Enough is Enough
Last week, when a grand jury in Ferguson, MO decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, I struggled to find words. Many of my colleagues here at TNTP felt the same way. We felt sadness, frustration, confusion and anger. Those of us who have grown up in neighborhoods like East Los Angeles (my own hometown), Harlem or East Saint Louis are all too familiar with the mistrust and outrage these incidents foster. Still, we wrestled with what we could or should contribute to the larger conversation.
This week, it all happened again. We learned that another grand jury, this time in Staten Island, NY, has decided not to indict another police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the death of yet another unarmed African-American man, Eric Garner, who died while restrained in a choke hold in July.
We cannot stand by and say nothing. I’ll start by saying enough is enough.
We come to our work at TNTP with the belief that schools can and must be a powerful lever of change in this country. We know how much of a difference schools can make in the lives of children, especially children living in poverty. I know it because I’ve lived it personally, growing up as the child of immigrants in California. That’s why we do what we do.
But as we’ve been reminded all too frequently these days, improving schools alone is not enough. Those of us working for better schools aren’t doing so as an end in itself. We are not naïve enough to think that a better education alone for kids of color is going to bring equity and justice. My friend Bryonn Bain, a fellow Columbia graduate, has written about the different rules men of color live by every day. Like Bain, we know that an education does not guarantee you will be afforded equal rights. That is why we see our work as part of a larger effort to promote opportunity, equality, justice and democracy. As long as these injustices continue, and wherever communities are torn apart by mistrust and lives are lost, then this larger effort is failing too. We all have so much more work to do.
And so we can’t stay silent when we see other institutions in this country sending the message that some lives matter less than others. The right response to institutional indifference of any kind—in our education system, our justice system, or in any other institution that is supposed to serve and protect us as citizens—is outrage. Outrage, and a call to action: We need the Justice Department to investigate and right these miscarriages of justice. We need to change how our law enforcement officers are trained and the cultures they work in. We need to examine the legal standards for the use of force. And we need to continue the national dialogue that’s been sparked by these events, about the very real consequences of racism and inequality in the lives of so many Americans. These may not be “education issues” per se, but for all of us who work to build a more just, more equal nation, they are our issues.