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Josh Moon

Opinion | Lies and half-truths won’t save Montgomery’s schools, only planning can

Josh Moon

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Last week, new state superintendent Eric Mackey brought the lumber when talking about the Montgomery Public School system and its recent accreditation review from AdvancEd.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, Mackey told business leaders and the Chamber of Commerce that unless changes on the board were made, accreditation would surely be lost. And with that lost accreditation would come serious repercussions, such as MPS graduates being unable to attend colleges outside of the state and — here’s the biggie — being unable to qualify for federal student aid.

“LAMP, BTW, Jeff Davis, Lee. All them together,” Mackey said, according to the Advertiser. “None of the students — and this is a piece of information I picked up just this morning — but none of the students, whether they went to an Alabama public school or not, would be eligible to apply for federal financial aid. … I don’t think I need to say anymore to tell you what devastating effect this would have on our high schools and our community.”

It would be devastating.

If any of that were true.

Fortunately, none of it is. Because most colleges long ago recognized the fickle and often politically-driven process of accreditation. And they decided not to punish students for circumstances outside of their control.

As the president of Harvard University explained to U.S. News and World Report a few years ago, college acceptance mainly hinges on criteria that doesn’t consider the accreditation of a student’s high school. (And in a time of growing home schooling, that seems reasonable.)

Also, according to a worker at the Federal Student Aid office, disbursement of federal aid has nothing to do with the accreditation status of your high school. In fact, the Federal Student Aid Department doesn’t even determine eligibility. That responsibility falls to the colleges themselves.

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So, if you qualify for a college, you also qualify for federal aid..

If you’re scoring at home, that means Mackey was right about exactly zero things. Or he was being intentionally dishonest to mislead the business leaders gathered before him.

I’m honestly not sure which is worse. Or how a state superintendent could be so wrong.

I tried to ask Mackey where he got his information but state offices were closed on Monday to honor the birthday of traitor to the country Jefferson Davis. Life in Alabama ….

This is the latest detestable attempt to drum up a panic among voters and convince them that the only way to save Montgomery’s public school system is to vote out all of the existing board members. There have also been nasty flyers sent out about some candidates, and over the weekend, there was a new website devoted to bashing a candidate.

All of this is being pushed by the Montgomery mayor, the BCA and other business leaders who are hellbent on installing charter schools in Montgomery as a means to convince rich people to move back into the city and send their kids to school there.

This is the extent of their plan.

If you doubt this, ask anyone, including the candidates who have been endorsed by the #boottheboard backed PAC, for specifics on how they plan to fix Montgomery’s public education system. What you will most likely hear is an answer so pollyannish it would make a grade schooler roll their eyes.

And that’s why this is a movement that should be squashed on Tuesday at the polls.

Look, I’m not telling you to vote for the incumbents. All I’m saying is don’t believe that simply voting out people will solve anything. It’s lazy. And lazy won’t fix MPS’ deep rooted issues.

If you doubt that, consider the last 18 months or so of state intervention into MPS. The state was going to roll in and clean this joint up. Heads were gonna roll. Student achievement was going to skyrocket. All of MPS would be efficient and bluebirds would land on kids’ shoulders as they walked to school.

Except, small problem: Once the state intervention teams got started in MPS, they discovered that the schools weren’t failing and the system struggling because there wasn’t enough try in the teachers and principals. Hell, the state gave the principals a raise, and to date, not one has been fired.

Instead, the state’s biggest accomplishments have been: selling off a historic landmark school and returning $1.4 million of MPS’ money that it accidentally sent to Pike Road.

Through two different state superintendents (and now a third), the takeover has been an unmitigated disaster that, to date, has failed to improve the classroom experience of a single MPS student.

And there’s a reason why: MPS’ problems are hard to solve without a bunch of money and a clear and concise plan.

If there is ever any hope of MPS serving all students, there must be a clear plan that incorporates specialized charter schools and funding increases and technical programs and capital improvements and better overall resources. Because Montgomery has unique problems — problems that have grown over decades because of indifference, racism and poor parental guidance — that have to be considered and addressed.

If you don’t, there’s no point. You’ll simply be placing new board members in front of the same problems, and they’ll be just as incapable of solving them.

And if you’re not careful, you’ll wind up worse off.

 

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Josh Moon

Opinion | In Alabama, we just keep spinning in the same, sad circle

Josh Moon

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If you don’t learn from history, you will be doomed to repeat it. 

Just ask Alabama. 

We’re to the point now in this state where we don’t actually have new events, just new ways to relive the same awful things we did in the past. 

Look at this week. 

There’s a protest in a major city — this time in Huntsville. Cops respond with an absurd show of force and violence — using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets against a peaceful crowd. There is national outrage over the images and injuries that result. 

The cops then claim there were “outside anarchists” (the 2020 version of “outside agitators) and they had no choice, because they knew where things were headed (even though there had been no violence or other problems in the previous five hours). The state attorney general “investigates” with a single phone call and backs up the cops without so much as interviewing a single individual who attended the protest. 

Tah-dah. Alabama “justice” is served. 

I think I know what comes next. Because it came next the last several times this same thing happened, with these same responses and this same embarrassment. 

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Some 30 years or so from now, there’ll be a movie or pictures in a history book. Alabama’s people will be portrayed as the ignorant, backwards racists they are. 

Do these people really not see it? Can they not hear themselves? Do they not understand how history will view them? 

Because it’s not hard to figure it out. We’ve all watched the movies and read the books. 

They can pretend it’s not that bad — that they’re right about their decisions to arbitrarily spray tear gas at peaceful protesters and shoot them with rubber bullets. They can attempt to justify that violence against peaceful American citizens by claiming the whole protest was illegal — simply because they said so.  

But it all sounds so stupidly familiar. 

To Alabama State Trooper Maj. John Cloud. Cloud stood at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, as a group of black protesters planning to march from Selma to Montgomery neared the gathered throng of state troopers. That’s when Cloud began ordering them to stop. 

“You are hereby ordered to disperse,” Cloud yelled at the marchers. “I am saying that this is an unlawful assembly. You are ordered to disperse. This march will not continue.”

A day later, in a “Face the Nation” interview, Gov. George Wallace blamed the incident on “outside agitators” and held up newspapers to show that riots were occurring in other states, and police were using force in those cities. 

Remember those words. 

On Thursday, Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray and Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner held a press conference at which they praised themselves and their departments for the response. 

During that press conference, Turner said this: “We gave them the order that this is unlawful — I gave it three or four different times. At that point, you’ve seen what’s going on around the country. Do y’all want that done to your town? We don’t want that done to our town.”

McMurray said: “It was an unauthorized protest against government. That’s what anarchists do. These were non-peaceful agitators. They, by their refusal to obey a lawful order, brought this on themselves.”

Striking, no? 

Now, look, I’m not saying that what happened in Huntsville approaches the level of injustice that took place in Selma 55 years ago, or that the result of the Huntsville debacle will lead to grand changes or even be remembered 10 years from now. 

But I am saying that what we’re witnessing in this country right now is a massive shift — a reckoning the likes of which we haven’t seen in those 55 years. Big changes are coming, finally, to right a whole lot of wrongs and make life much more palatable for a whole lot of people. 

And it’s striking that the same language and attitudes that dominated Alabama back in 1965 — the language and attitudes we all wince at when we hear them in movies or see them in footage from those days — are remarkably similar to what we’re hearing from police chiefs, sheriffs, mayors and state leaders around Alabama. 

Not all of them, but enough that it should embarrass the hell out of us, because here we are again doing the same things, having learned nothing at all from a half-century of shame. 

The people gathered in Huntsville weren’t a problem. They were never going to be a problem. They were in that park to stand up for themselves and their fellow Americans, to protest injustice and racism. 

They weren’t there because they don’t care about America or Alabama or Huntsville. They were there because they do care. 

They see an America that is unfair and uncaring. They see an America that kicks the little guy and pays no attention to laws or constitutional rights. They see an America where minorities — and those who stand up for minorities — routinely get the shaft and no one says a damn word about it unless it’s caught on video. 

And what happened Wednesday night proved them right.

 

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Opinion | What happened in Huntsville Wednesday night was disgraceful

Josh Moon

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Law enforcement officers in Huntsville assaulted dozens of people Wednesday night following a peaceful protest and march. 

This is the accurate description of what took place in Huntsville. 

I don’t care what you heard on “the news” or what you read on Facebook or Twitter. That’s what happened. 

Following a peaceful protest downtown — for which the NAACP obtained a permit, because it planned to block traffic — dozens of protesters, gathered to speak out about police brutality of black citizens in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, began to march around the downtown area. 

This is their right. It is guaranteed by the U.S. constitution. 

Contrary to popular belief, and according to legal guidance posted by the American Civil Liberties Union, you do NOT need a permit to peacefully assemble. In fact, it is against the law for anyone — or any law enforcement agency — to prevent you from peacefully assembling in response to a breaking news event.  

And yet, that’s exactly what happened in Huntsville. 

Huntsville Police, the Madison County Sheriff’s Department and — for some reason that no one could immediately explain — the Alabama State Troopers began firing tear gas and rubber bullets at people who were peacefully marching. 

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In attempting to explain why such actions occurred, Lt. Michael Johnson of HPD essentially admitted that officers acted improperly. 

He told TV station WHNT-19 that officers attempted to clear the area by telling the lawfully gathered crowd to disperse. When the crowd instead decided to exercise its right to assemble, Johnson said, officers began using force, including firing the rubber bullets at innocent men, women and children and spraying the crowd with pepper spray and tear gas. 

(Just a quick little FYI: Tear gas has been deemed a chemical agent and the Geneva Convention specifically bans its use in war. But it’s still legal for police departments to toss into peaceful crowds.)

Johnson said officers used force because they weren’t “going to roll the dice” and take a chance that the crowd could become hostile. 

Which — and while I’m no attorney, I feel comfortable going out on this limb — is not how the law works. You can’t impose force because you believe someone might break the law. Particularly when there is no evidence of that. 

And how do we know there is no evidence of it? 

Because Johnson just kept on talking during that interview, an interview led by WHNT’s Jerry Hayes, who was — and I’ll put this kindly — very police-friendly. As Hayes praised the police response and told everyone that the cops really had no choice but to clear the area by gassing children, Johnson explained just how well it had all gone. 

No officers were injured, Johnson said. No property was damaged, he said. They even had single-digit arrests/detainments, he said. 

So, again, law enforcement fired rubber bullets at peacefully assembled men, women and children who didn’t damage property, didn’t assault police officers and had every right to march on and alongside a public street. 

It’s not hard to understand why people are marching against police abuse. 

Democratic state Rep. Anthony Daniels, who represents the Huntsville area and who spoke earlier in the evening at the NAACP-organized event, compared the actions and the optics of the police attacking citizens to “Bloody Sunday” in Selma. On that day in 1965, Alabama State Troopers attacked a group of peaceful marchers because the marchers refused to disperse, and instead continued their march out of Selma towards Montgomery.

“I want someone to explain to me what the state troopers were doing at a peaceful event,” Daniels said. “What happened was a disgrace. That was a peaceful protest. Those people were following the laws and were not out of line.”

The same cannot be said for the officers. 

There are a number of videos of cops from various agencies firing tear gas canisters at people who are posing no threat, and in most cases are backing away from the officers, and randomly spraying down groups of people with pepper spray for no discernable reason. In one video that was viewed several hundred thousand times by late Wednesday evening, an HPD officer exits his patrol car, pepper spray in hand, and just starts strolling along, periodically dousing terrified people with the spray. 

It was disgraceful. It was ignorant. It was, most of all, simply wrong. 

There has been a lot of condemnation over the last few days of violent protests and criminal acts. And rightfully so. While many people understand and can empathize with the anger that lies beneath these protests, the majority doesn’t want to watch cities burn. 

I hope the same people who condemned those acts will also speak out against the violence committed by law enforcement in Huntsville on Wednesday.

 

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Opinion | Racism has broken America. We can fix it

Josh Moon

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The happiest day of my life was March 9, 2018 — the day my daughter was born. 

People who know my wife and me, or who follow either of us on social media, can likely tell that we’re crazy, helicopter parents who think our little Andi Lou is perfect. Because, well, she is. 

We also worry — A LOT. About everything. As we try to keep this little live wire safe and happy. It’s like a never-ending stream of what-ifs and what-abouts and should-we’s. 

Honestly, it’s exhausting. And there are times when I think it’s overwhelming. 

And then someone like Devin Adams gives me a glimpse into a world that I know nothing about. A world that I will never walk in. A world that will forever remain foreign to me. 

That’s the world navigated by the parent of a black child. 

Adams, a senior on the Auburn University football team, on Tuesday tweeted about using his football gear to stay safe in everyday life. Not the pads and helmet, but the jersey and other clothing that identifies him to cops as an Auburn football player. 

“I’ve been asked so many times why I wear Auburn gear all the time…,” Adams tweeted. “then they hit you with ‘YoU MuSt wAnT pPl tO kNoW YoU PlAy FOoTbAlL oR SoMEthINg’…. Lol not even knowing sometimes it’s a protection mechanism to just make it home safe.”

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Other black players responded that they do the same thing. 

Think about that. 

You can dismiss it as an exaggeration if you like — and maybe in some cases, it could be — but this is how a young, college educated guy in one of the safer cities in America feels every single day. 

He fears for his life to the point that he has altered what he wears every day to make OTHER PEOPLE more comfortable with him. To make cops not automatically assume he’s a criminal. To lessen the likelihood of a deadly encounter. 

Now, imagine sending your child out into that world every day. Imagine how Adams’ parents must feel — both knowing that he carries that fear and that the danger he faces is very real. 

Look, we can throw rocks back and forth at each other forever, and place blame on this person or that group, but at the end of the day, we know this is wrong. That young men feel this scared on a daily basis in our country, in our states, in our communities is simply wrong. 

And it is something that every single one of us should want to correct. 

We certainly want that safety for our white kids. We’ve moved mountains and rewrote laws to make sure they’re safe and protected. We’ve built new cities and schools. We’ve put fences and regulations up around our neighborhoods. 

But along the way, we vilified black citizens in the process.

For far too long (and even today in some spots), especially in the South, a “safe neighborhood” meant a neighborhood without black families in it. A “safe school” meant a school without many black students enrolled. Keeping your community safe meant isolating the black citizens to one specific area, dubbing it “n– town,” and telling your children to steer clear of it. 

These things are what led us to today. To the fires and the protests. To the anger and anguish. And to Devin Adams’ heartbreaking fear. 

We have to do better. 

And yeah, I know that’s a common sentence these days. One that’s tossed around without much thought. But I actually mean it. And I have an idea of how to make it happen. 

Affect those around you. 

Racism grows and spreads because it is not challenged. Racism flourishes out of fear — usually of the unknown. 

Don’t allow that with the people you can affect. Don’t stay quiet when friends and family members say ignorant things or pass along ignorant, clearly wrong information. After all, if they’re bold enough to say something stupid out loud, why shouldn’t we be bold enough to say something right? 

But most importantly: Teach your children — and anyone else who will listen to you — that the color of a person’s skin is as meaningless as the color of their shoes, and that skin color should never, ever be a barrier to friendship and love. 

Racism is learned. And it’s just as easy to teach kindness and inclusion. 

My daughter will never hear her parents use racist rhetoric or see us discriminate against anyone. She will play with kids of all races, and it will be as normal as a summer bike ride. She will watch animated shows with black and brown characters and will never know that there was a time when such a thing was incredibly odd. She will one day learn that she is named after a Civil Rights heroine, and she’ll learn that real history too. 

These are not grand gestures. They’re literally the least we can do. 

But I have to believe that if all of us focus on being decent people and changing and molding those we can, it will matter eventually. At least enough that Devin Adams’ children won’t have to wear football gear to feel safe in their own communities.

 

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Josh Moon

Opinion | The people have always been more important than the monuments

Josh Moon

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Two participation trophies fell in Alabama on Monday night. 

No tears were shed. 

On the same day that the state “celebrated” Confederate Memorial Day — which is somehow still a state holiday some 150 years after the traitorous South surrendered in its quest to make legal the ownership of other human beings — a large monument in Birmingham’s Linn Park went away piece by piece and a metal statue of Robert E. Lee was toppled and hauled away from its spot outside of a Montgomery high school. 

This is progress, I guess. At least those eyesores are gone (for now, in the case of the Lee statue), even if the attitudes that kept them in place remain. 

It is no secret by now that I have never understood the fervor with which so many people in this state cling so tightly to reminders of defeated traitors who fought to enslave black people. 

I mean, I understand why racists cling to them. I don’t understand how those who claim to “not have a racist bone in my body” also cling to them. I don’t understand our state lawmakers creating laws to protect them. 

Monuments are meant to honor the people depicted in them. You don’t see us creating monuments of the 9/11 hijackers at the former World Trade Center site, do you? 

You know why? Because while that day was historic and we’ll want to remember those who died forever, we don’t honor those who caused that devastation. 

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But then, I don’t actually think anyone is confused by this. The cries of “protecting history” or “not erasing history” are nothing more than phony excuses meant to mask the true intent of cowards too ashamed or too scared to say what they really mean. 

And what they really mean is that they still cling to this notion of white supremacy. They’re just too scared of the societal backlash to put on a white hood and attend the meetings. 

These people see the removal of the Confederate monuments as a loss — a personal loss. Because that tie to the confederacy and the sad, pathetic belief that they were somehow superior because of the color of their skin has sustained them throughout their lives. 

That’s why they cling so tightly to these relics of the past — because those relics represent their “heritage” and their worth. 

It doesn’t matter at all that poor whites and poor blacks have so much more in common in 2020 than poor whites and rich whites. If the two groups ever bonded, ever formed a mutually beneficial coalition, they could — by the power of their numbers — change America overnight to a more just, more equitable country. 

But they won’t, because poor white people would lose their ability to look down on someone. And really, what good is life if you can’t make certain that someone out there has it worse than you? 

And so, here we are, more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War and more than 60 years since Dr. King crossed the bridge in Selma, still fighting battles over race and discrimination and hatred and intolerance. 

Maybe the protests of George Floyd’s killing will finally be the straw to break this thing. Maybe the days of everything being on fire, along with those awful images of Floyd, will instill in the minds of enough people that there really are problems.

Maybe we can finally stop holding onto these relics of the past and concern ourselves more with holding onto each other.

 

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