Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Tale of Two Unions

For twenty years in New York City, cops have gotten a free ride. In that time, we have had two Republican mayors--Giuliani served eight of those years and Bloomberg the last twelve. And for those twenty years, the right leaning PBA has been sitting pretty, while the UFT has been systematically attacked and disenfranchised. Cops are seen as heroes, which teachers are seen as incompetent bunglers who probably aren't qualified to be in the classroom.

How did this happen?

There is no doubt that our respective unions played a role. Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew have had a single strategy--to get a "seat at the table" in order to--unsucessfully--get a say in how teachers are treated. Pat Lynch, president of the PBA, isn't interested in a seat at the table. If he doesn't get what he wants, he upsets the table and throws things into chaos regardless of who he hurts.

The cops loved Giuliani (most of the time). Rudy was seen as a law-and-order guy, and an ardent defender of the cops. He was so ardent, in fact, that he supported the police when they tortured Abner Louima by sodomizing Louima with a nightstick. As in the Eric Garner case, Louima was accused of resisting arrest, so as far as Giuliani was concerned, he got what was coming to him. Guiliani continued his support of the police throughout the Amadou Diallo case, in which Diallo, an unarmed black man, was shot at 41 times and struck with 19 bullets. Although four police officers were charged with second degree murder, they were all acquitted. Giuliani presided over this mess, and empowered police who were so inclined to act with reckless abandon, a tradition that still exists today.

Giuliani claims that he made the streets safer by harassing small time criminals, but the truth is that crime dropped more dramatically under David Dinkins than it ever did under Giuliani, and crime dropped nationwide during his tenure due to factors that had nothing to do with Rudy's policies.

I saw Rudy this morning on TV, boasting that the city needs to return to a mayor (presumably like himself) who knows about security. Does anyone besides me remember that he became mayor immediately after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, and was in office when the second attack hit? Or that he decided to place the Office of Emergency Management headquarters in World Trade 7, despite it being an obvious target for a terrorist attack? With mayors like him, we all need flak jackets.

Bloomberg was no better. He continued the "Broken windows" policies of his predecessor. Furthermore, he championed the Stop and Frisk policy that was so incredibly racist and divisive that a court ruled it was "indirect racial profiling". This policy, along with "broken widows" before it, made the police feel that slapping a chokehold on unarmed black men like Eric Garner was not only permissible, but their duty.

For the last twenty years, the police have had a mayor who has had their backs no matter what they did. Is it any wonder that they now revolt because we have a mayor who respects the rights of all people of this city, including the poor and minorities? Is it any wonder the police feel compelled to literally turn their backs on a mayor who dares to speak the obvious truth that young black men need to be wary when stopped by the police, because young black men are shot by police at a rate 21 times that of young white men?

Speaking of which, police officers are paid or offered time off to attend funerals of slain officers, and I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with them publicly turning their backs on de Blasio while technically on the clock. I despised Joel Klein, but had he visited my classroom, I would never have turned my back on him and refused to teach. I would have done my job as a professional. Turning my back on him would have led to charges of insubordination and my removal from the classroom.

Why is it OK for cops to make political statements during funerals? Why on earth would they want to turn the wake of one of their own into a media frenzy? What kind of disrespect does it show to the family of Officer Ramos that his funeral was transformed into a political event?

So, to turn back to the main topic here, how did our union, and teachers generally, fare during the 20 year period that cops had carte blanche in this city?

Not so well. Giuliani began the current trend toward privatization of our schools and supported a voucher system. Bloomberg was even worse, taking control of the schools and destroying community school boards. He instituted, or at least tried to institute, virtually every one of the "reforms" that his rich hedge fund buddies supported, and pushed especially hard to promote charters and remove teachers from classrooms on trumped up charges.

So basically, for the past 20 years, we have had a city which used a blunt force system of government. Let the schools be damned, as long as we are locking up people for minor offenses. Why educate children when you can wait a few years and lock them up?

Now, we have a mayor who has the opposite approach. He wants the police to do their jobs, but nothing more. He wants them to respect the rights of the citizens of this city and not treat people of color like criminals through stop and frisk. One of his first acts as mayor--and one of his major campaign promises--was to offer universal pre-K so that all kids would have an opportunity to succeed in school and we could perhaps slow down the dropout-to-prison pipeline that plagues our poor communities.

What prompted me to write this was a perusal of my own Facebook feed, which is made up, unsurprisingly, mostly of teachers. I can't tell you how many have changed their profile pictures to a thin blue line in support of the police and who are blasting de Blasio. Really, fellow teachers? Is it really that hard for you to stand up for a man who has supported our union and treated teachers with respect? Is it that hard for you stand up for a man who has made educating our children--ALL our children--his number one priority?

After twenty years of Giuliani and Bloomberg, it's easy to see why the PBA is upset. It's not justifiable, but it is understandable.

And after those same twenty years of being beaten down by those same two men, it's hard to see why teachers aren't rallying around our current mayor.

You know what I want to see? I want to see Mulgrew hug de Blasio around the neck in a show of support. Hell, I wouldn't object if he kissed him on the lips.

To be clear, I support unions, including the PBA, But I believe that the police are a necessary evil that we must keep in check in a civilized society, while I see public education as a necessary good that should be embraced by all.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Why Teachers Need Guns

It's time to arm teachers.

But not for the reasons you might think. Allow me to explain.

Here's what has NOT happened in the wake of the Eric Garner case in NYC:
  • Governor Cuomo has NOT made it a major policy issue to break the PBA, which he clearly does not consider a monopoly like the UFT.
  • He has NOT demanded a new evaluation system of any sort that would help weed out the "bad" cops.
  • Eva Moskowitz has NOT called for the opening of a series of "Police Success Academies" to study best practices for police officers.
  • Wendy Kopp has NOT opened a "Kopps for America" boot camp to train tightly selected individuals to patrol the city's most dangerous streets after six weeks of training.
  • Campbell Brown has NOT called the unrest in minority neighborhoods (ignited by incidents like the Garner case and the cop who twice punched a subdued teenaged boy) the "civil rights issue of our time". 
  • Campbell has likewise NOT called for an end to seniority rights nor job protections of police officers, nor has she filed a lawsuit to end those rights.
  • The New York Post has NOT written stories on a daily basis vilifying police officers.
No, all those things were directed at teachers.

Let me make sure I'm not misunderstood here. I believe the vast majority of cops, like the vast majority of teachers, truly want to serve the citizens of NYC and make it a better place. And I believe when a cop or a teacher violates the trust the public places in them, they should be removed from that position of trust after a fair hearing.

Yet despite both being part of powerful unions, teachers and police are treated very differently by politicians and the media. Why is that?

When Michael Mulgrew threatens to punch people in the face if they mess with his Common Core, I don't think anyone quakes in their boots. But when Pat Lynch, president of the PBA, essentially blames the deaths of two police officers on Mayor de Blasio (while ignoring the culpability of Officer Pantaleo), everyone takes notice. Why?

It has to be the guns. Can you envision Campbell Brown telling an auditorium filled with armed police that they are the reason why minorities can't get a fair shake in this city? Me neither. I wonder if she'd have the guts to say it to a room of armed teachers.

So we must lay down the chalk and pick up the Glock. It's time to kick ass and tell kids to spit out their bubblegum.

It's worth a shot.