Gary Tyler, free at last. Give a hand.

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Gary Tyler today.

Last week I heard the news that Gary Tyler had been freed from a Louisiana prison after serving 41 years.

I nearly cried. Somewhere in a box of photos is a picture of a very young man knocking on doors on Chicago’s south side collecting signatures on a petition to free a sixteen year-old African American kid from death row.

I couldn’t find the picture. The young man was me.

I’m not a young man anymore.

And Gary Tyler is a long time from sixteen years-old.

Yesterday I received this email:

We’re sending this letter mostly to a group of long-time friends — people who will recognize the name “Gary Tyler”,  and recall the “Free Gary Tyler” campaign in which we were all involved in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Freedom and  justice for Gary was a cause we embraced for several years, long ago.  We were activists on his behalf.   For many of us, it was a shock to learn recently that Gary Tyler has remained in prison for 41+ years! — notwithstanding his innocence — notwithstanding that the 5th Circuit deemed his trial “fundamentally unfair” — notwithstanding that the Pardon Board three times recommended he be pardoned.   We moved on, yet Gary was seemingly unable to move on with his own life. (And yet, of course, he did — against all odds!  More on that later.)

Until now!  A recent Supreme Court decision declared Gary’s life sentence unconstitutional.  The Parish district attorney agreed to vacate his conviction if Gary would plead guilty to manslaughter,  which carries a maximum sentence of 21 years.  Gary agreed.  After 41 years in prison, Gary walked out a free man on Friday, April 29! Gary, who entered prison at age 16 under threat of the death penalty, is finally a free man at the age of 57!  Can you imagine what that will be like for him?!  Free at last, yes, but building a life from scratch as you approach 60 years old?     

There are far too many painful stories of innocent prisoners — mostly African-American — freed after decades in prison.  For Gary, there are allies who have been planning for this day for many years — lawyers and other supporters working on his behalf to ensure his smooth re-integration into the outside world — lining up jobs and other services.   The plan is for Gary to leave Louisiana and settle in Los Angeles, where he has some family and a dedicated support network.    

This is where we all come in!  A range of job possibilities have been lined up in LA,  plus some initial housing and other services.  But we need to think of the longer-term as well.  A Fund has been established under the auspices of the Liberty Hill Foundation to channel financial support to Gary for housing,  health care, clothing, insurance, transportation,  and the myriad other financial needs he will face initially and over the next few years as he builds a life having spent his entire adult life —  41 years —  behind bars. 

The Fund opened with $7,000; our goal is to raise $60,000. Money can’t right the enormous injustice done to Gary Tyler, but perhaps we can ease his road back to freedom. 

Contributions to this Fund are tax-deductible.  We hope you will give generously!   (See box, below.)

A little more on Gary: Gary is a pretty amazing man — a really lovely man.  A couple of years ago, a few of us had an opportunity to meet Gary and talk to him at length.  Yes, of course he wanted out of prison, but in the meantime he consciously eschewed bitterness and made more of his life than many people on the outside.  Angola Prison has some very unique programs, and Gary worked hard to positively impact the lives of others.  

He was a founder and long-time volunteer in  the hospice program (featured in the Oprah Winfrey/Forest Whitaker documentary Serving Life, and the subject of a book Grace Before Dying), served as mentor to younger prisoners,  was long-time president of the Drama Club (written up in the N.Y. Times, and the subject of a film documentary), etc.  He’s a good man, doing good work, and touching many lives.  He’s warm and funny and smart.  It was an honor to  meet him and begin to know him — as a person, not a cause. (We were all on the right side of this “cause”! — we can be proud of that.)  Now we need to help him in his transition.

Please help to support Gary Tyler now!   Give as generously as you can!  And please share this letter with a wide network to garner broad support!

Signed, 

Bob Zaugh, Los Angeles                                          

Pam & Steve White, Los Angeles

Barry & Paula Litt, Los Angeles                              

Elizabeth Stanley, Los Angeles

Jim & Janet Fennerty, Chicago                               

Amy Gladstein & Jim Reif, Brooklyn, NY

Holly & Will Hazleton, Atlanta                               

Bob & Joan Anyon, San Francisco

Karen Jo Koonan, San Francisco                            

Robert Perrone, Sacramento, CA

George H. Kendall, New York                                  

Mary Joyce Carlson, Washington, DC

P.S.  For those of you needing a brief recap of the facts of  Gary’s case, we’ve provided this addendum.  (The “Free Gary Tyler” site freegarytyler.com contains several articles. op-eds from the N.Y. Times, and a “Democracy Now” show about Gary.):

TO MAKE A DONATION:

1. CHECK:

Checks should be made payable to “Liberty Hill Foundation.”  Please write “Back to Life Re-Entry Fund” on the memo line, and mail to:

Liberty Hill Foundation

6420 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700

Los Angeles, CA  90048

 2. DEBIT OR CREDIT CARD**

 Use this link https://www.libertyhill.org/backtolifefund or call Rodrigo Guardado at Liberty Hill Foundation at (323) 556-7212.  You can make a one-time donation or set up a monthly debit. 

 **These options will incur a fee of 3.3% for Visa/Mastercard (4% for AmEx).  The fee will be deducted from the donation, so please include the amount of the fee in the total to be processed. 

 3. AUTO BILL-PAY

 Set up a no-fee automatic bill-pay to Liberty Hill Foundation through your checking account, for a one-time or monthly donation.  You can set the payment date and there is no fee. If set as a monthly donation, the bank will automatically send Liberty Hill Foundation a check every month (not an electronic wire). 

 The payee is “Liberty Hill Foundation” (address is 6420 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA  90048).  If there is room for notation, please indicate “Back to Life Re-Entry Fund.”  Liberty Hill Foundation’s Tax ID is 51-0181191.

More about Gary’s Case

At age 16, in 1974, Gary Tyler was on a school bus with other African-American kids in rural Louisiana, involved in the integration of an all-white school.   The bus was surrounded by 100-200 angry whites shouting, throwing rocks and bottles. A shot was fired from somewhere and a young white boy was mortally wounded.  All black kids from the bus were searched and taken to the police station.  No one in the white crowd was searched.  (The bus driver and the kids on the bus maintain that the shot was fired from the crowd, toward the bus.)

The bus was searched for three hours and no gun was found.  Gary (who had lived briefly in Los Angeles before returning home to Louisiana) mouthed-off a bit to the cops,

telling them that the bullet-on-a-chain around his cousin’s neck meant nothing and had nothing to do with this situation.

This “sass” apparently caused the cops to zero in on him.  Attempting to extract a confession , the police beat Gary mercilessly for several hours, but he never confessed.  (He continued to maintain his innocence for 41years.  The recent plea deal which gained his freedom required a guilty plea to manslaughter.)  He was charged with murder, tried, convicted and sentenced to death within a year. 

Though no gun was found in the 3-hour search of the bus, the police later produced a gun they said was the murder weapon.  It had no fingerprints.  It was a gov’t-issue weapon that had disappeared from a shooting range used by the local sheriffs, and it subsequently disappeared from evidence.   A few kids from the bus testified against Gary.  They all  later recanted their testimony and described how they had been terrorized by the police, told exactly what to say, and threatened with prison themselves if they failed to implicate Gary.  

The judge instructed the jury that they could presume Gary had intended to inflict deadly harm — guilty until proven innocent, essentially.  Gary was sentenced to death — the youngest person on death row in the country.  He was spared the electric chair when Louisiana’s death penalty was declared unconstitutional; his sentence was commuted to life in prison.  No evidence, no witnesses, but 41 years later, he was still imprisoned, until now. 

Gary lived at Angola State Penitentiary — the largest maximum security prison in the country.  Of the more than 5000 inmates, something like 75% are black, the average sentence is 93 years, and most men will die there —  there is little hope for release.  As we mentioned, Gary was three times recommended for pardon by the Pardon Board, but each time the sitting governor failed to sign.  The 5th Circuit also ordered a new trial based on “fundamental unfairness” — but the state of Louisiana declined a new trial on a technicality. 

 Until 4/29, Gary had for many years lived a medium-security life within a maximum security prison.  He lived in an honor dorm, could walk around freely, and was able to leave the prison from time to time on “honor” jobs.  The Drama Club, under his leadership,  left the prison grounds for widely-praised performances in schools and churches around the state.  Gary’s pardon applications over the years were supported by the Warden and other prison personnel;  in the final hearing resulting in his release, his Petition was supported by strong affidavits from a former Warden and Assistant Warden, among others.

 Gary didn’t belong in prison — ever!.  Let’s support his transition back to life on the outside!

Teaching Martin Luther King and the myth of the outside agitator.

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Melinda Anderson has a really good article in The Atlantic on teaching Martin Luther King and the perils, difficulties and benefits of teaching a social social justice curriculum.

Now 50 years later, seventh- and eighth-graders at Seward Academy on Chicago’s South Side study King and the very issue that brought him to their city. The Chicago teacher Gregory Michie says his lessons on the social-justice icon are designed to upend what he views as a simplistic and clichéd image often presented in schools. Since many of his students know King’s famous excerpt hoping for a day when no one is judged by the color of their skin, Michie’s social-studies class zeroes in on lesser-known sections of the “I Have a Dream” speech, like the “fierce urgency of now” and “tranquilizing drug of [white] gradualism.” The youngsters quickly realize that they’ve never really heard the full message of the speech, he said, and “it’s a lot more nuanced, and more fiery, than they’d thought.”

What has been lost in the King-as-dreamer mythology is that every place he went, including here in Chicago, he was branded an outside agitator by the white segregationist politicians in power, including the elder Mayor Richard Daley.

As we honored Dr. King this past weekend, that myth of social justice freedom fighters as outside agitators continues.

Mick Dumke reports in the Sun-Times today that following the release of the Laquan McDonald video, Mayor Rahm’s staff was spreading the word that outside agitators from Ferguson and Baltimore were invading the city to create violence.

As Emanuel went on to a holiday tree-lighting ceremony at Millennium Park, protesters took to downtown streets.

“I just got word from some of our friends, protest groups (outsiders from Baltimore, Ferguson etc) have arrived to city and will begin to mass at City Hall,” Henry wrote to other aides the next morning. “I was also told we should prepare for more aggressive, direct‐action, confrontations with CPD.”

This was, of course, a lie.

Who is “Henry.”

(Vance) Henry is a City Hall veteran who served as Mayor Richard M. Daley‘s director of the Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS), the Police Department’s community-policing effort.

In December 2004, the Tribune reported that questions from federal drug investigators about a relationship between Henry and an indicted gang kingpin prompted a months-long Chicago police internal-affairs investigation.

At the time, Henry said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents had questioned him about his relationship with the alleged founder of the Mafia Insane Vice Lords, who had been arrested in May in a massive federal drug-conspiracy case.

The drug kingpin, Troy Martin, was a convicted murderer who later was found guilty in the federal case. Martin was a member of a church where Henry was an associate pastor. Henry said that he knew Martin through the church for several years and that other church officials suggested he offer advice to Martin through the church’s ex-offender program.

“I was assigned by my church to help an ex-offender,” Henry said. Their discussions took place mostly at church, but Henry did not recall when they began or how many times they spoke.

An October 2013 Tribune series, “Poverty and Profit,” cited public records in which Henry is listed as going to bat at Daley’s City Hall for a West Side developer who wanted to rehab and manage troubled apartment buildings despite a pattern of racking up unpaid taxes, fines and building code violations, including citations for tenants going without heat.

City payroll records now list Henry as a $145,000-a-year assistant to Emanuel.

Whether it was Bull Connor in Birmingham in 1963 or Rahm Emanuel in 2016, the myth of the outside agitator is in the bag of tricks of opportunist and racist politicians.

Baltimore.

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– By Ta-Nehisi Coates. From The Atlantic.

Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city’s publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city’s police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.

The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today’s riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made:

Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson ….

And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims—if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him—a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”

The money paid out by the city to cover for the brutal acts of its police department would be enough to build “a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.” Instead, the money was used to cover for the brutal acts of the city’s police department and ensure they remained well beyond any semblance of justice.

Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?

The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.”)

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves

Celia Oyler and Merryl Tisch.

Merryl Tisch is the wealthy chairperson of the New York Board of Regents, which is responsible for most of the educational policies of the State University and public school systems

Celia Oyler is a professor of education at Teachers College at Columbia University.  We both were graduate students together at the University of Illinois at Chicago. At one time we shared teacher assistant teaching duties of undergraduates. I will admit that I stole most of my class activities from her.

She is the most decent and humane a teacher any student or colleague could ask for.

When something pisses Celia Oyler off, it is earned.

So when her employer, Teachers College, decided to award their Medal of Honor to the wealthy Merryl Tisch her outrage was not without just cause.

Professor Celia Oyler wrote the following message to her graduate students:

An Open Letter to Graduating Master’s Students in the Elementary and Secondary Inclusive Education Programs

I will not be attending convocation this year as I am on parental leave. I know if I were attending I would not be able to remain silent while Merryl Tisch is given a TC Medal of Honor. Her actions while Chair of the New York State Board of Regents have wrought incredible damage upon our noble profession.

Merryl Tisch has ushered through the Board of Regents many policies with which I vehemently disagree; these include: decoupling teacher certification and master’s degrees from university-based teacher education (approving Relay Graduate School of Education); allowing InBloom to collect and sell private data on each K-12 student in New York State schools; and requiring all school districts to tie teacher evaluation to Value Added Measures based on student test scores. There are numerous problems with using student test scores to evaluate teachers (Value Added Measures). See here, here and here to start.

Despite these well-documented concerns, Teachers College’s initial press release indicated that TC was awarding Merryl Tisch this honorary degree because of her efforts to establish this system of teacher evaluation. To be honest with you all, when I first read the press release, I sobbed. My chagrin is shared by many. For instance, read New York State Principal of the Year (2013) and TC grad Carol Burris’s comment about Merryl Tisch on Diane Ravitch’s blog posting about the Tisch award.

If I were at the graduation convocation, I would wear a sign on the back of my robe. It would probably say, “USING STUDENT TEST SCORES TO RATE TEACHERS DISHONORS US”. Some people are suggesting that students and faculty could turn their backs when Tisch is talking; other people have the idea to hold up signs. In any case, I know that I couldn’t be silent. I would feel complicit; my silence would be condoning the award. I would make sure to sit next to a colleague or two or three who would also agree to take an action with me.

I cannot sit silently while teachers across this country are being viciously attacked and demeaned by the junk science of VAM. For instance: A district in Florida fired A Teacher of the Year based on her VAM. In Los Angeles, a well-loved community-minded teacher committed suicide after his VAM scores were published in the newspaper and he was ranked as one of the lowest teachers in the district; he specialized in welcoming children who spoke little English.

When I was a child, I voraciously read all the books I could find about the Underground Railroad, the Abolitionist Movement, the anti-Nazi movement (including the White Rose Society), the Civil Rights Movement. As a teacher I often included a focus on the South African anti-apartheid movement. For as long as I can remember, I have asked myself, “Would I have stood up?” “Would I have had the courage to defend the side of freedom and justice?”

There are activists in the educational community and TC alumni who are debating whether to call for a protest of the Merryl Tisch award at your graduation. While there are different opinions on this topic, they are all asking if there will be a protest from the graduating students. They realize that you are entering teaching at a very difficult time and they admire your courage. They are hoping that as beginning teachers you can find small ways to protect both the children and our profession by protesting the horrible anti-child and anti-teacher policies pushed through with Race to the Top funding. They hope you are entering the field of education knowing we need to fight courageously for an education that is based on children’s individual needs and does not try to reduce them to test scores; that you want to teach subjects even if they are not on the tests, such as the arts, music, drama, science investigations, and social studies inquiries. I have assured them you are visionary and courageous and that you see urban communities of color as full of multicultural resources and assets to be cultivated rather than as sinkholes of deficits that need to be corrected into middle class mainstream discourses as measured by the tests.

My heart is beating as I type these words, as I know that public education is under an organized assault by corporate reformers who seek to script your curricula and make you teach to their tests. These corporate reformers—The New Schools Venture Fund, the Gates Foundation; the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and so on—seem to have nearly unlimited funds.

What we have on our side is our vision for a different kind of education: one that supports children to dance and sing and debate and play and create and dream and make art and design projects that show their ideas about how to make the world a better place. What we have on our side is our belief in humanity, relationships, solidarity, diversity, democracy, freedom, justice, and equality. I know that none of you entered our teacher education program with the mere goal of helping children score well on a standardized test. You entered teaching to touch the hearts and minds of children, and to listen to and value their stories. And to tell them through your words and your actions, “I see you, I expect huge successes from you, and I love you.”

Please walk with dignity into St John the Divine, no matter what you choose to do or not do about Merryl Tisch. And always remember that no Value Added Score can EVER measure how much value you have added to a child’s life.

With love,
Celia Oyler

Thousands of Philly students marching down Broad Street now.

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Thousands of Philadelphia public school students are marching down Broad Street as I am writing this.

“We are willing to break the stereotypes and expectations of urban youth, and are taking this opportunity to tell the world that urban school districts deserve funding, and it is your responsibility under the Commonwealth Charter to provide us with more than a ‘bare bones education.’”

Read the back story in The Nation.

Saturday coffee.

It is coffee at home on this gloomy autumn morning. And the coffee is good.

I reported in the earlier post about the sit-in at Rahm’s fifth floor city-hall office last night. We begin the next big wave in the movement to save Chicago’s public schools from closings, charters and private management.

There are some who love calling everything the Civil Rights Movement of our time. But since I am old enough to have been through the last Civil Rights Movement (granted, I was a teenager), I think I am qualified to say that you can draw a pretty solid line from then to what is happening in Chicago now.

Even if some folks had to read their iPad for the lyrics to We Shall Overcome.

The pictures of folks, Black, Latino, Asian and white, practicing non-violent civil disobedience and being loaded into police wagons, while chanting, “Whose schools? Our schools!”

Protestors singing We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest.

And most importantly, the goal. Social justice in the hard-as-nails city that played a key role in the Northern Civil Rights Movement.

That Movement included the historic struggle against school segregation. It was symbolized by the notorious Willis Wagons, the trailers used as classrooms by Mayor Richard J Daley and his school superintendent Benjamin Willis to preserve racial segregation. The right of children to schools they deserve has always been a center piece to the Movement here.

So, here we are again.

This will be a long cold winter for the Mayor. Some speculate that he has presidential ambitions. Or at least a Senate seat. Maybe the governor’s mansion.

But that may all turn to dust in the coming fierce battle for Chicago’s school.

As Mayor Washington always said about Chicago politics: “It ain’t bean bag.”

The lesson may have been lost on the Mayor in the teacher’s strike.

But the thing about teachers is that if we haven’t done a good job at teaching a lesson the first time, we go back and teach it again.