Cases like these are often called “landmark” cases, because they set forth ideas and ideals that may bring about significant changes in the political and legal landscape.
Many analysts considered the Chauvin trial, in particular, to be a landmark. In it, police officers actually testified against one of their own, which is rare, and the jury held a white police officer criminally accountable for killing a Black man. On June 25, 2021, the judge sentenced Chauvin to 22.5 years in prison for murdering Floyd after he attempted to use a counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes.
People all over the world have followed the Chauvin trial closely, as the culminating event after a year of global protests against police brutality and racism.
Landmark trials may go down in history, but as a law professor specializing in alternative dispute resolution, I know that they do not instantly transform the social order.
Courts are limited in the kinds of disputes they can hear and the sorts of relief they can provide. Moreover, major court cases and other moments of reform in American history often result in legislative backlash and a “recalibration,” as my colleague Stuart Chinn has argued. Those reactions may slow or even undermine the momentum for social change.
And even famously “just” verdicts haven’t necessarily pushed U.S. society in a linear direction toward its constitutional ideals.
Big verdicts, slow change
A well-known example is Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court held unanimously that the doctrine of “separate but equal” in public schools violated the 14th Amendment.
The 1954 Brown decision, which ended legal segregation in the nation’s schools, inspired civil rights activists, drew broader attention to the struggle for racial equality and was instrumental in enforcing and encouraging racial desegregation.
But the main objectives of Brown – integrating public schools and leveling the educational playing field – have not been realized.
Many schools are still effectively segregated, in part because of ongoing legal and practical challenges associated with integration. In the 1974 case Milliken v. Bradley, for example, the Supreme Court limited the ability of federal courts to compel integration across school districts. That decision, handed down 20 years after Brown v. Board of Education, has made it difficult if not impossible to fulfill Brown’s promise of integration.
Another instructive example from the same era is Gideon v. Wainwright. In the Gideon case, the Supreme Court held that under the Sixth Amendment, the state must provide attorneys to criminal defendants who could not otherwise afford them.
Following through on this constitutional mandate has proven difficult. Many parts of the country allocate grossly inadequate resources to the defense of indigent defendants. New Orleans’ 60 public defenders, for example, handle approximately 20,000 cases each year, according to a 2017 report.
Law students learn by the end of their grueling first year that trials alone are not effective mechanisms for addressing complex social and political problems.
Yet landmark trials are important. Legal proceedings are opportunities to articulate and reinforce American ideals around equality and justice and to expose bias and unfairness. They calibrate and restrain state power, test the merit of legal claims and create a public record.
Trials are an official public rendering of guilt or liability. Without them, the United States would lose much of the law’s ability to inspire and call attention to social change.
But as the Brown and Gideon cases show, legal decisions grounded in constitutional ideals of equality and justice do not automatically lead to an individual or collective moral reckoning.
Implementing the aspirational ideals set forth in landmark verdicts requires legislation, systems design, negotiation, collaboration, dialogue, activism and education.
Ultimately, however, the meaning of the Chauvin murder trial within the larger context of the struggle for racial justice will depend, in part, on how people outside the courtroom respond to calls for reform.
This explains why so many people reacted to the Chauvin verdict with relief and also something akin to dissatisfaction. They realized that one guilty verdict, standing on its own, is not enough to address persistent and systemic inequities in the United States.
Police departments and officers, city officials, activists, community members, business owners, state and federal actors – all of these people share collective responsibility for defining George Floyd’s legacy in modern American history.
Landmark cases are moments in time; legacies unfold over generations. If Americans want safer communities and more ethical policing, the work starts now.
When Phylicia Rashad tweeted, “A terrible wrong is being righted — a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”, she was absolutely correct! It's unfortunate she felt pressure to apologize for telling the truth! However, the terrible wrong can never truely be righted because Bill Cosby and his family can never regain his lost time spent in prison!
Because of assurances from Bruce L. Castor Jr. who was then the Montgomery County, Pa. district attorney, Dr. Bill Cosby sat for depositions in a lawsuit filed against him by Andrea Constand, which he paid her $3.38 million to settle in 2006.
The reason Court.rchp.com exist is to help educate black people about the law and to help them help themselves in a court of law by acting as their own attorney when no other option exist. This case illustrates how even a rich black man can become a victim of mass incarceration. Bill Cosby probably would never have served a single day in jail if he was a wealthy white man. For those that might want to compare Dr. Cosby's case to Harvey Weinstein's, the circumstances and weight of evidence were totally different. There was nothing in the Weinstein case to indicate that the charges should not have been filed.
Applying common sense, most likely at some point, Mr. Castor and Ms. Constand had a discussion where he explained there was not enough evidence to get a conviction and that he would be willing to waive prosecution so that her civil suit could move forward and she agreed. If so, Constand knowingly chose money over criminal prosecution. Kevin Steele, a subsequent district attorney reversed Mr. Castor’s decision and charged the entertainer with assaulting Ms. Constand.
If not but for the assurance not to prosecute, Dr. Cosby certainly would have exercised his fifth amendment right to not self incriminate. Cosby never admitted to sexual abuse, he simply admitted that he had at one time given women he wanted to have sex with quaaludes. Read the deposition for yourself, the topic of quaaludes begin on page eight of the pdf file (page 5 of the deposition). Providing the quaaludes would probably have been illegal under the drug laws and therefore incriminating, which was mentioned in the deposition.
Here is a list of miscarriages of justice:
The prosecutor's promise was not honored.
Bill Cosby's deposition should never have been made public.
Bill Cosby should never have been charged.
The judge should have dismissed the case and a trial should never have taken place.
Andrea Constand should not have been allowed to violate her confidentiality agreement.
A second trial certainly shouldn't have taken place
Testimony by women excluded during the first trial should not have been allowed in the second trial.
Bill Cosby should not have been denied bail while his case was on appeal.
Bill Cosby should never have done one day in jail, because he was never legitimately found guilty of any crime.
Bill Cosby should have been released during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Bill Cosby could have died or been killed while in prison before being exonerated.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
The cornerstone of our criminal justice system is presumption of innocense until proven guilty. The state failed to legitimately prove Bill Cosby guilty, therefore he is innocent.
Judge Joe Brown explains why Bill Cosby is innocent:
The Pennsyvana Supreme Court stated the following in their decision concerning the Cosby case, “We hold that, when a prosecutor makes an unconditional promise of non-prosecution, and when the defendant relies upon that guarantee to the detriment of his constitutional right not to testify, the principle of fundamental fairness that undergirds due process of law in our criminal justice system demands that the promise be enforced,”. The Supreme Court's decision restores Bill Cosby's innocent status under the law.
Many of the points I made in a 2015 article concerning Bill Cosby are relevant. I don't know who is telling the truth, however, it's common knowledge that many women submitted to the casting couch to become actresses. It's hard to apply a current standard to the past. Today, the standard is for a woman to stand in her truth, however, a different standard existed years ago. It's not my intention to be insensitive to the accusors, but most of the accusors didn't come forward until after their statute of limitations had expired. The statute of limitations is the legal equivalent of "speak now or forever hold your peace," at least in a court of law. The statute of limitations for sexual offenses in 2015 ranged between 5-20 years, however, 16 states had no statute of limitations for rape. I guess we are to assume Cosby chose not to pursue any women from those 16 states.
I must also be mindful of the proverb, "hell has no furry like a woman's scorn," which may be sexist by today's standard, but still might be relevant. Some people are particulary attracted to celebrity. It's conceivable that some of the accusors willingly participated in exchange for the promise of a a career that never materialized or a continued relationship only to be slighted. Some accusors may have simply jumped on the bus for notoriety, social media fame or monetary gain. People do lie and sometimes there are misunderstandings about what happened; which is why allegations must be proven in court.
Andrea Constand sold her right "speak now" in a court of law for $3.38 million when she signed that confidentiality agreement. That is a proven fact, however, the accusors have proven nothing! Regardless of what the court of public opinion has determined, Dr. Cosby is innocent under the law and by that standard, Phylicia Rashad's statement was true.
This article hits close to home. My oldest son graduated from high school in 2012. His friend, a young lady who had been the number one ranked student in his class since freshman year and who had been named as valedictorian was told on the last day of school that she had been replaced as valedictorian by an Asian student. The reason given was that the other student had taken one more AP class, however, many suspected foul play. The young lady, who was also the daughter of my co-worker was named salutatorian and the situation ruined her graduation experience. Tragically, the young lady died in an auto accident while returning to the school where she was working towards her Master's Degree.
by Jamel K. Donnor, William & Mary
Two Black students – Ikeria Washington and Layla Temple – were named valedictorian and salutatorian at West Point High School in Mississippi in 2021. Shortly afterward, two white parents questioned whether school officials had correctly calculated the top academic honors.
Ultimately, the school superintendent named two white students as “co-valedictorian” and “co-salutatorian” on the day of graduation.
High school seniors with the highest GPA in their graduating class are chosen to be valedictorians and are often responsible for delivering the graduating speech. Salutatorians, who are high school seniors with the second-highest GPA in their graduating class, often give the opening remarks.
The superintendent attributed the mix-up to a new school counselor who was given incorrect information on how to calculate class rankings.
As an educational researcher who focuses on race and inequality, I am aware that the controversy at West Point High School is by no means isolated.
A history of overlooking Black valedictorians
Back in 1991 a federal judge in Covington, Georgia, resolved a dispute a Black high school senior had with a white student over who gets to be valedictorian by making them share the honor.
In 2011, Kymberly Wimberly, a Black student in Little Rock, Arkansas, had her valedictorian honor stripped away by her principal to be given to a white student with a lower GPA. Wimberly’s lowest grade during all four years of high school was a B. In the rest of Wimberly’s courses, honors and Advanced Placement courses, she received A’s.
In her lawsuit, Wimberly claimed that a day after being informed that she was the valedictorian for McGehee High School, the principal told her mother, Molly Bratton, that he “decided to name a white student as co-valedictorian.”
I became familiar with these kinds of valedictorian disputes when I examined the 2017 lawsuit of Jasmine Shepard. A student at Cleveland High School in Mississippi, Shepard had the highest grade-point average in her class.
However, the day before graduation, she was forced to be co-valedictorian with Heather Bouse, a white student with a lower GPA.
In my analysis, I conclude that the decisions to force Black students to share top honors with white students result from a psychological discomfort known as “white fragility.” This is a state of stress experienced by some white people when they are presented with information about people of color that challenges their sense of entitlement.
I maintain that when students of color are named top students in their graduating class, as Shepard was in 2016, white society may begin to fear that students of color are encroaching upon their social turf, so to speak.
A legal perspective
I believe the disputes that arise when Black students are named valedictorian should be viewed in the context of white fragility.
For example, consider what happened when a federal judge ordered the Cleveland, Mississippi, school district to desegregate in 2017 after having failed to do so in 1969 after the Brown v. Board of Education case.
After the 2017 order, The New York Times reported that many whites in Cleveland “feared” that “dismantling the system would prompt whites to do what they have done in so many other Delta cities: decamp en masse for private schools, or move away.” This is known as “white flight.”
In the instance of Jasmine Shepard, too, I contend that white fragility and the fear of white flight were at play.
A key factor contributing to Heather Bouse’s being named co-valedictorian with Shepard was that Bouse had received credit for an unapproved Advanced Placement course in online physics, according to court transcripts that I examined.
The school policy requires that it publicize all of the courses available to students in the district. Unfortunately, the school administrators failed to inform students, parents and school counselors that the online physics course was available.
According to Judge Debra M. Brown, the superintendent and the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum assessment and instruction “incorrectly believed” that the school district was authorized to offer online courses for credit that would count toward students’ graduation requirements. Bouse’s online physics course was “designated as advanced, which resulted in six rank points.”
Based on the credit awarded for this unapproved online physics course, Bouse’s overall GPA was inflated, while Shepard’s GPA was wrongly calculated. This was because her guidance counselor had re-enrolled her in a desktop publishing course in which she had already received an A.
A different student filed a very similar lawsuit to Shepard’s in 2018. In that lawsuit, Olecia James argued that Cleveland School District officials were “reducing the quality points she earned from courses she had taken.” Quality points are another metric of a student’s grades.
Ultimately this prevented her from becoming Cleveland High School’s first Black salutatorian.
Unfortunately, as in the incident involving Ikeria Washington and Layla Temple at West Point High School reveals, when the honorees are African American, there have been instances in which people have questioned the validity of the outcome.
My research suggests that whenever a Black student’s status as valedictorian or salutatorian is questioned, it pays to ask questions. Is it being questioned for a legitimate reason? Or might racism or white fragility be at play?
Every institution in the United States has declared war on black people and as Sun tzu stated over 2,500 hundred years ago; "All warfare is based on deception".
The educational system does not educate people about black history, except for a white washed version of slavery and the peaceful non-threatning aspects of the civil rights movement. King's "I have a dream" speech is front and center, ommitted is his "I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house speech".
Many people today don't realize that even the church participated in deception during slavery by providing a "slave version" of the bible which only contained parts of 14 of the 66 to 73 books of the Protestant or Catholic versions of the bible. Most people until recently had never heard of the Tulsa Massacre. Several entities including law enforcement participated in the destruction of Black Wallstreet and other sucessful black areas. After stealing our boots those same entities asked, why can't black people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
If not but for the Internet, most people would still be oblivious to most issues of race. The most glaring recent example is, Darnella Frazier, the teenage girl who filmed and uploaded a video of the police torture and murder of George Floyd. Racial misinformation is another form of oppression. When you don't understand that racism has negatively impacted every aspect of society, it's impossible to understand how to take corrective measures.
Critial race theory's purpose is to reveal how oppressive laws and history are still causing harmful effects. Those who wish to promote false narratives and half truths demonize the implementation of critical race theory.
by David Miguel Gray, University of Memphis
U.S. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana sent a letter to fellow Republicans on June 24, 2021, stating: “As Republicans, we reject the racial essentialism that critical race theory teaches … that our institutions are racist and need to be destroyed from the ground up.”
Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and central figure in the development of critical race theory, said in a recent interview that critical race theory “just says, let’s pay attention to what has happened in this country, and how what has happened in this country is continuing to create differential outcomes. … Critical Race Theory … is more patriotic than those who are opposed to it because … we believe in the promises of equality. And we know we can’t get there if we can’t confront and talk honestly about inequality.”
Rep. Banks’ account is demonstrably false and typical of many people publicly declaring their opposition to critical race theory. Crenshaw’s characterization, while true, does not detail its main features. So what is critical race theory and what brought it into existence?
The development of critical race theory by legal scholars such as Derrick Belland Crenshaw was largely a response to the slow legal progress and setbacks faced by African Americans from the end of the Civil War, in 1865, through the end of the civil rights era, in 1968. To understand critical race theory, you need to first understand the history of African American rights in the U.S.
This early progress was subsequently diminished by state laws throughout the American South called “Black Codes,” which limited voting rights, property rights and compensation for work; made it illegal to be unemployed or not have documented proof of employment; and could subject prisoners to work without pay on behalf of the state. These legal rollbacks were worsened by the spread of “Jim Crow” laws throughout the country requiring segregation in almost all aspects of life.
Grassroots struggles for civil rights were constant in post-Civil War America. Some historians even refer to the period from the New Deal Era, which began in 1933, to the present as “The Long Civil Rights Movement.”
The civil rights movement used practices such as civil disobedience, nonviolent protest, grassroots organizing and legal challenges to advance civil rights. The U.S.’s need to improve its image abroad during the Cold War importantly aided these advancements. The movement succeeded in banning explicit legal discrimination and segregation, promoted equal access to work and housing and extended federal protection of voting rights.
However, the movement that produced legal advances had no effect on the increasing racial wealth gap between Blacks and whites, while school and housing segregation persisted.
Through the study of law and U.S. history, it attempts to reveal how racial oppression shaped the legal fabric of the U.S. Critical race theory is traditionally less concerned with how racism manifests itself in interactions with individuals and more concerned with how racism has been, and is, codified into the law.
There are a few beliefs commonly held by most critical race theorists.
First, race is not fundamentally or essentially a matter of biology, but rather a social construct. While physical features and geographic origin play a part in making up what we think of as race, societies will often make up the rest of what we think of as race. For instance, 19th- and early-20th-century scientists and politicians frequently described people of color as intellectually or morally inferior, and used those false descriptions to justify oppression and discrimination.
Second, these racial views have been codified into the nation’s foundational documents and legal system. For evidence of that, look no further than the “Three-Fifths Compromise” in the Constitution, whereby slaves, denied the right to vote, were nonetheless treated as part of the population for increasing congressional representation of slave-holding states.
Third, given the pervasiveness of racism in our legal system and institutions, racism is not aberrant, but a normal part of life.
But what is being banned in education, and what many media outlets and legislators are calling “critical race theory,” is far from it. Here are sections from identical legislation in Oklahoma and Tennessee that propose to ban the teaching of these concepts. As a philosopher of race and racism, I can safely say that critical race theory does not assert the following:
(1) One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
(2) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;
(3) An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race or sex;
(4) An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or sex;
(5) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
(6) An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.
What most of these bills go on to do is limit the presentation of educational materials that suggest that Americans do not live in a meritocracy, that foundational elements of U.S. laws are racist, and that racism is a perpetual struggle from which America has not escaped.
Americans are used to viewing their history through a triumphalist lens, where we overcome hardships, defeat our British oppressors and create a country where all are free with equal access to opportunities.
Obviously, not all of that is true.
Critical race theory provides techniques to analyze U.S. history and legal institutions by acknowledging that racial problems do not go away when we leave them unaddressed.
I know that place and year well. As is the case with Fletcher – who is one of the last living survivors of the massacre, which took place when she was 7 – the terror of the Tulsa race riot is something that has been with me for almost as long as I can remember. My grandfather, Robert Fairchild, told the story nearly a quarter-century ago to several newspapers.
Here’s how The Washington Post recounted his story in 1996:
“At 92 years old, Robert Fairchild is losing his hearing, but he can still make out the distant shouts of angry white men firing guns late into the night 75 years ago. His eyes are not what they used to be, but he has no trouble seeing the dense, gray smoke swallowing his neighbors’ houses as he walked home from a graduation rehearsal, a frightened boy of 17.
His has since been a life of middle-class comfort, a good job working for the city, a warm family life. But he has never forgotten his mother’s anguish in 1921 as she fled toward the railroad tracks to escape the mobs and fires tearing through the vibrant Black neighborhood of Greenwood in north Tulsa.”
The Washington Post article said the Tulsa race riots of 1921 were among the “worst race riots in the nation’s history.” It reported: “The death toll during the 12-hour rampage is still in dispute, but estimates have put it as high as 250. More than 1,000 businesses and homes were burned to the ground, scores of Black families were herded into cattle pens at the fairgrounds, and one of the largest and most prosperous Black communities in the United States was turned to ashes.”
Riots began after a white mob attempted to lynch a teenager falsely accused of assaulting a white woman. Black residents came to his defense, some armed. The groups traded shots, and mob violence followed. My family eventually returned to a decimated street. Miraculously their home on Latimer Avenue was spared.
Hearing about these experiences at the family table was troubling enough. Reading a newspaper account of your ancestors’ fleeing for their lives is a surreal pain. There’s recognition of your family’s terror, and relief in knowing your family survived what “60 Minutes” once called “one of the worst race massacres in American history.”
In spite of my grandfather’s witness, this same event didn’t merit inclusion in any of my assigned history texts, either in high school or college. On the occasions I’ve mentioned this history to my colleagues, they’ve been astonished.
In 1996, at the 75th anniversary of the massacre, the city of Tulsa finally acknowledged what had happened. Community leaders from different backgrounds publicly recognized the devastation wrought by the riots. They gathered in a church that had been torched in the riot and since rebuilt. My grandfather told The New York Times then that he was “extremely pleased that Tulsa has taken this occasion seriously.”
“A mistake has been made,” he told the paper, “and this is a way to really look at it, then look toward the future and try to make sure it never happens again.”
That it took so long for the city to acknowledge what took place shows how selective society can be when it comes to which historical events it chooses to remember – and which ones to overlook. The history that society colludes to avoid publicly is necessarily remembered privately.
Even with massive destruction, the area of North Tulsa, known as Greenwood, became known for its economic vitality. On the blocks surrounding the corner of Archer Street and Greenwood Avenue in the 1930s, a thriving business district flourished with retail shops, entertainment venues and high-end services. One of these businesses was the Oklahoma Eagle, a Black-owned newspaper. As a teenager in the early 1940s, my father had his first job delivering the paper.
Without knowing the history, it would be a surprise to the casual observer that years earlier everything in this neighborhood had been razed to the ground. The Black Wall Street Memorial, a black marble monolith, sits outside the Greenwood Cultural Center. The memorial is dedicated to the entrepreneurs and pioneers who made Greenwood Avenue what it was both before and after it was destroyed in the 1921 riot.
Although I grew up on military bases across the world, I would visit Greenwood many times over the years. As I grew into my teenage years in the 1970s, I recognized that the former vibrant community was beginning to decline. Some of this was due to the destructive effects of urban renewal and displacement. As with many other Black communities across the country, parts of Greenwood were razed to make way for highways.
Some of the decline was due to the exit of financial institutions, including banks. This contributed to a decrease in opportunities to build wealth, including savings and investment products, loans for homes and businesses, and funding to help build health clinics and affordable housing.
And at least some was due to the diminished loyalty of residents to Black-owned businesses and institutions. During the civil rights movement, downtown Tulsa businesses began to allow Black people into their doors as customers. As a result, Black residents spent less money in their community.
At the end of my father’s military career in the 1970s, he became a community development banker in Virginia. His work involved bringing together institutions – investors, financial institutions, philanthropists, local governments – to develop innovative development solutions for areas like Greenwood. For me, there are lessons in the experiences of three generations – my grandfather’s, father’s and mine – that influence my scholarly work today.
On the one hand, I study how years after the end of legal segregation Americans remain racially separate in our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces and at alarmingly high levels. My research has shown how segregation depresses economic and social outcomes. In short, segregation creates closed markets that stunt economic activity, especially in the Black community.
On the other hand, I focus on solutions. One avenue of work involves examining the business models of Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, and Minority Depository Institutions, or MDIs. These are financial institutions that are committed to economic development – banks, credit unions, loan funds, equity funds – that operate in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. They offer what was sorely needed in North Tulsa, and many other neighborhoods across the nation – locally attuned financial institutions that understand the unique challenges families and businesses face in minority communities.
Righting historical wrongs
There are interventions we can take, locally and nationally, that recognize centuries of financial and social constraint. Initiatives like the 2020 decision by the Small Business Administration and U.S. Treasury to allocate US$10 billion to lenders that focus funds on disadvantaged areas are a start. These types of programs are needed even when there aren’t full-scale economic and social crises are taking place, like the COVID-19 epidemic or protesters in the street. Years of institutional barriers and racial wealth gaps cannot be redressed unless there’s a recognition that capital matters.
The 1921 Tulsa race riot began on May 31, only weeks before the annual celebration of Juneteenth, which is observed on June 19. As communities across the country begin recognizing Juneteenth and leading corporations move to celebrate it, it’s important to remember the story behind Juneteenth – slaves weren’t informed that they were emancipated.
After the celebrations, there’s hard work ahead. From my grandfather’s memory of the riot’s devastation to my own work addressing low-income communities’ economic challenges, I have come to see that change requires harnessing economic, governmental and nonprofit solutions that recognize and speak openly about the significant residential, educational and workplace racial segregation that still exists in the United States today.
Sumner High School has been under repeated threats of closure from the school board and the superintendent, who cite declining enrollment. The most recent such threat arose in December 2020.
Established in 1875, Sumner High is named after a former U.S. senator who vehemently opposed slavery. The school’s alumni represent a who’s who of Black people, including rock stars Tina Turner and Chuck Berry, comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory and tennis legend Arthur Ashe.
But other historically Black schools, such as Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary in St. Louis, have not been so lucky. Dunbar Elementary, named after the famous Black poet and writer, will no longer physically enroll students. District leaders said they want to convert Dunbar to a virtual school beginning in August 2021. This led parents, community members and activists to protest the superintendent and school board’s decision, asserting that the physical closing of the school removes a key pillar in the historic Black Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood.
Two urban schools that I have researched, both renowned for educating low-income Black students, were also recently shuttered. Gentrification and the emergence of charter schools contributed to an enrollment decline at Whitefoord Elementary in Atlanta, leading it to close its doors in 2017 after serving the community for 93 years. Farragut Elementary in St. Louis – also located in The Ville – closed in May 2021. The rationale once more: declining enrollment.
Black and poor students are disproportionately affected by these closures. For example, Black students comprise 31% of the students in urban public schools but represent 61% of students in those that closed.
Sumner High School stands just 10 miles from the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, where protesters marched throughout the summer of 2014 to demand justice for the police killing of Michael Brown.
Amid national rallying cries and hashtags that “Black Lives Matter,” I believe greater attention needs to be given to efforts aimed at stopping the closing of Black K-12 public schools. Just as the Black Lives Matter movement demands a stop to the unjust killing of Black people, residents of predominantly Black communities throughout the U.S. are also fighting to stop the killing of their communities through school closures.
Superintendents and school boards often present their cases for closing schools using race-neutral language and statistics about low performance, dwindling enrollments and high operating costs. Rarely factored into the equation are the historical and social circumstances and policies – racism, persistent underfunding of Black education, redlining, disinvestment in Black neighborhoods and desegregation – that gave rise to those statistics.
Moreover, missing from these analyses are the human costs related to closing schools in already struggling neighborhoods. When policymakers remove schools from vulnerable communities, they remove some of the few stabilizing institutions. These buildings often sit vacant for years and become eyesores and objects of vandalism.
I raise these concerns within this time of racial reckoning that purports to value Black institutions. A rush of philanthropic and governmental dollars as a result of protests for Black lives has recently targeted Black businesses, civil rights and social justice organizations, as well as historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs.
HBCUs have rightfully received additional resources for their work educating generations of Black students. But I believe that to serve Black children, proponents of Black education must extend this support to include Black K-12 public schools. I see three main reasons for this.
First, of the 7.7 million Black children who attend public elementary or high schools today, 3.3 million go to schools that are 50% or more Black. Almost 2 million Black students attend schools that are at least 75% Black. Conversely, roughly 200,000 Black students attended the nation’s HBCUs in 2018.
I find it disingenuous for governmental agencies and philanthropies to provide economic support to Black students at the university level but not at the K-12 level, which comprises the most critical phases of their educational and social development.
Second, the circumstances for Black students who abruptly leave closed schools do not get better. Students from closed schools often experience a decline in math test scores, rarely transfer to better-performing schools and suffer social and academic disruption.
And finally, saving Black K-12 public schools is linked to broader efforts to support Black communities, families and children. In supporting Black schools, policymakers can help re-anchor struggling Black communities. This holistic focus entails supporting families with education and job-training programs, stimulating local Black-owned businesses and supporting neighborhood organizations that serve kids and families.
How can this be done? As with the recent passage of stimulus bills to stabilize the economy and families affected by COVID-19, governmental and philanthropic dollars must complement local dollars to counter funding gaps for schools that predominantly serve Black students and improve the infrastructure of those schools.
Providing financial support to end the massive closing of K-12 Black public schools – which are charged with educating millions of Black students on the racial and economic margins – would make an emphatic statement that Black lives truly matter.
But it also illuminates a previously unknown racial inequality of the policy.
Our research suggests that, by appearing on the driver’s record, license suspensions increase the probability that Black – but not white – drivers incur more traffic tickets. Even after the debt is paid and the license regained, these suspensions continue to harm drivers, and these harms exclusively affect Black drivers.
This shows that suspensions don’t just trap people in a cycle of mounting debt but also a cycle of negative interactions with the criminal justice system.
Long-term impact of suspensions
We studied a sample of over 2,000 drivers who received traffic tickets in Marion County, Indiana, home to Indianapolis, between 2011 and 2016.
In that county, if a driver fails to pay or contest a ticket within 72 days, their license is automatically suspended. This means that judges and other members of the justice system cannot choose who receives a suspension.
Every driver in our sample paid their ticket in the days surrounding the payment deadline.
This is an ideal environment to study the long-term impacts of suspensions because it creates two groups of people that are easily comparable: those who paid the ticket right before the deadline, thus avoiding a suspension, and those who paid after the deadline and received a suspension.
We found that Black drivers who received a failure-to-pay suspension increased their likelihood of getting another ticket by up to nine percentage points. White drivers, meanwhile, saw a roughly three percentage point decrease in their likelihood of getting another ticket.
We attempted to identify differences between white and Black drivers that might explain this result but were unable to do so. For example, Black drivers are not committing more offenses than white drivers, nor are the offenses they commit more serious. Black drivers are just as likely as white drivers to pay their tickets. And Black drivers are more likely than white drivers to reinstate their license after the suspension.
Moreover, regardless of race, following the suspension, drivers with larger fines are less likely to receive another ticket, suggesting that all drivers drive more cautiously after getting a suspension, likely to reduce the probability of receiving another ticket. This is consistent with previous studies on the effects of traffic policies, which show traffic enforcement leads to safer driving.
Ineffective strategies for Black drivers
We believe the most convincing explanation for our findings is that driving “better” to avoid being pulled over is an ineffective strategy for Black drivers, who are more likely to have an encounter with police regardless of how they drive.
This interpretation is consistent with studies showing Black people are more likely to be pulled over without cause. After pulling over a Black driver, the police officer discovers the prior failure-to-pay suspension and becomes more likely to issue a ticket.
This sequence of events does not occur when the driver is white because white drivers are able to minimize the chance of being pulled over by changing their driving behavior.
Our research is the first to study failure-to-pay suspensions in the United States, and it’s the first to demonstrate that they exert disproportionate harm on Black drivers.
This evidence could prove relevant to policymakers in states across the county who are currently debating discontinuing license suspension for nonpayment of legal debts.
Dr. Joanna Carroll co-authored this research while she was at Indiana University. She currently works at the Government Accountability Office.
Tax Day has come and gone, and you think you filed your return in the nick of time. But several weeks later you receive that dreaded letter in the mail from the Internal Revenue Service informing you of missing the deadline and failing to pay your tax bill on time. Your assessed tax penalty, based on what you owe, is $450.
This type of scenario is quite common, since penalties are assessed for over 40 million taxpayers each year, according to the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel’s 2020 report. There are numerous IRS penalties, but the three most common ones are failure to file a return on time, failure to pay the estimated amount owed from the past year and failure to pay after filing.
As a professor of accounting and a consumer advocate, I tend to be concerned when I identify a benefit that has been underutilized. I also serve as a volunteer on the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel, an independent body that aims to help the IRS improve based on outreach and feedback from the general public.
We recently discussed the low utilization of a key penalty relief program, which prompted me to write this article.
Applying for penalty relief
The main form of relief the IRS offers to taxpayers is the first-time penalty abatement policy, which was introduced about two decades ago. It covers penalties related to a failure to file, a failure to pay or a failure to deposit the estimated taxes owed.
In addition to penalty prevention and penalty relief, other resources are available to taxpayers who need help after Tax Day.
The taxpayer advocate service is an independent organization within the IRS, and its local taxpayer advocates provide free help to any taxpayer to provide guidance through the process of resolving tax problems. There’s at least one in every state.
The IRS also supports Low-Income Tax Clinics, which are staffed with attorneys and other professionals to help low-income filers with tax disputes that may require legal intervention. While it can be difficult to reverse penalties or challenge other IRS decisions, taxpayers with legal help stand a much better chance of succeeding with their claims.
No one enjoys paying taxes, but additional penalties can make a bad situation even worse. The good news is most penalties can be avoided by filing taxes on time and paying any taxes due. If you are unable to pay all of the taxes due right away, you can always establish a payment plan.
So next year, remember there are many resources available to you to make it easier to file on time – free, in most cases – and to avoid penalties. And taxpayer advocates are available to answer any tricky questions.
In 1940, Missouri became the first state to adopt what is now called the “Missouri Plan” for selecting judges, which involves two elements: “assisted appointments” and nonpartisan “retention elections.”
For retention elections, judges face no opponent and are listed on the ballot without political party designation. Voters are simply asked whether an incumbent judge should remain in office, which provides an opportunity to oust judges who regularly make unpopular decisions. Retention elections are often held in states that use assisted appointments. However, in some states that still elect their judges using partisan elections, such as Illinois, nonpartisan retention elections are used when it’s time for reelection.
Today, more than 30 states use some form of assisted appointments. More than 20 states use some variation of retention elections. More than a dozen states use both in some capacity. Notably, both “red” states and “blue” states have adopted one or both of these reforms, as have many “purple” states.
by Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang, Miami Herald
ORLANDO, Florida — On the day Reggie Jacques was born, doctors at Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando told his parents that there was no hope, that his brain had gone too long without oxygen during his difficult birth. But Reggie refused to die.
On his sixth day, said parents Jean and Ruth Jacques, doctors urged them to remove Reggie from his ventilator. They said he would surely stop breathing. The couple agreed a month later. But Reggie wouldn’t die.
Around day 60, doctors asked the couple to sign a “do not resuscitate” order. They declined. And Reggie still refused to die.
For 95 days, Reginald Jacques refused to die.
But on the 96th day, Sept. 19, 2016, something felt wrong. Ruth Jacques surrendered to an irresistible impulse to hold her son after a day’s work for an Orange County social services agency. “I was driving the car like a madwoman,” Jacques said of her early evening trip to the hospital.
Jacques flew through red lights. Uncharacteristically, she left her car in a parking space for disabled drivers. She ran up three flights of stairs to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where, she said, Reggie’s monitor was beeping, and he appeared to be in distress.
She picked up her infant son from his bassinet — all tubes and bandages and chirping monitors — and placed him gently on her chest. “With the little strength he had left, he lifted up his head and looked back at me,” she said.
“One minute later, his heart stopped. It was more like our heart stopped.”
Four years later, Ruth Jacques’ heart beats for two as she wages a campaign to demand answers from the doctor who delivered her son. She believes Florida’s state-sponsored Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, or NICA, robbed her of the right to seek justice through the courts for the harm he suffered at birth and three months of agony as he fought for life.
Florida lawmakers created NICA in 1988, responding to obstetricians’ complaints that their malpractice insurance premiums were too high. The law bars parents like Jean and Ruth Jacques from pursuing lawsuits against doctors and hospitals when a baby is born with catastrophic, even fatal, brain damage from oxygen deprivation or asphyxia during childbirth.
If the birth injury meets NICA criteria, even in cases where the doctor or hospital may have made a glaring error, parents typically have little choice but to forgo a lawsuit and accept the program’s compensation, which consists of a $100,000 settlement upfront, and “medically necessary” and “reasonable” health care for the duration of the child’s life.
If the child dies, there is an added $10,000 funeral benefit.
The Jacqueses hoped to sue their obstetrician and hospital for negligence, only to learn from their attorney of the law that created NICA. Stripped of that right, they settled for filing a malpractice complaint with the Health Department. They received a form letter saying their complaint had been dismissed because the doctor’s actions did not violate the profession’s “standard of care.” There was no further explanation. Ruth Jacques said neither she nor her husband was interviewed by investigators.
The Jacqueses cannot appeal the investigation’s outcome, or even read about it, beyond the form letter. In Florida, those records are sealed and available only to the doctor.
That wasn’t the state’s only betrayal, Ruth Jacques said.
The day after Reggie’s death, overcome by anger and despair, she did the only thing she could think of: She printed leaflets warning prospective patients to stay away from Dr. Ricardo Lopez, the obstetrician who delivered Reggie. She said she handed them out in front of his Orlando medical office — and distributed a few to patients in his waiting room.
“I felt like the world was shutting me up,” she said. “I wanted to be heard.”
Ruth Jacques said she was silenced again. She learned that Lopez was free to do what she could not: file a lawsuit. Her attorney told her if she persisted in protesting she might end up a defendant.
A lawyer for Orlando Health, which owns Winnie Palmer and employs Lopez, wrote to the Jacqueses’ lawyer in January 2017: “I respectfully demand that Ms. [Jacques] cease and desist from further attacks on Dr. Lopez and [the hospital] regarding this matter.” Then the couple’s lawyer wrote to Ruth Jacques.
“I understand your anger,” the lawyer explained in an email. But, she added, “Any kind of verbal attack or public complaint about Dr. Lopez or Orlando Health could lead them to sue you and your husband personally.”
Lopez, who did not sue, declined to respond to the Miami Herald’s requests for an interview, forwarding the inquiry to Orlando Health.
Alayna Curry, an Orlando Health spokeswoman, said the hospital would not discuss Reggie’s calamitous birth, even though his mother has.
“Our medical team respects the wishes of our patients when it comes to their delivery experience,” she said in a prepared statement. “When a medical emergency arises during a delivery, time is of the essence and our physicians will speak with the patient about the recommended course of action.”
“You Better Push”
There is sharp disagreement over precisely what was said and when inside the delivery room.
Ruth Jacques provided the Herald a copy of her medical records, which contain a notation from Lopez that, based on “severe” fetal heart recordings, “a C-section was offered.”
“The patient refused,” Lopez wrote.
A nurse also reported “Pt refused C-section” in a notation dated two days after Reggie was delivered.
Jacques said she did no such thing, and the records do not contain a signed form from the mother refusing a C-section. The form is considered an industry “best practice,” but not a requirement.
In a 2017 letter to the state Health Department, Ruth Jacques said she insisted that Lopez never told her Reggie’s life was in danger.
“You better push, or you’re going to have a C-section,” she said she was told by the doctor. “In my understanding, he is threatening me [with] a C-section if I don’t push, not that the situation … was an emergency.”
Ruth Jacques did continue pushing, according to her medical records. Lopez attempted to deliver Reggie using a vacuum device, which popped off the infant’s head three times before the fourth pull succeeded.
Dr. Nicole Smith, medical director of maternal fetal medicine practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospital in Boston, said in general the responsibility lies with doctors to explain their rationale and the benefits and risks of continuing in labor or moving to a surgical delivery.
“Mothers maintain the right to decline a C-section,” Smith said in an email, “but it is the provider’s responsibility to ensure that they understand the risks and benefits to the extent possible in what is typically a highly stressful situation.”
Smith did not review Ruth Jacques’ case or comment on the delivery.
Ethical guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also place the onus on the obstetrician to provide the patient with “adequate, accurate and understandable information.”
The group advises, however, that even a signed form does not guarantee that the ethical obligations of informed consent have been met.
Reggie’s parents believe their son would have lived had Lopez initiated a timely C-section, potentially preventing Reggie’s brain from being starved of oxygen. But they will never really know.
Like many NICA families, the Jacqueses said they had no idea that they had lost their right to file suit.
Ruth Jacques said she signed forms acknowledging that her doctor and the hospital had informed her of NICA before Reggie’s birth. But she didn’t read them. She said her OB-GYN had her sign them on her first appointment. At the hospital, the forms were tucked inside a stack of documents handed to her when she showed up in labor, distracted by impending motherhood, too late to change her mind and seek out another hospital.
After they lost Reggie and learned that a lawsuit was foreclosed, the couple said their sorrow would turn to outrage when they discovered that Lopez had a history with NICA.
Aside from Reggie’s case, the doctor has been named in four NICA claims, including two petitions filed prior to Reggie’s death. Not every NICA claim is accepted for compensation. But one of the first two lodged against Lopez was.
Two other claims were submitted after Reggie died. Those two were rejected because the newborns weighed less than 5.5 pounds — the legal threshold to qualify for NICA, a requirement intended to eliminate very premature babies from eligibility. In the case of a rejected claim, the family can sue. But none of the rejected claims has been followed by a lawsuit.
Being named in a petition does not mean a doctor committed malpractice — even if the claim is compensated. It only means that the case meets the narrow criteria of the no-fault program.
Bonded by Sorrow
If NICA families are members of an unenviable fraternity, families whose child died are its saddest chapter.
A total of 1,238 NICA claims have been made from the inception of the program through the beginning of April. NICA said at least 440 of those were accepted for coverage, which includes at least 143 from parents whose child had died by the time the claim was accepted.
Another 50 children whose claims were accepted for compensation died after they entered the program, NICA said in an email. Among those 50, the average life span after acceptance was 8.2 years. The oldest lived 29 more years. The youngest survived one day after the claim was accepted.
For some parents, NICA cannot provide what they want most: accountability.
There are practical considerations, said David Studdert, a Stanford University professor and expert in health law who co-authored a study of NICA in 2000.
Some of those families who were accepted into NICA likely would have gotten nothing had they been allowed to pursue a lawsuit.
But there is catharsis in discovering what went wrong, who is responsible — even in just being heard — said Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer who has designed and administered compensation funds in the wake of some of America’s worst tragedies: the Virginia Tech massacre, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the rampage at Pulse nightclub, Sept. 11.
The fund established after the Sept. 11 attacks was entirely voluntary, and 97% of eligible claimants opted to take the money, Feinberg said, forfeiting the right to sue. The program had an unusual feature: Claimants could appear before Feinberg or a staff member behind closed doors to express their grief; 1,500 did.
“All kinds of people came to vent, angry, not at the federal government. Angry at God,” Feinberg said.
Feinberg said many described the program as an exercise in justice, but he saw it differently. “I don’t think those words have much meaning when you’ve lost a loved one,” he said. “The best word I use is mercy.”
Reggie Never Cried
Jean Jacques’ father died in March 2015, on the same day the couple returned from their Caribbean honeymoon cruise, leaving them despondent and Jean Jacques as the lone male heir. They decided they wanted to become parents right away. They were hoping for a boy, someone to carry forward Jean Jacques’ father’s last name and legacy.
They found a house suitable for raising kids. Ruth Jacques’ family threw a baby shower. They painted the walls of Reggie’s nursery teal and gray, bought a brown crib and attached stickers of giraffes, lions and zebras to the walls.
On the morning of June 14, 2016, Ruth Jacques went to see her obstetrician for a regularly scheduled appointment. She said there was no indication that Reggie was ready for delivery. She drove to work at the social services agency where she was a neighborhood coordinator.
But the next morning, she woke up with a fever and tremors, so she went to Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. There, her water broke, and she went into labor. Lopez had not been her obstetrician previously but was there for childbirth.
To Ruth Jacques’ ears, Lopez was accusing her of failing to adequately push what she later learned was a 10-pound baby.
When Reggie finally was born, he was essentially lifeless. His first two Apgar scores — measures of his vitality, on a scale of one to 10 — were zero and zero. He required four doses of epinephrine to start his heart.
“Normal babies, when they are born, they cry, they open their eyes,” said Jean Jacques, an Orange County Schools paraprofessional and full-time student at the University of Central Florida. Reggie did not cry.
He was placed on a ventilator — which doctors would recommend unplugging six days later, Ruth Jacques said. Bereft of answers, Ruth and Jean Jacques asked for a meeting.
It took place a week after Reggie’s birth, in a conference room near the intensive care unit, with a U-shaped wooden table. Ruth Jacques’ father, sisters, aunt and the family’s pastor joined the couple. She recalls a hospital lawyer standing against a wall opposite her and Lopez sitting at the head of the table, his arms folded across his chest. He didn’t look at her, she said. The doctor barely spoke.
What happened? she asked. Why was her baby on a ventilator with little to no hope of survival?
“He looked at me in the eye, and he said: ‘You did not want to have a C-section,’” Ruth Jacques said.
“And I said to him: ‘So, are you implying that I killed my baby?’”
Ruth Jacques said the doctor unfolded his arms and wrapped one under his cheek. He didn’t answer.
When the meeting adjourned, Ruth said, she met separately with a Winnie Palmer neurologist. “I was informed that my child would ‘never walk, talk or ever be able to do anything for himself. He would live in a vegetative state.’ ”
At first, the couple resisted removing life support. “We were praying that God would help,” she said.
But the strain became unbearable, the couple said. They said one doctor told them: “If you really believe in God, why would you do that to your child?” The family relented.
“That was the hardest decision for us to make,” Jean Jacques said.
Ruth and Jean Jacques and extended family members gathered round the newborn as a musician played soft and somber notes on a guitar. Someone recorded Reggie’s heartbeat on a disc and handed it to his father. A doctor shut off the ventilator, then pulled the breathing tube from Reggie’s mouth and throat, the parents said.
Reggie gulped for air. His mother covered her ears to muffle the sound of his gasping. Jean Jacques paced the floor. The couple fixated on Reggie’s heart monitor and the clock just above it. It seemed like hours, they said. And then, unexpectedly, Reggie began to breathe on his own.
His Finest Outfit
Reggie lived another two months. He never left the hospital.
He wore his finest dress-up clothes only once — the day his parents buried him.
He was laid to rest inside an impossibly small white coffin, dressed in a short-sleeved, buttoned-down shirt and a tie that was too big for his slender body. The tie and shirt were both white, the color of purity.
The couple buried Reggie far from their home, at Greenwood Cemetery. They didn’t want Ruth Jacques visiting her son daily. She needed time to heal.
But a year after her son’s death, Ruth Jacques took a job as a grants coordinator with Orange County’s government downtown, which is near Greenwood, a historic cemetery. Her son’s graveyard is visible from her office. The boy who lived 96 days was laid to rest near Orlandoans whose full lives gave them prominence, including a U.S. senator and two mayors.
Jean and Ruth Jacques preserved Reggie’s short life in pictures: His arms and legs stretched out like a wooden puppet from the contractures — a shortening and hardening of muscles and tendons — that brain damage wrought. An oxygen tube extended from his nostrils. In one photo, he appears to be looking directly at the camera, though the doctors had said he was incapable of such purpose.
Ruth Jacques found direction in her son’s death, vowing not to let the same thing happen to other parents.
She took to her keyboard, writing to state lawmakers. And to the Florida Justice Association, a group of lawyers who represent litigants like her. Her email to the trial lawyers recounted Reggie’s birth and death in detail. It covered seven pages and said Reggie “will always be a memory of a scar that will never truly heal.” There was no response, she said.
She wants Lopez to remember, as well. And so, she said, every year on Reggie’s birthday — and on the anniversary of his death — she files a new complaint with the Department of Health. It’s a symbolic act, but she wants to remind the doctor that Reggie lived, and that he died.
“He is going on with his life, while we the families are stuck on yesterday.”
Jean and Ruth Jacques, now 35 and 32, live in a modest home in Orlando. They’re raising the little brother Reggie never got to know, 3-year-old Raphael. Another child, Reynaud, was born on Jan. 15. The money she received from NICA will never replace the loss, Ruth Jacques said.
“That’s blood money,” she said. “It’s not going to bring him back.”
Republish with permission under license from ProPublica.