Jesse Jackson loses direction

By Mike Green
web posted November 29, 1999

In what is likely to be the most embarrassing moment of his illustrious civil rights career, Jesse Jackson recently rushed to Decatur, Illinois with a crowd of "supporters" and was arrested in the spotlight of the national media. Why? Seven black teenagers involved in a brawl at a local high school football game each received a two-year expulsion.

Images of the brutal "mob action," as it was called by school authorities, filled television screens across America. Any reasonable person witnessing the incident would agree that it was a mob action. But, to his credit, Jackson was right to call for the students to be punished individually in relation to their role in the brawl. Still, Jackson didn't need to get on a plane, much less tie up the Decatur police for hours, to make this point. Those boys deserved to be arrested, not let off with a stern "talking to" they would have likely received if Jackson were successful in his absurd quest to get the boys reinstated immediately in the classroom. The boys should consider themselves lucky. As for Jackson, he may never live down this blunder.

Jackson should have gone to San Diego, California. While he turned the nation's attention to the humiliating spectacle in Decatur, three black boys in San Diego between the ages of twelve and thirteen found a discarded rifle on their way to school. They played with it for a little while, and then hid it. About three hours later, one of the boys informed a coach of their discovery. The coach notified school authorities, and the boys led them to the loaded rifle. Without hesitation, San Diego City School authorities suspended all three boys, and began contemplating expulsion for the two who did not tell the coach.

School officials call this a policy of "zero tolerance." It sounds more like a policy of zero intelligence. Consider, if you will, that the boys are pre-teens filled with curiosity for almost anything and everything providing an adrenaline rush. Also consider that these boys never handled guns or received any exposure or firearms training while witnessing countless "deaths" in movies and on television. School officials should count their blessings that the boys' discovery did not result in catastrophe. Still, the boys were suspended, the media focused on the issue and the superintendent of San Diego City Schools is experiencing a public relations nightmare.

Jesse Jackson's cry for a common-sense approach that was misguided in Decatur would have been well received in San Diego. And he would not have had to recruit a busload of out-of-towners to stand in front of the cameras. San Diegans were outraged enough to show up at the public meeting regarding this issue on their own.

The bottom line is that this nation must come to grips with violence and how to deal with it. It is absurd to attempt to rescue high school hoodlums from severe punishment after they've created a massively dangerous and violent episode at a school football game - endangering the safety of innocent bystanders. It is equally absurd to punish adolescent kids for doing the right thing. The three San Diego boys hid the weapon and reported it. Their presence of mind kept the gun from falling into the wrong hands. Yet, they were punished for "possession" of the weapon. At the age of twelve, these kids eventually came to the right decision and took the correct action. A little counseling, a little praise and congratulations to them for finding their way to doing what was right, was all this situation needed. But this wasn't good enough for school officials.

It was the actions of the adults, not the kids, which led to the public outrage.

Too many of our public schools have become institutions of bureaucratic stupidity. Far too many schools, in disregard of their so-called "policies," allow everything from provocative dress to liberally free social environments among immature teens. Violence erupts every day in public schools, but is accepted and usually handled in routine fashion. How can parents, teachers and administrators expect children to receive a good education in a loosely controlled social environment where good students are intimidated, slower students indoctrinated and few students are insulated from the madness that disrupts and detracts from their educational progress? Is it any wonder that school officials have come under the public microscope?

Perhaps it is time for clarification. We, the parents, don't want any civil rights leaders traveling the country to impose their will on school authorities. We also don't want to send our children to unsafe, loosely regulated educational institutions where less than half of the graduates are adequately prepared for academic success at a four-year university. After all, if our kids are graduating from high schools but not surpassing minimum university admissions standards, what are they learning that takes priority over math and English?

Finally, we want common sense and reasonable approaches to extraordinary circumstances instead of knee-jerk reactions. Please be advised that we, the parents, taxpayers and voting public, are truly the ultimate authority over school officials. As the ultimate authority, we are instituting a "zero tolerance" policy on absurdity and stupidity on the part of those officials entrusted with our most precious commodity... our kids.

We will be watching.

Mike Green is an associate of Project 21 and the president of the Committee to Restore America Foundation in San Diego, California. He can be reached at Courtesy of the National Center for Public Policy Research

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