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Fifty-Five Years Later: American Education Separate And Unequal by Rev. Al Sharpton NNPA Columnist Originally

Jul 23, 2009

In the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education on May 17th 1954, the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution of the United States must guarantee equal education for all American citizens. In this landmark case, schools were desegregated across the South and the breath and width of the United States. Fifty-five years later, however, we find American education is still sporadically separate and unquestionably unequal.

The number of government and private sector studies confirms that the achievement gap between African-Americans and Whites is astounding and almost identical to the gap in 1955. The struggle of this issue was addressed at our recent National Action Network convention, among educators, clergy, elected officials, civil rights leaders and activists, by Vice President Joseph Biden, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. We struggled with the fact that even with a well-educated African-American President and First Lady living in the White House seeking a similar education for their two beautiful daughters, only 55 percent of African-Americans earned a high school diploma nationally. Given the technological advancements in the world and the weak economy, to allow this gap to continue unchallenged is to render African-Americans dysfunctional and permanently captive to an underclass. We must challenge for equal funding for all public schools. We must challenge accountability of teachers and administrators. We must inspire more parental and community involvement in the education of our children. And we must give incentives for good productive teachers to go into troubled areas and confront this crisis on the ground. To ignore this problem is to plant the seeds of economic and social despair to African-Americans for generations to come. This is no more of a compelling issue in our community and a greater threat to our future than not completing the task started by the Brown vs. Board decision pushed for equal education for all. That is why on May 16th, thousands will join NAN at the White House Ellipse in Washington D.C. to commemorate the anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education and recommit to finishing the journey that the case started. It was a long journey from the Outhouse to the White House. Now we must democratize the school house. The Rev. Al Sharpton is founding president of the National Action Network and co-founder of the Education Equality Project

By Reverend Al Sharpton:

On Sunday March 8th, 2009, thousands gathered in Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 44th Anniversary of the March across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that resulted in the beatings of civil rights demonstrators by the Alabama state troopers, and the brutal beating of Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and John Lewis, Chairman of Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It was this incident that led Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Selma and lead the historic Selma-to-Montgomery March, protesting the voting rights denial of African-Americans, and it was this vicious act that was largely responsible for passing the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

This particular celebration struck me as more moving than the typical noteworthy anniversaries I have attended for many years because, across from where I sat in the pulpit was Eric Holder, the first African-American Attorney General to the United States, diagonally sitting across Peggy Wallace Kennedy, daughter of Governor George Wallace, the Governor in charge of the Alabama troopers involved in the beating, and the sole person who attempted to stop desegregation by standing in front of the University of Alabama entranceway to prevent two Black students from entering. As God would have it, one of the two Black students was a female named Vivian Malone Jones. Vivian Malone Jones’ sister in Mobile, Alabama, would grow up to marry Eric Holder.

For Eric Holder to be sitting there as the nation’s first Black Attorney General, to be the brother-in- law of the young Black girl who was blocked by a Governor yelling “Segregation now, segregation forever!”, and to have that Governor’s daughter seated in the pulpit, and later, march arm in arm with now Congressman John Lewis, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and myself across the Edmund Pettus Bridge 44-years later, shows the vindication of history and the victory that comes from struggles we engage ourselves in.

No one fights more on a daily basis than I do to continue to address the institutional inequities and systemic racism that still exists today, but sometimes we need to pause and remind ourselves that we fight not in vain, but because it is right. Nothing made that clearer to me than personally watching that scene on Sunday, March 8th. Sometimes, we take for granted things that happen in our lives that couldn’t have happened in the lives of our parents our grandparents. To do that is to lead towards cynicism and doubt because when one realizes the struggle reaps victories, it should energize one to continue those struggles and to continue those victories. I was only ten-years old when the original march in Selma took place on March 7, 1965. But because others like Hosea Williams and John Lewis were there 44-years-ago, I can march across that same bridge today and not worry about being attacked by troopers since the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in the country was an African-American from New York just like me, and the daughter of the Governor in charge of the troopers was holding our hand singing “We Shall Overcome.” I only hope that 44-years from now my children and their children can say of our generation and of me that we made the unbelievable become reality like John Lewis and Josea Williams and others have done for us. They learned that the struggle is hard but the victory is certain.

Yours in the Struggle, Rev. Al Sharpton


Ten years ago on February 4th, 1999, Amadou Diallo was shot by 4 New York police officers 41 times at the front door of his Bronx home. He was an unarmed 23-year-old man who came to New York from Guinea in search of the American dream of a better life and prosperity. Reverend Al Sharpton and National Action Network immediately mobilized protests against the travesty and while Amadou’s life was mercilessly taken, what occurred in his name was the most successful New York civil disobedience in National Action Network’s history.

Reverend Sharpton organized 1,200 protesters who marched to the front door of 1 Police Plaza – about 200 each day including a diverse cross-sector of political leaders, activists, clergy, and many others who were fed up with the hyper aggressive street crimes unit that was responsible for Amadou’s murder.

At the time Mayor Rudy Giuliani was polarizing and blind to the needs of communities of color. In a recent New York Daily News column veteran columnist Errol Louis wrote that: “After years of pointedly snubbing black community leaders – refusing in many cases to even meet with black elected officials – Giuliani found himself alone at the lectern, calling for calm in a city fed up with his tantrums and insults. Said Louis: The core of the problem was the hyper aggressive street crimes unit, which killed Diallo. The unit, headquartered in Brooklyn , began as an elite group of undercover officers trained to detect, intercept and disarm crooks carrying weapons – tough, dangerous work. The city was deadlocked, angry. And then the protests began.”

Among those that Reverend Sharpton organized to be arrested in civil disobedience of the crime were Rep. Charlie Rangel and ex-mayor David Dinkins. Over the next week Hundreds showed up including actress Susan Sarandon and even Errol Louis himself. Further accentuating the divide between the City and the cops that were there to protest and serve, Louis’s father, a retired NYPD inspector himself got arrested along with William Bracey, the department’s first black three-star chief .

According to Reverend Sharpton “It was probably the greatest multicultural act of civil disobedience in New York since the 1960s.” “We perfected a nonviolent movement in New York.” In fact we did more than that. New York showed that mayors and cops, like everyone else, must have a dose of decency, common sense and willingness to communicate. It’s the glue that holds our diverse city together in tough times, be it a terrorist attack or the taking of an unarmed, innocent young man.
So as the City reflects on the ten-year anniversary of Amadou’s death let us not forget that while Amadou Diallo rests in the soil of his native Guinea there have still been many incidents since his death and there is still much work to be done to bring justice to families that have lost loved ones at the hands of police.



Feb. 4
Four white police officers in plainclothes approach Amadou Diallo outside his apartment building in the South Bronx at about 12:45 a.m. and shoot him down in a barrage of 41 bullets. Diallo, a 22-year-old street peddler, was unarmed and had no criminal record.

Feb. 5
Newspaper headlines alert New Yorkers to the shooting. Minority leaders are outraged, but Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tells residents not to rush to judgment.

Feb. 6
At the request of outraged community leaders, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White agrees to track the Bronx District Attorney’s investigation into the shooting.

Feb. 7
Hundreds of people turn out for a rally outside Diallo’s modest two-story building in the Soundview section of the South Bronx, the first of a growing series of protests.

Feb. 12
Two thousand people attend a memorial service for Diallo, whose parents have flown to New York to claim their son’s body and bring it back to Guinea for a funeral.

Feb. 14
A motorcade accompanies Diallo’s coffin to Newark International Airport in New Jersey, where Continental Airlines flies him to Guinea.

Feb. 15
Thousands of Guineans greet the plane upon its arrival the following day. Activists in Washington D.C. rally in protest of the shooting.

Feb. 16
A Bronx grand jury begins to hear evidence in the case. No eyewitnesses to the shooting have been found and the officers thus far have not been questioned nor offered any information about the incident.

Feb. 17
Amadou Diallo is buried in his hometown in Guinea, and well-known attorney Johnnie Cochran, who hosts a program on Court TV, announces that he will represent Diallo’s parents, Saikou and Kadiatou Diallo, in a wrongful-death civil suit.

March 9
Led by Reverend Al Sharpton a class-action lawsuit is filed to shut down the aggressive Street Crime Unit, to which the four officers who shot Diallo belonged. They say the unit unfairly frisks thousands of young black and Latino men every year without cause.

March 15
Led by Reverend Al Sharpton the daily protests outside police headquarters in Manhattan begin to gather steam as former mayor David Dinkins is the first in what will become a long list of celebrities and public figures to be arrested in protest of the shooting.

March 16
A New York Times poll shows that Giuliani’s popularity has plummeted in the wake of the Diallo shooting, and that many residents are unhappy with his steadfast support for the police and acerbic denunciation of the growing street protests.

March 16
News emerges that Diallo had filed a false asylum request with the immigration authorities shortly before his death, claiming to be a refugee from Mauritania whose parents were killed by soldiers. His parents are actually middle-class and educated.

March 18
The Justice Department and the New York Attorney General both announce that they will launch investigations of the Street Crime Unit’s practices.

March 23
Civil rights leaders demand a White House summit on police brutality.

March 25
The grand jury wraps up its inquiry and votes on the indictments. Word leaks out quickly that the four officers have all been indicted for second-degree murder and reckless endangerment. At the daily sit-in, actress Susan Sarandon joins the 1,000 people arrested in protests in the past two weeks.

March 31
Hundreds protest at State Supreme Court in the Bronx, both for and against the officers, as the grand jury officially indicts the four with Diallo’s parents and siblings look on. The officers all plead not guilty to the charges. They are released on $100,00 bail but are suspended from their jobs.

Apr. 6
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani distributes courtesy cards to police officers to advise them on how to treat citizens and suspects with more respect.

Apr. 7
Charges are dropped against more than 1,200 arrested in civil disobedience protests of the Diallo shooting, including actress Susan Sarandon, former mayor David Dinkins, and the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

Apr. 8
The police arrest the serial rape suspect for whom the four Street Crime Unit officers were searching on the February night in the Bronx when they killed Diallo.

Apr. 15
Thousands march across Brooklyn Bridge to draw attention not just to Diallo’s death but to police brutality nation-wide.

Sept. 29
Bronx Supreme Court Justice Patricia Williams rejects defense motions to dismiss the case. Attorneys for Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy argued that intense media coverage and anti-cop rallies pressured grand jurors into indicting the four officers.

Dec. 16
Citing pretrial publicity, a New York appellate court orders a change of venue for the trial. The trial of the four officers is moved from the Bronx to the predominantly Albany, sparking protests from Diallo’s supporters and family. With the change of venue, Bronx Supreme Court Justice Patricia Williams is removed from the case.

Dec. 23
Albany Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi is appointed new trial judge.

Dec. 29
Justice Teresi sets new trial date for Jan. 31, 2000. Jury selection had been scheduled to begin Jan. 3.


Jan. 19
Justice Teresi refuses to reconsider a prior ruling that barred a secret “earwitness” statement from trial. In this statement, the witness claims she heard someone — presumably one of the officers — yell “He has a gun!” before the shooting. Defense attorneys believe the witnesses statement would have helped the officers’ defense, but Justice Williams did not believe the testimony was vital to the case. In addition, Justice Teresi rules that testimony about prior shooting involving the McMellon, Boss, Murphy, and Carroll will not be admissible.

Jan. 25
Justice Teresi rules that the New York law prohibiting television cameras in the courtroom is unconstitutional, thereby allowing Court TV to cover the Diallo shooting trial. The prosecution and defense say they will not appeal Teresi’s ruling.

Jan. 31
Jury selection begins.

Feb. 1
Jury selection is completed.

Feb. 23
Deliberations begin.

Feb. 25
All four officers are acquitted, sparking protests led by Rev. Al Sharpton, who calls for a U.S. Justice Dept. investigation.

March 1
Justice Dept. says it will look at the case for possible civil rights violations.

Apr. 18
Diallo’s parents file an $81 million lawsuit against the city of New York.


Jan. 31
The Justice Dept. announces it will not pursue federal civil rights charges against the acquitted officers, with acting Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. saying that they “could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers willfully deprived Mr. Diallo of his constitutional right to be free from the use of unreasonable force.”


April 11
Citing a shortage of officers in other areas of a shrinking police department, newly appointed Commissioner Ray Kelly announces that the controversial Street Crime Unit will be disbanded.

(Chronology courtesy of Court TV)