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Jewish World Review Nov. 29, 1999/20 Kislev, 5760

Larry Elder

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Jesse's wrong -- WELL, AT LEAST it's not about race.

Reverend Jackson intervened on behalf of seven black Decatur, Illinois, high school students, expelled for inciting a brawl at a high school football game. "This isn't about black and white," he insists, "but wrong and right." Jackson's involvement, he assures us, is not about race.

Jackson demanded the immediate re-enrollment of the students, arguing that the punishment did not fit the crime. Then, oops, a video of the fight surfaced, and Jackson's initial description of a "simple fistfight" did not bear up. It looked ugly. Many people could have been hurt. Still, the under-pressure school board agreed to cut the suspension to one year. And the governor of Illinois agreed to change policy and allow the students to enroll in an alternative school and receive credit. This would insure that the seniors involved could still graduate "on time."

Unappeased, Jackson forced authorities to arrest him when he showed up, students in hand, and demanded their immediate re-enrollment. "The schools are 48 percent black and brown," said Jackson, "the teachers and the school board are 90 percent white. This is what happens when you have these culture gaps and stereotypes, and unfounded fears." But, remember, this is not about race.

In the 1998-99 school year, the 11,000 student Decatur school district suspended or expelled 1,700 students. Of those students, 40 percent were white. So, in a school district that is 48 percent "minority," the "punishment gap" does not appear very pronounced.

The seven students collectively missed over 300 days in their high school careers. And the school board claims previous behavioral problems on the part of some of the students. Tell us, Reverend Jackson, when these kids re-enroll, will you guarantee attendance?

And, what of the parents of the Decatur Seven? Will just one stand up and publicly state, "My child did wrong. I teach him non-violence. And he should accept the consequences of his bad behavior." What a message Jackson sends to children. No matter how rotten, objectionable, or despicable your behavior, if you're a minority, some victicrat will come along and play the race card on your behalf. Why, Jackson even compared the "plight" of the Decatur Seven to the attacks against '60s civil rights protesters in Selma, Alabama! But, remember, this is not about race.

And, as usual, the media played monkey to Jesse Jackson's organ grinder. Pre-Jackson, the Decatur Seven barely made a blip on the radar screen. But then Jackson showed up. And so did the cameras, making this a national issue.

The mainstream media also made Jackson's intrusion seem less obnoxious. How? Writers consistently failed to accurately describe the board's initial punishment, making it sound more harsh. An Associated Press article, typical of many, said the school board "expelled (the students) for two years after allegedly taking part in a brawl ... " No. The board expelled them for up to two years, with a review at the end of the current school year. Big difference.

And, in analyzing this incident, the media performs its usual act of condescension. Remember Columbine? Little time passed before the media began asking obvious questions: "Where were Eric Harris' and Dylan Klebold's mom and dad?" We quickly learned their professions, and that one of them worked out of the home. But in Decatur, we see photos of, and read references to, the youths' mothers, but where are the dads? No one asks.

Nearly one-quarter of young black men possess criminal records. Nearly 50 percent of America's prison population consists of blacks, mostly black men. Today, we see nearly 70 percent of America's black children born to unwed mothers. The lack of two caring, role-modeling moms and dads remains the single, biggest problem facing this country in general, and the black community in particular.

Yet, Jesse Jackson condemns the Decatur school board for taking action to minimize violence -- a behavior that not only threatens the lives of other students and teachers, but also pollutes the educational atmosphere necessary to achieve a decent education.

The National League of Cities studied school violence, and a few years ago reported that 900 teachers get threatened per hour; that nearly 40 teachers per hour are attacked; and that 40 percent of public school students worry about security.

Reverend Jackson plainly expects and accepts a lower level of civility from black students. How far is this from expecting and accepting a lower level of achievement from black students? Massachusetts, for example, now demands that students pass a proficiency test before graduating from high school.

But since projections show many blacks and Latino students unable to meet the standard, critics cry racism. Call this the Jackson legacy. For, by almost justifying bad, violent and disruptive conduct, he unintentionally contributes to the failure of minority students to perform.

Now that is about race.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate