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Decatur: No Tolerance For Racism

by Fight Back! Editors |
February 1, 2000
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The Rev. Jesse Jackson recently put Decatur, Illinois, back on the front line of struggle. In the early 1990s, Jesse rallied to support the heroic fight of locked-out Staley workers. Decatur had been war zone headquarters for the working class with big strikes by Caterpillar and Firestone workers. This time racism in education was the issue.

Decatur was startled anew with protests and rallies in support of the Decatur Four. Local Black demonstrators demanded the reinstatement of four Black high school students who had been permanently kicked out of school for fist fighting at a football game. The Decatur School board, like schools districts across the U.S., has been enforcing a "Zero Tolerance Policy," which targets working class and oppressed nationality students for unequal punishment.

The rich man's media failed to report that Decatur's Policy provides no alternative education: Kick students to the curb and let someone else worry about their future. Kindly, liberal neglect. Racism, to be more direct.

The Decatur protests sparked debate across the U.S. about punishment and education, racism and class. Zero Tolerance is not fair. It is applied unequally. In Decatur the statistics for the last four years show that Black males are targeted for punishment.

Working class oppressed nationality students are being guided towards failure, towards poverty, crime and prison. White suburban children caught bringing bombs and guns to school have not been treated as severely as the Decatur Four. A few days or weeks off, and rich kids are back in school. There are no calls from enraged School Board members, politicians, or newspapers demanding rich white boys be kicked out of school permanently for fist fights, rapes, or worse. It is one law for them and another for us, one rule for our children and another for theirs.

What Jesse Jackson and the protesters did was good and right. We must organize and protest at the local level, we must not be silent about our children's education and future. We must teach our children well. We must Fight Back!