By ADAM RITSCHER
Decatur, Ill., the recent scene of bitter labor struggles by striking and locked-out workers at the Staley, Caterpillar, and Bridgestone Firestone plants, last month also saw the angry raised fists of hundreds of Black and white high school students protesting the unjust expulsion of seven Black students.
The seven students, who got in a brief fist fight during a football game between Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools, have been charged with “felony mob action,” and were expelled from school for two years. They are also being threatened with possible prison terms for the felony charges.
The expulsions were handed down by an almost all-white school board and are being passed as part of a so-called “zero tolerance for violence” program. But current and former students have said that racism is the motivating factor here, and that racism on the part of white teachers and school board members has long been a serious problem.
Forty-four percent of public high school students in Decatur are Black, yet a large majority of students who suffer suspensions each year are Black, and Blacks on average receive more severe punishment for similar offenses committed by white students.
In an act of inter-racial solidarity following the expulsions, the expelled students’ classmates turned out in several protests. A demonstration of 1000 that marched through the streets of Decatur demanded the re-instatement of the seven.
The school board, prodded by Gov. George Ryan, reacted by offering a “compromise” that would reduce the expulsions to one year, and allow the seven students in the meantime to attend a school for troubled youth. The students have rejected this offer.
On the mornings of both Nov. 8 and 9, the expelled students, along with community activists and figures like Jesse Jackson, appeared at Eisenhower High School seeking readmission. The school board responded by closing Eisenhower and the other two Decatur high schools on those days, claiming that the actions constituted a threat to “public safety.”
We in Youth for Socialist Action salute the protesters of Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools, and stand in support of the demands to readmit the seven expelled students. Such drastic and reactionary discipline policies are becoming all too common in high schools across the country, using the excuses of drugs and violence to curtail the democratic rights of young people.
We call for a movement of mass action, that through demonstrations, such as this inspiring one in Decatur will mobilize thousands of young people and their allies to smash racism and defend the democratic rights of all youth!
Curfews Attack Our Democratic Rights
A couple of months ago, the city government in the town of St. Francis, Wis., passed a new law that will require all youth caught outside after the city’s curfew to pay a fine.
The idea, according to the city council, is to make young people have to pay, literally, for being out after 11 p.m. The fine set by the city is $50, though if a youth is found to be truant, the $50 fine will go up to $67!
Students in St. Francis were baffled by this new law, and protested that they didn’t understand how anything this absurd could be justified.
This, and similar laws being passed in hundreds of cities and towns across the country, are making youth de facto prisoners within their own communities. The lives of young people are being structured so as to resemble “work release” and “exercise hours” from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.!
Citing fears of gangs and drug-related violence, city governments are cracking down hard on what young people can do, how they do it, and between what hours they’re allowed to do it. It’s as if we’re seen as some kind of wild animal, imported from some dark land, that has to be domesticated and put on a leash to keep us from biting law-abiding senior citizens and happy-go-lucky housewives!
Youth for Socialist Action condemns these curfews, and similar restrictions upon the rights of young people. We recognize that these attacks are meant to break us, and alienate us from the rest of society.
Taking place within the context of massive attacks by the powers-that-be upon many basic democratic rights of working people, and especially Blacks and Latinos, we call on our fellow youth to resist these measures and organize protest movements to stop them.
In several cities and towns, young people have defeated these curfews and other restrictions by answering them with mass protests and by mobilizing broad community opposition.
We pledge to help youth in any town confronted by these attacks in any way that we can. Together we can fight back and win!