News and reports

Chicago public schools

CHICAGO--"18 schools whacked" read the Chicago Sun-Times headline on February 28, the day after the Chicago Board of Education voted to close or consolidate 18 schools. Some 450 parents, students and community members protested at the meeting.

Students at Orr High School--one of the schools slated for reconstitution--staged a walkout and then picketed the board meeting. Parents groups from several schools, including Andersen and Edison, held pickets and press events before giving impassioned testimony.

While hundreds who were not let into the board meeting picketed outside, activists representing dozens of groups poured out criticism of the board's plans. Julie Woestehoff from Parents United for Responsible Education refuted Chicago Public School claims about the "turnaround" at Sherman school--the board's showcase of success.

Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization pointed out how school consolidations in the Near South Side had spelled disaster, as rival gang territories were merged into single attendance areas. "We need to fire you all," said Rev. Charlie Walker, a local school council member from Orr High School. Walker called for an elected school board.

Almost no one spoke in favor of the board plans, but the unelected body voted 5-0 to support the closings. A coalition calling itself Save Our Schools that includes the Pilsen Alliance, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, Teachers for Social Justice, Save Senn, and parents and teachers from Andersen school has begun meeting to plan a response.

The Chicago Teachers Union was conspicuously absent from the mobilization, sending only three staffers to the board meeting. Nor did the union make any serious attempt to mobilize its membership. Union members are planning to confront the leadership at the next delegates meeting.

Justice for Mumia

PHILADELPHIA--Many anti-death penalty and anti-racist activists took note of a February 19 ruling of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejecting death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal's request for a hearing to investigate if witnesses in his case committed perjury.

Mumia's supporters have pinned more hopes on an appeal in the federal court system. A circuit court heard articles on the appeal last year.

The rejection was based on the argument that the appeal wasn't "timely"--in other words, he simply waited too long.

Mumia was convicted in 1981 of the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulker, but the initial trial was riddled with racism, including a presiding judge who was quoted as saying that he was "going to help them fry the nigger."

The current appeal was an attempt to expose perjury on the part of at least two prosecution witnesses in the case who stated at the trial that they heard Mumia shout that he had shot Faulkner. No nurses, however, or other hospital staff, have ever reported the incident, and the few individuals who did report it (all police officers) did so months after the alleged "confession."

This ruling stands as a prime example of the racist injustice system in the U.S. "By dismissing the appeal on procedural grounds, the court avoided dealing with the compelling facts establishing that the prosecution of my client was based upon lies, half-truths, and bigotry," said Mumia's lead lawyer Robert Bryan.

UMass-Amherst

AMHERST, Mass.--Approximately 200 students at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst rallied outside of the Campus Center Student Union before marching to the Whitmore Administration building on February 26.

The organizers of the rally, United Student Action, began the previous semester with demands that included a reduction in student fees, an increase in diversity, student control over the student union and an end to unwarranted police patrols of dormitories.

Since a rally last November of over 600 students, a 10-student committee has been negotiating with the administration at weekly meetings. This most recent rally was organized to further pressure the administration.

Speakers at the rally brought up the common theme of "people not profit" and condemned the running of the university like a corporation. According to the organizers, the administration will submit its final offer on February 29, and students will be able to vote on the proposals on March 5 and 6.