’s the single most significant reality in the story of Jesus The Christ. But the controversy leading to the most remembered moment in human history is almost always ignored, forgotten, or perhaps forgiven.  One of two background plots in the traditional telling of the Easter Story centers around 12 faithful followers. 

Judas Iscariot, one of twelve original disciples identified in the Bible, is the one who would betray Jesus.  In modern-day terms, Judas, “the bag man,” handled the money for Jesus’ community organization.  He betrayed Jesus for a bribe of "thirty pieces of silver" and, after thinking about what he had done, went out and hung himself.   This economic twist should not be construed as encouragement for folks who plead out under pressure from government prosecutors.  The pressure then on Judas and more recently on some three dozen educators through modern day use of The RICO Act has inspired even the most seasoned criminals to fess up even if they thought their cause was just.

The RICO Act of 1970 also known as Public Law 91–452, is formally titled The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.  RICO was intended to provide for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.  The Act is not recorded as one of the Acts of the Bible, but one of which every believer needs to be aware.

In many cases, 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.

When the U.S. Attorney decides to indict someone under RICO, he or she has the option of seeking a pre-trial restraining order or injunction to temporarily seize a defendant's assets and prevent the transfer of potentially forfeitable property, as well as require the defendant to put up a performance bond. This provision was placed in the law because the owners of Mafia-related shell corporations often absconded with the assets. An injunction and/or performance bond ensures that there is something to seize in the event of a guilty verdict.

RICO focuses specifically on racketeering.  It allows the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for the crimes which they ordered others to do or assisted them. It closes a perceived loophole that allowed somebody who told somebody to, for example, steal, to be exempt from the trial because he did not actually commit the crime personally.

Based on the spirit of the law, the 35 Atlanta educators originally charged with cheating nor Judas Iscariot should have encountered RICO’s long arm.  The modern-day controversy stems from a perception among some African Americans that some standardized testing and too many public school policies fail in adequately preparing young Blacks for the real world.  An educator, with an opportunity to “save” a student from moral and or economic despair might face similar challenges in a “Race To The Top,” or “No Child Left Behind” system of educational accountability.

So, who benefits from jailing educators?  And, for that matter, who benefited from the trumped-up charges, trial and conviction of Jesus The Christ?   The Back Story of Judas The Bag Man offers insight into humans empowered to judge others.  One other back story in the Easter Story might someday emerge from the power of perception.  Who is telling the story and what is being left out?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Mis-Educating America

By Eric Stradford

AMWS, April 4, 2015 – Federal prosecutors will be taking a closer look at the case of 11 educators jailed for allegedly cheating on standardized tests.  Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter's decision to imprison 11 African American educators just before Good Friday may have riled a community of 2.1 billion Christians and sparked an investigation into all things wrong in America.

Sources say the judge, also known as "Get a Life, Baxter" eeked out a win over judges from all across America.  In 2011, Baxter’s alleged corruption earned him the prestigious Horse’s Ass of the Year Award.  Unconfirmed reports on the Internet say Judge Baxter topped Family Court Judge William Adams who reportedly beat his handicapped child and other corrupt judges in Atlanta, including Judge Orinda D. Evans, Judge William S. Duffey, and Judge Thomas W. Thrash.  Baxter’s actions this week perhaps exceeded past achievements as well as future aspirations.

Lawyers already looking into the presidentially defined “Gulf of Mistrust” may have discovered a significant kidney stone in the American justice system.  Among the unlikely advocates for a federal investigation into high crimes are perhaps some recently elected republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Georgia Congressman Barry Laudermilk, a respected scholar on history, faith and family, is “seeing a coalescing of like-minded individuals seeking to change the culture in Washington.”   The Georgia-based believer shares a common vision for America’s future, “dismissing the old my-way-or-the-highway approach towards conservative initiatives.”  Leaders as such are looking to change course through influence, not just brute force.
If healing could be legislated it might quickly emerge as a legislative priority for elected officials committed to “a more perfect union” envisioned by framers of the U.S. Constitution.  On the positive side of a ledger one might expect to be reminded of Christian values that helped to shape the republic.  On the negative side, one might expect to be reminded of some senators who conspired against Julius Caesar or some Romans and Religious leaders who conspired against Christ.

The legal precedence set in the conviction of 11 Atlanta educators may present the best possibility for becoming the America folks like Jerry Baxter believes in.    We’ll want to lay the foundation through some common understanding of RICO.  

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as the RICO Act or simply RICO, is a United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. The RICO Act focuses specifically on racketeering, and it allows the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for the crimes which they ordered others to do or assisted them, closing a perceived loophole that allowed someone who told a man to, for example, murder, to be exempt from the trial because he did not actually commit the crime personally.

A more appropriate, though not necessarily confirmed example of a RICO Act violation might be a judge, within one of 12 economic regions of the United States, threatening the economic security of 11 U.S. citizens presuming that the tests they were accused of cheating on were fair in the first place.  Keep in mind that economic security is a significant consideration in ensuring our national security.  If educating American children is key to their economic security, then mis-educating them is a threat.

Judge Baxter’s overstep in first allowing RICO to define test-score-cheating is perhaps at the tip of an economic iceberg we conspiracy theorists refer to as the School To Prison Pipeline.   Facebook friend John Sam scored Cheating in Atlanta Public Schools as the latest chapter in a homeland security horse & pony show.  “The criminal minds of the Buckhead Business Coalition and Atlanta Chamber of Commerce were the ones responsible for forcing the increases in fake test scores,” said Sam.

According to Sam, their buddies created the (racketeering) manipulation of student achievement to bring businesses to Atlanta by any means possible. Increasing the test scoring was the leverage needed to encourage businesses to move to Atlanta, creating more building contracts increasing the money flow to BUCKHEAD business owners.

Sam observed that former Atlanta Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Kathy Augustine did not testify nor were any charges brought against her.   In his expression of free speech, Sam theorizes that Augustine is perhaps sitting quietly somewhere with her “Buckhead hush money.” Augustine denied having knowledge of test cheating in Atlanta, but the case followed her to Texas. A Dallas-area school board voted to sever ties with its new superintendent, who was among the untouchables in a test-cheating scandal in her previous district in Atlanta.  The DeSoto, TX school board voted 3-2 to negotiate a $188,000 voluntary exit agreement with its recently hired Superintendent Kathy Augustine.

Conspiracy theorists in the murder of JFK are still scavenging cold case files that might point to a Defense Industrial Complex and a good test case for RICO.  Today, evidence of a School to Prison Pipeline might be perceived as a crime where some citizens benefit and others loose time and money.  Keep in mind that Black educators have complained about standardized testing since Carter Woodson.  The 11 charged this week are among the first African Americans empowered to do something about what Woodson described as the “Miseducation of the Negro.”

No vision of America’s future can expect to prosper in an environment that economically threatens some while benefiting others.  In Georgia, the law calls for communities to plan for an inclusive, equitable future for all.  The benefits of comprehensive planning is that residents, the business community, and nonprofits all work together to develop a growth strategy.  What leaders hope to lead is an attractive place for investment, conducting businesses and raising families.   

Unfortunately, too many advocates of status quo view a common vision for the future as a threat to their economic security.  Their understanding of laws such as PATRIOT ACT, RICO, and STAND YOUR GROUND undermines community and perpetuates CHAOS.