Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Activist Caleb Maupin, Students' Mother Speak Out About Student Arrests While Councilman Polensek Says Cleveland School Closings Are Premature

Cleveland Ward 11 Councilman Michael Polensek
College Student and Community Activist Caleb Maupin
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson
Cleveland Schools CEO Dr. Eugene Sanders

By Kathy Wray Coleman, Editor of the DeterminerWeekly.Com and the
Kathy Wray Coleman Online News Blog and Media Network

A video of what members of the Black and grassroots communities are calling a brutal arrest by Cleveland police of two Black female Cleveland schools students engaged last week in a student protest over teacher layoffs and school closings has gotten over 9,000 hits under the title "Cleveland Police Brutalize Student Protesters" on the popular YouTube Website, a venue where ordinary people and the rich and famous upload videos, movies and other media paraphernalia for Internet viewers. And the fight continues as grassroots leaders schedule a meeting this evening at 6 pm at the Collinwood Public Library in Cleveland in preparation of demanding that the criminal charges brought against the girls, who are sisters, including charges of resisting arrest and assault on a peace officer, be immediately dropped.

"The community has to come together around these issues from the school closings to police brutalizing two Black female students, " said Frances Caldwell, a precinct committee woman in Cleveland's Ward 8 who, along with Community Activist John Boyd, a precinct committee man in Ward 6, is directing efforts to revitalize the city's African-American Museum.

The community dilemma unraveled Thursday morning at Collinwood High School on Cleveland's predominantly Black East Side of town as a group of about 20 students led by Collinwood student Seth Barlekamp, who is White, attempted to leave the school to protest district wide teacher layoffs and the closings in June of 15 Cleveland schools, all but two on the East Side. School administrators allegedly convinced most students to return to class with the threat of a suspension but about six of them proceeded to the protest anyway. Determined to stop the protesting students by any means legal, or possibly illegal, Cleveland police allegedly confronted the students and then arrested 19 year-old Destini Brounaugh and her 16 year-old sister, DeAsia Brounaugh.

The unprecedented and highly viewed YouTube video, shot by Tri-C College student Caleb Maupin, 23, who also leads the youth group dubbed Cleveland FIST, shows police slamming the Black girls against the police cruiser and aggressively handling them, activity that has outraged their mother and grassroots activists, including Maupin himself. Their mother says the charges are bogus and that the resisting arrest charge was probably issued because the girl's held onto each other for safety from the two arresting police officers, neither of whom were Black in the racially mixed Collinwood neighborhood where racial tensions with police traditionally run high.

"If I beat my children like this I would be arrested by these same officers but when police do it it is justified," said Tina Bronaugh, mother of the two teens. "They were not fighting, they were holding each other because once they let go they knew what was going to happen to them."

DeAsia Brounaugh told reporters that the protest was urged by teachers at the school and that students are upset that some of their favorite teachers have received layoff notices from the Cleveland Board of Education, which by state law is controlled by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

Ward 11 Councilman Michael Polensek, who says he has received numerous calls around the incident, told the DeterminerWeekly.Com and the Kathy Wray Coleman Online News Blog and Media Network earlier today that he was told that Cleveland FIST orchestrated the student walkout, a claim Maupin denies.

"I was told that there was an effort to disrupt the school by Cleveland FIST," said Polensek. "And I do not totally agree with the Cleveland Teachers Union because a lot of problems that we are dealing with should have been dealt with long ago with the help of the union."

Polensek says that the teacher's union should have been more aggressive in the past about the need for school repairs and safety and security issues, though he added that the current Cleveland schools crisis is a community concern that all stakeholders must embrace. The veteran councilman says that Jackson and the Cleveland Board of Education should have waited until next year's U.S. Census Report to tear up neighborhoods via the closings of schools. No schools are set to close in Polensek's ward or in Ward 5 where Jackson lives and was councilman prior to becoming mayor.

Cleveland schools spokesman John Hairston said that next year's census report will not change matters and that part of the problem is that educators, policy makers and others in Cleveland's educational community, for various reasons, have been reluctant to take the steps necessary for educational reform.

"A vision without a plan and perseverance, endurance, guts and the ability to walk boldly and not faint will become just a dream if we do not act, and dreams can sometimes become nightmares," said Hairston. "The school district has a 40 percent mobility rate meaning that 40 percent might live elsewhere in August and a census report cannot accurately reflect where some Cleveland schools students might live from year to year."

Maupin, who blogs on Civil Rights issues and revolutionary commentary at calebmaupin.blogspot.com, has not backed down as to criticism that his group is supporting Collinwood High School students relative to free speech issues around the school closings and teacher layoffs matters. He says that some media and others have targeted Cleveland FIST for the wrong reasons.

"Tell Cleveland Mayor Jackson, Cleveland Police Chief McGrath, Cleveland Schools CEO [Dr.] Sanders, Collinwood H.S. Principal Deborah Moore, Cleveland City Council, the Cleveland Board of Education, Ohio Gov. Strickland, the Ohio State Legislature, the Ohio Congressional Delegation, Education Secretary Duncan, President Obama and members of the Ohio and National media you want all charges dropped and all punishment rescinded now, " Maupin blogged at calebmaupin.blogspot.com on May 16 in support of the arrested Black girls. "Students courageously protesting teacher layoffs and school closings must be supported."

The school closings are part of sweeping and costly schools transformation plan proposed by schools CEO Dr. Eugene Sanders and state education officials and adopted by the Cleveland School Board earlier this year. Last month layoff notices went to 545 district teachers, 116 support staff and 111 predominantly Black and majority female principals and assistant principals. In return, over 250 teachers rallied at a school board meeting last week calling on district officials to back off of the layoffs and to work towards renegotiating a teachers union contract up for renewal this year. And on June 7 out-of-town activists will join other local activists groups to protest in front of the Cleveland Board of Education Building on behalf of the students, teachers, principals and assistant principals impacted by the slated school closings and layoff notices to district employees.

Neither Ward 10 Councilman Eugene Miller, who represents the Collinwood neighborhood and other pockets of the city, nor Cleveland Teachers Union President David Quoke, returned phone calls seeking comment.

The school district is $53 million in debt and in the past decade has lost more than a third of its students, now boasting a student population anywhere from 44,000 to 52,000. The City of Cleveland, which is about 57 percent Black, reportedly has some 444, 000 residents to date and had a population of 478, 403 in 2000, according to the 2000 U.S. Census Report.