Category Archives: News Brew

PHOTOS: New Yorkers Rage Against Racist, Violent Cops

i matter i cant breathe millions march nyc dec 13 afternnoon washingston square park

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers joined in MillionsMarchNYC, a powerful and angry rally against generations of police racism, violence and impunity.

In the wake of yet another wave of unpunished murder by local police, the long-standing rage against the blatant apartheid of the American justice system flowed into the streets, locking down traffic, organizing dozens of die-ins, and ultimately marching some 20 miles, over 12 hours, from Financial District to the Pink Houses in Brooklyn, where Akai Gurley was recently killed. Instead of calling for an ambulance, the cop who shot Gurley texted his union rep, apparently to ask for advice.

Escaping both police violence and well-documented kettling tactics, hundreds of New Yorkers eventually joined the local community in grieving for yet another victim of police brutality, culminating in an angry and somber die-in in front of the 75th precinct in Brooklyn.

Below are just some of the amazing, powerful and emotional scenes from yesterday.

 

 

As the Daily News recently reported, over the last 15 years, out of 179 cases where the NYPD killed, only 3 officers were ever indicted. Only one cop was ever convicted (and still, he never served a day in jail).

Although police-worshipers contend that cops have to kill for their own protection, economist Doug Henwood recently noted that according to the Bureeau of Labor Statistics' own data, "being a farmer is twice as dangerous [as being a cop]. Logging is nine times as dangerous; fishing, seven times; mining, more than four times; truck driving, two times. "


 

(all photos by Manny Jalonschi )

When Charter Schools Are Nonprofit in Name Only

the profits of charter schools are often hidden through non-profit filters

 

This post has been updated to include a response from National Heritage Academies.

A couple of years ago, auditors looked at the books of a charter school in Buffalo, New York, and were taken aback by what they found. Like all charter schools, Buffalo United Charter School is funded with taxpayer dollars. The school is also a nonprofit. But as the New York State auditors wrote, Buffalo United was sending " virtually all of the School's revenues" directly to a for-profit company hired to handle its day-to-day operations.

Charter schools often hire companies to handle their accounting and management functions. Sometimes the companies even take the lead in hiring teachers, finding a school building, and handling school finances.

In the case of Buffalo United, the auditors found that the school board had little idea about exactly how the company 2013 a large management firm called National Heritage Academies 2013 was spending the school's money. The school's board still had to approve overall budgets, but it appeared to accept the company's numbers with few questions. The signoff was "essentially meaningless," the auditors wrote.

In the charter-school sector, this arrangement is known as a "sweeps" contract because nearly all of a school's public dollars 2013 anywhere from 95 to 100 percent 2013 is "swept" into a charter-management company.

The contracts are an example of how the charter schools sometimes cede control of public dollars to private companies that have no legal obligation to act in the best interests of the schools or taxpayers. When the agreement is with a for-profit firm like National Heritage Academies, it's also a chance for such firms to turn taxpayer money into tidy profits.

"It's really just a pass-through for for-profit entities," said Eric Hall, an attorney in Colorado Springs who specializes in work with charter schools and has come across many sweeps contracts. "In what sense is that a nonprofit endeavor? It's not."

Neither National Heritage Academies nor the Buffalo United board responded to requests for comment. (Update: NHA spokeswoman Jennifer Hoff said in an emailed statement, "Our approach relieves our partner boards of all financial, operational, and academic risks 2013 a significant burden that ultimately defeats many charter schools. Freed from burdens like fundraising, our partner boards can focus on governance and oversight 2026 NHA and its partner schools comply fully with state and federal laws, authorizer oversight requirements, and education department regulations 2013 including everything related to transparency.")

 

While relationships between charter schools and management companies have started to come under scrutiny, sweeps contracts have received little attention. Schools have agreed to such setups with both nonprofit and for-profit management companies, but it's not clear how often. Nobody appears to be keeping track.

What is clear is that it can be hard for regulators and even schools themselves to follow the money when nearly all of it goes into the accounts of a private company.

"We're not confident that sweeps contracts allow [charters schools and regulators] to fully fulfill their public functions," said Alex Medler, who leads policy and advocacy work at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a trade group for charter regulators. The organization discourages the arrangements. "We think this is an issue that needs attention."

Officials have gotten glimpses of questionable spending by some firms using "sweeps" contracts. 

Take the case of Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School, another National Heritage Academies school. In 2012, state auditors tried to track the $10 million in public funding given to the school, only to conclude they were " unable to determine ... the extent to which the $10 million of annual public funding provided to the school was actually used to benefit its students." From what auditors could tell, the school was paying above-market rent for its building, which in turn is owned by a subsidiary of National Heritage Academies. They also had concerns about equipment charges.

The auditors couldn't ultimately tell whether the charges were reasonable because National Heritage Academies refused to share the relevant financial details. The firm also refused to provide detailed documentation for $1.6 million in costs recorded as corporate services, claiming the information was proprietary, according to the audit. The board president of Brooklyn Excelsior did not respond to our request for comment.

While the auditors in New York were disturbed by what they found, they could do little more than issue reports with advisory recommendations. "We can't audit the management company," said Brian Butry, a spokesman for New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

In Michigan, where NHA is the largest charter-school operator, state education regulators have voiced similar frustrations about the degree to which these private firms are shielded from having to answer to the public about how money is spent.

"I can't FOIA National Heritage Academies," said Casandra Ulbrich, Vice President of the Michigan State Board of Education, referring to the right to request public documents from public agencies. "I don't know who they're subcontracting with, I don't know if they're bid out. I don't know if there are any conflicts of interest. This is information we as taxpayers don't have a right to."

Last year, Ulbrich and the State Board of Education had called for more transparency to be brought to the financial dealings of charter-management firms. They specifically asked the legislature to outlaw sweeps contracts. "Unfortunately," Ulbrich said, "it fell on deaf ears."

The Internal Revenue Service has questioned some cases of sweeps contracts, but has not taken a consistent stand on whether the contracts are appropriate.

It's not just charter regulators and auditors that have reason to be wary of such setups. Some charter-school boards that signed sweeps contracts have found themselves shut out of the operations of their own schools.

In Ohio, ten charter-school boards sued their management firm, White Hat Management, in 2010 after they couldn't get answers to basic questions about why their schools' performance lagged and how the school's money was spent.

Even so, it was a challenge for the schools to take back control. After handing over the bulk of their money to White Hat for years, the schools had little money of their own, said Karen Hockstad, an attorney who's been representing the school boards in continuing litigation.

"Their hands are tied. They don't have the money to build brand new infrastructure and get new desks and books and anything else," said Hockstad. White Hat Management did not return a request for comment.

Some charter-school regulators 2013 recognizing their limited authority over charter-management companies 2013 are beginning to push back, requiring schools to get more information from management firms. Still, that hasn't stopped some management companies from putting up a fight

Regulators in the District of Columbia are seeking more legal authority over management firms after two recent scandals. The DC Public Charter School Board has asked the city council to pass legislation that would allow access to the books of management companies under certain conditions. So far, that effort has gone nowhere.

Related coverage: Read about how a chain of charter schools is channeling millions of public education dollars to for-profit companies controlled by the schools' founder.

If you have information about charter schools and their profits or oversight 2014 or any other tips 2014 email us at charters@propublica.org.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

(Featured Photo via flickr.com/Ervins Strauhmanis/CC)

‘Just Keep Fighting for What’s Right': Nationwide Protests Continue

Photo from New York City protests in the wake of the eric garner ruling in the aftermath of numerous police killings including 179 murders by the nypd in the last 15 years
"Keep on doing it, but do it in peace."
Those are the words of Eric Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, who on Saturday in Harlem encouraged and welcomed the thousands of people taking part in ongoing marches calling for justice.
"It is just so awesome to see how the crowds were out there," USA Today reports Carr as saying. "They are out there. They are standing for my son. My heart is overflowing with joy. It’s just a gracious feeling."
Garners' widow, Esaw Garner, told the crowd: "Just keep fighting. Keep fighting for what’s right, to get justice."
Reuters reports: "Sunday was expected to see protests again in New York as well as Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami and Minneapolis and dozens of other cities."
Dozes of marches and "die-ins" took place in dozens of cities on Saturday as well.
In Seattle hundreds of protesters marched to the Seattle Police Department to protest the killings of Garner and Michael Brown.
In Berkeley, California, protesters faced tear gas from police.
In Chicago protesters blocked the Eisenhower Expressway and Lake Shore Drive.
In Atlanta, hundreds of protesters issued a call to "Choke the system."
In the world of professional sport as well, a growing number of athletes are using their platform to protest the killings.
An NBC News survey meanwhile has shown a stark racial divide on public confidence in police forces.
The poll found that 47 percent of Americans say that they believe police apply different standards to blacks and whites, while 82 percent of African-American respondents did.
And while the recent grand jury decisions not to indict the officers who killed Garner and Michael Brown caused 43 percent of Americans to lose faith in the justice system, the number was 70 percent among African-Americans.
 


 

NYPD Officer NOT Indicted for Chokehold Death of Eric Garner

garner_and_brown_by_ben_reid

Regardless of the verdict, activists with the Ferguson National Response Network are organizing national protests for the day after the grand jury announcement, with the largest demonstration planned for Foley Square in lower Manhattan.

"A grand jury indictment doesn't equal justice," organizers note. "In cases where a grand jury has indicted, the majority of time the officers are found not guilty at trial."

The decision over Garner's death, at the hands of a white police officer, comes amid heightened tensions over what is seen as racially-motivated police violence.  Civil rights groups say that the incident also exemplifies the problem with the NYPD's policy of targeting petty or minor infractions.

"The NYPD culture of aggressive policing, and the use of the Broken Windows program led to the killing of Eric Garner in July, and the assault of countless other New Yorkers," wrote protest organizers This Stops Today.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of the grand jury announcement, the NYPD has been preparing for widespread protests and arrests with Police Commissioner William Bratton telling Staten Island clergy officials on Monday to "expect more police" in the community.

Bratton told the press that while "people have a right to demonstrate," cops will arrest anyone who commits an "actual crime," including vandalism.  "We have the ability to have a level of tolerance, breathing room if you will."

According to the autopsy report, Garner, a black man who suffered from asthma, died from compressions to his neck and chest which were exacerbated because of his breathing condition. In a video recording taken of the incident, which was widely circulated following Garner's death, he repeatedly says, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe" as he is pulled to the ground by Pantaleo.

"I’m just hoping they give us a fair decision,” Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, told the New Yorker's Jonathan Blitzer. "If you’ve seen the video, you’ve seen that my son has done nothing—nothing!—to cause this to happen to him," she said. Garner was placed in the banned chokehold after being confronted by a group of NYPD officers for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.

The grand jury is now weighing whether there is enough evidence surrounding Garner's death to bring the case to trial.

The decision will likely come less than two weeks after a St. Louis grand jury failed to indict St. Louis police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Ferguson teen Michael Brown, which sparked widespread protests and outrage over what demonstrators felt was a blatant failure of justice.

As the New York Times reports, "Legal experts and former prosecutors have said that despite the medical examiner’s ruling [Garner's] death a homicide, murder charges would be unlikely."

"Officers are generally given wide latitude to use force, though Police Department policy specifically prohibits chokeholds," the Times continues. "But a lesser homicide charge could be possible, legal experts said, including second-degree manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide."


This article published under a CC-share-alike license via Common Dreams.

(Featured Photo: Ben Reid/cc/flickr)

Record Drop in New York City Unemployment

jobs help wanted photologue np flickr

Record-Setting Three-Month Drop in New York City Unemployment

Unemployment is down both in New York City and in New York State, according to a New York State Department of Labor report released November 20, 2014.

Unemployment for New York State fell to 6.0% from 6.2% in October.

The improvement was even more dramatic for New York City.

In October, the city's unemployment rate fell from 6.8% to 6.4%. which in the past three months adds up to a record-setting 1.4% drop in unemployment.

Hopefully, with the consumer price index also dropping 0.2% in October for the region (after holding steady in September), this means a little financial relief for the millions of New Yorkers who have too regularly endured an economic "recovery" of mostly low-wage jobs.


Featured photo via photologue_up/flickr


 

NYC’s Food Pantry Shortages Aggravated By Last Year’s SNAP Cuts

Shopping Cart

In the 11 months since the SNAP cuts of 2013, hungry New Yorkers have lost a total of more than 56 million meals, according to a new report by The Food Bank for New York City

According to the group's findings, the cuts are forcing hungry New Yorkers into already-crowded food pantry programs.

As a result, 80% of the city's food pantries reported increased demand this year, coupled with "significant increases in food shortages ...across the network."

In a recent meeting with the City Council, Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks noted that around 1 in 7 New Yorkers (1.4 million people) have trouble getting enough food.

Meanwhile 60% of food pantries surveyed by The Food Bank of New York reported that they ran out of food, or types of food, to make adequate meals this past September. Last year, only 48% did.

The scale of inequality in New York City means the bad logic, and worse morality, of food stamp cuts has become fiendish reality for many hungry New Yorkers who now have even less places to turn for help.

By September of this year, 37% of New York City food pantries reported having to turn people away due to a lack of supplies.

Last year in September, only 26% of the city's food pantries reported having to turn people away.

With Congress falling to Republican hands this past election, it's likely things will get far worse for New York's hungry communities before they get better.

(to read the full 8 page pdf of
"The Hunger Cliff: One Year Later"
from The Food Bank for New York City
CLICK HERE
)

 

featured photo via Robert S. Donovan/Flikr

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Court Ruling in Major Education Case

Photo: Chris Sessums/flikr/cc

STATE SUPREME COURT FINDS FOR PLAINTIFFS IN MAJOR SCHOOL FUNDING CASE

November 18, 2014 – New York, NY -- Rejecting the state’s attempt to dismiss a major litigation seeking to enforce the funding and other constitutional mandates established in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York litigation (“CFE”), Justice Manuel J. Mendez of the New York State Supreme Court, New York County, issued an order today that upholds the right of the plaintiffs in New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (“NYSER”) to proceed with their litigation against the state, and against Governor Andrew Cuomo and other state defendants.

The NYSER litigation, filed earlier this year, alleges that in 2007, following the Court of Appeals’ final decision in CFE, the governor and the state legislature enacted a major reform act that committed the state to increasing funding for students in the New York City Public Schools by approximately $5 billion per year, and for students in the rest of the state by approximately $4 billion per year, all to be phased in over a four-year period. Since 2009, however, the state has reneged on these commitments. Although the state has never repealed the 2007 legislation, it has failed to fund schools in accordance with its foundation formula. Despite some increases in state funding for education over the past few years, the state is still $5.6 billion short of the amounts owed under that formula, according to the plaintiffs.

Referring specifically to some of the devices and mechanisms the state has used to reduce its education appropriations, Justice Mendez held that “the ‘gap elimination adjustment’…. the cap on state-aid increases, the supermajority requirements concerning increases in local property tax levies,” together with penalty provisions imposed on New York City students last year in connection with the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system, all “could potentially be found irrational, arbitrary or capricious and capable of preventing a sound basic education.”

The Court also held that, “The claims asserted by plaintiffs are not tenuous, there is a potential risk of harm to public school students and to school districts derived from financial distress.”

Justice Mendez also rejected the state’s claim that individual plaintiffs from all of the approximately 700 school districts in the state would need to participate for plaintiffs to proceed with this lawsuit and that NYSER as an organization lacked standing to sue. He held that “This Court will not ‘close the courthouse doors’ on the individual plaintiffs’ potentially viable constitutional claims affecting schoolchildren in New York State,” and that NYSER, whose “stated mission is to ensure that all students in the State of New York receive the opportunity for a sound basic education” also has standing.

The state now has 20 days to file an answer to the complaint, after which preparations for trial can commence.

“We are pleased that the Court has quickly and definitively rejected the state’s motion to dismiss, and we look forward to quickly moving this case along so that students throughout the state can receive the educational opportunities that the state constitution clearly intends them to enjoy,” said Douglas Schwarz, a partner at Bingham McCutcheon, who serves as co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

“We hope that this important decision will cause the governor and the legislature to reconsider their current approach to funding for education and to work with us to promptly ensure that all students truly receive the opportunity for a sound basic education. However, if further litigation is necessary, we are prepared to continue to fight this case vigorously,” added Michael A. Rebell, co-counsel for the NYSER plaintiffs. (Rebell also served as co-counsel for plaintiffs in the CFE litigation.)

NYSER v. State of New York was filed earlier this year by 16 parents from New York City and from urban, suburban and rural districts throughout the state, and by NYSER, an organization whose members include the New York State School Boards Association, the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the New York State PTA, the New York State Association of School Business Officials, the Statewide School Finance Consortium, the Rural Schools Association, 11 of New York City’s Community Education Councils, and a number of parent groups and advocacy groups around the state. The plaintiffs are seeking immediate financial relief, as well as the adoption of a series of mechanisms that will ensure adequate and equitable funding for all students in New York State on a sustained, long-term basis. For more information on the suit, visit www.nyser.org 

Banning Medical Pot Makes No Sense

Photo via Tha Goodiez/Flickr/CC

A few months back, a friend of mine died of cancer. I’ll call her “Karen,” for her privacy. By the time we met, she was already terminally ill and had been for months.

Over the next year and a half, I watched my friend lose her hair and waste away until I could hardly distinguish her from her middle-school-aged son. She tried chemotherapy, radiation, and any other treatment her doctors would give her, even though she had little hope for remission.

There’s hardly anything “lucky” about her story. But Karen was fortunate in one regard: She lived in California.

In her last years, Karen relied on medical marijuana regularly for relief she couldn’t get from any other medication. In California plus 22 other states and the District of Columbia, medical marijuana is legal. Elsewhere, it isn’t.

Medical Marijuana in Pill Bottles

The absurdities that keep patients suffering are a cruelty for many experiencing the most severe types of pain. (Photo via Tha Goodiez/Flickr/CC)

Why deny a cancer or AIDS patient a medication that reduces suffering? Because a healthy person somewhere might use it recreationally for pleasure?

Karen’s medical marijuana use struck me as normal — until I moved away from California after living there for eight years.

I’m now going to graduate school in Wisconsin, a state where medical marijuana is almost completely illegal.

At first, I thought of medical marijuana as simply a moral issue: It’s inhumane to deny an effective medication to someone who is ill. Then, things got personal.

I’ve endured chronic migraines for the last two decades. I get them from visual triggers like videos and projectors. I’ve seen doctors in four states. I’ve tried 20 different meds, without luck. Since starting school, I’ve had migraines every single day. I have one right now. These days, the main culprits are the fluorescent lights that illuminate just about every university building.

Oh, and the neurologist has a six-month wait list for appointments.

One possible treatment? Medical marijuana. Apparently, certain strains are more effective than others for treating different conditions. In other words, if it’s a medical use you’re after, you’re best not buying something random illegally from a dealer.

And here’s what I’ve learned.

First, more research needs to be done to verify when and how marijuana is medicinally effective. It has not had the rigorous testing that any FDA-approved drug requires before it’s put on the market.

That said, there is some research happening. Scientists recently found that medical marijuana legalization could cut deaths from painkiller use. In my case, the only other drug I’ve found that reduces my pain is oxycodone, a habit-forming opioid. About 100 Americans die from overdosing on drugs like oxycodone every day — but it’s just about impossible to die from too much marijuana.

Second, “legalized” pot doesn’t always mean legalized pot. In some states (Illinois, I’m looking at you), you can only use medical marijuana for a defined list of conditions (migraines not included). In its proposed rules, Illinois also plans to charge $100 and fingerprint you like a criminal if you apply to use medical cannabis.

Minnesota has an even smaller list of approved illnesses, charges $200, and won’t allow you to smoke your legal pot — although you’re free to vaporize it. Most states require that you live in-state — and prove it.

For Pete’s sake, I’m no criminal — I’m just trying to overcome a common debilitating disease.

I want relief from my crushing daily migraines, and I want better quality of life. I want to remain a productive member of society. I don’t know if medical marijuana will help me, but I’d like to find out. Legally. Under the supervision of a doctor.

It hurts that there’s a potential solution for my pain and the pain of so many others but state and local governments won’t let us give it a try. Let’s reform our laws to give patients relief, and engage in the scientific study needed to understand if, how, and when medical cannabis works.


 

This article published through CC license via Otherwords.org. OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org. Photo via Tha Goodiez/Flickr/CC
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