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What Do Kindergarteners Get Suspended for, Anyway?

When [New York] Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the city would no longer suspend students in kindergarten through second grade, he reinvigorated a debate about his “restorative” approach to school discipline.

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Zero Tolerance Laws Increase Suspension Rates for Black Students

The State Senate of Michigan is currently considering legislation that would scale back “zero tolerance” discipline policies in the state’s public schools.

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11-Year-Old Suspended for a Year for Possessing Leaf That Repeatedly Tested Negative for Pot

An 11-year-old Virginia boy was suspended for 364 days after being caught in possession of a leaf that, as it turned out, repeatedly tested negative for marijuana, the Roanoke Times‘ Dan Casey reports.

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How Do We Break the School-to-Prison Pipeline?

Nick Smith was shuttled from high school to high school in recent years, whenever a relative died or was shot.

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Limbaugh Affiliate Reports Millions In Lost Revenue

 Last night, Cumulus Media, a radio company that carries Rush Limbaugh's show on 38 of its stations, announced millions in losses directly attributable to Limbaugh's show.

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Can Clear Channel Survive the Flight of Advertisers and Rush's $400 Million Payday?

 There was something very telling, and even morose, about the commercial break Rush Limbaugh took deep into his third hour of broadcasting on Tuesday's show. Still at the center of an advertising firestorm that rages around his program as corporate America turns its back on the AM talker in the wake of his ugly, invasive, three-day smear campaign against Sandra Fluke, Limbaugh boasted he had thwarted the left-wing attack and they were the ones "shell shocked" at the turn of events.

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Ripper is a gangster!!!

I'm probably the last person on the Net to pick up on the horrific and sad Ripper meme. Ripper was the online moniker of 21-year-old Brandon Vedas, a tech support geek at the University of Phoenix in Arizona. On the evening of Jan. 12 Vedas logged onto an Internet Relay Chat channel called "#shroomery," turned on his Web cam, and proceeded to ingest a lethal dose of prescription drugs as the people in the chat room watched and talked to him.

Somebody saved the logs of Ripper's final chat session, during which the people on #shroomery debated whether to intervene when they realized Ripper was overdosing. You can view these logs yourself on the Brandon Carl Vedas Web site (

All of the articles I've read about Ripper's death have registered shocked disgust at the apathy of the people in the chat room with him. We hear how terrible it was that the denizens of #shroomery egged him on ("Eat more you pussy!" one person taunted Ripper after he'd taken a huge number of pills). But this behavior shouldn't be the point. It's not surprising; it's just part of the colloquial landscape of IRC.

Imagine, for a moment, what it was really like to be on that IRC channel when Ripper logged on. He's on his Web cam with a bag of pills that could be anything. They could be Pez or sugar capsules. He's trying hard to impress: "I got a grip of drugs," he announces. "Tune in. Watch." People start hassling him. They don't believe the drugs are genuine, or they think he's just playing when he tells them how many he's already taken. New people are jumping onto the channel all of the time, and they have no idea whether this Ripper guy is for real or not. That's why you get Grphish joking, "Ripper, if you puke? can i eat it? i'll get so high of [sic] that puke."

Meanwhile, Ripper is being tailed by a bot named Pnutbot, a program that pretends to be a person but is really just a chunk of code that tries to spit out semirelevant comments addressed to the #shroomery community. Pnutbot picks up phrases that other people are saying and then repeats them in a different context. Every time someone says, "Ripper," which begins to be quite frequent as the #shroomery folks get scared that he's ODing, Pnutbot shrieks, "Ripper is a gangster!!!"

In between frantic requests from Grphish that people try to find Ripper's real name and address or phone number, Pnutbot keeps surrealistically shouting "Ripper is a gangster!!!" over and over. Finally, Ripper begins to nod out. Grphish is trying to get somebody to call 911 or poison control. Eventually Ripper types his dying words: "~~~~~~~~~shoa I'm fukcin." Somebody named TheKat, who tells Grphish not to call 911, comments, "You will never know if he died unless he get [sic] back on here." The worst part is that as Ripper wolfed down his "grip" of drugs, he told the group how to find his real address in case anything bad happened.

So why didn't Ripper's online pals call 911 when they knew he was dying? Two reasons: they didn't believe it was really happening, and they didn't trust the authorities. I think the latter problem is the more tragic of the two. Given the terrifying crackdowns on people who take recreational drugs in the United States, it's not surprising the #shroomery community was too scared to call 911 when its friend seemed to be ODing. And because it was taking place on the Internet, visible only via stuttering Web cam images, people couldn't physically intervene.

Sure, they should have overcome their fear and called 911 anyway. Neither should Ripper have been acting like he wanted to win a Darwin Award. But Ripper's death isn't about stupidity or apathy or "peer pressure." Rather, it underscores one of the most dangerous side effects of the war on drugs: people who need help won't get it. The people on #shroomery really did want to save Ripper. They just couldn't imagine that anything good would come of calling the authorities.

Now their anguish and indecision are written out for everyone to see. Reading the logs, you can see clearly what happens when people live in so much terror of the authorities that they'd rather watch a friend die than call 911. Ripper wasn't just a victim of drugs. He was also a victim of the war on drugs.

Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who hopes that next time you'll call 911. Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper.

Liberty Begins at Home

People who wonder why a majority of African Americans do not support George W. Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq might want to talk to a black gentleman and fellow Chicagoan I know named Tony. They should also review some recent and important research on hiring discrimination in and around Chicago, to be discussed below.

Tony possesses "only" a High School degree but enjoys greater political and sociological wisdom than most of America's college-certified population, including many high academics. He recently posed an excellent question after relating a media commentator's remarks to the effect that the US was going to bring justice and democracy to Iraq. "How," Tony asked me, "you gonna export something you ain't even got at home?"

One does not devalue the moral bases of blacks' skepticism regarding Bush's foreign policy by noting that African-Americans are in a unique position to see with special clarity through the disingenuous and narcissistic pretensions of the White House's declared overseas intentions. Similarly, one can debate the extent to which America enjoys a functioning democracy and a serious national commitment to justice. There is no denying, however, the simple fact that equality remains an elusive goal for African-Americans more than three and a half decades after the historic victories of the Civil Rights Movement.

In a nation that has the highest poverty rate and the largest gaps between rich and poor in the industrialized world, blacks are considerably poorer than whites and other racial and ethnic groups. Economic inequality correlates closely with race.

Tony's and my beloved city of Chicago is no exception to the national pattern. According to a recent analysis of (2000) US census and state labor market data by the Chicago Urban League:

* The median income for white families ($62, 680) in Chicago at the turn of the millennium was nearly twice that of black families ($32,776).

* The unemployment rate for black Chicagoans (18.3 percent) was four times the unemployment rate for white Chicagoans (4.6 percent).

* The poverty rate for black Chicago residents was 29 percent, compared to just 8 percent for white Chicago residents.

* In the Chicago metropolitan area, blacks live on average in neighborhoods with incomes just 59 percent as high as incomes in neighborhoods inhabited by average whites.

* Especially telling, Chicago's black community makes up 37 percent of Chicago's population but accounts for 58 percent of Chicago's poor. It makes up 13 percent of the Chicago metropolitan area's population but contributes 38 percent of the metropolitan area's poor. It makes up 9 percent of the state's population but accounts for 25 of the state's poor people.

The main problem with majority white racial attitudes at the turn of the Millennium is a failure to distinguish between overt and covert racism. The first variety has a long and sordid history in the United States. It includes such actions, policies and practices as the burning of black homes and black churches, the public use of derogatory racial slurs and epithets, the open banning of blacks from numerous occupations, the open political disenfranchisement of blacks and the open segregation of public facilities by race.

The first variety of racism is largely defeated, outlawed and discredited in the US. Witness the rapid public humiliation and political demotion of Trent Lott, who lost his position as Senate Majority Leader after verbally embracing the openly segregationist 1948 Presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond.

The second variety involves the more impersonal operation of social and institutional forces and processes in ways that produce deep black disadvantage in the labor market and numerous other sectors of American life. It includes racially segregated real estate practices, racial discrimination in hiring and promotion, the systematic under-funding and under-equipping of schools predominantly attended by blacks relative to schools predominantly attended by whites, the disproportionate surveillance, arrest and incarceration of blacks and much more. Richly enabled by policymakers who commonly declare allegiance to anti-racist ideals, it has an equally ancient history that has outlived the explicit, open and public racism of the past and the passage of civil rights legislation.

It may actually be deepened by these civil rights victories insofar as those victories encourage the illusion of racism's disappearance and the strongly related notion that the only barriers left to African-American success and equality are internal to individual blacks and their community. As Steinhorn and Diggs-Brown note, "it is hard to blame people" for falsely believing that racial discrimination has been essentially abolished in America "when our public life is filled with repeated affirmations of the integration ideal and our ostensible progress towards achieving it." Episodes like the recent demotion of Trent Lott may actually offer a potentially dangerous new opportunity for the nation to pat itself on the back for advancing beyond the primitive state of level-one racism while digging the hole of the deeper racism yet deeper.

In seeking to expose that persistent deep racism, it is crucial to realize that it continues to operate against African-Americans who have overcome or avoided some of the society's broader racially disparate structural forces by attaining the skills and credentials required to access modern labor market opportunities. This is the great contribution of matched-pair employment testing. We need, however, to go yet deeper, behind the smoking gun of pure discrimination to see that spatial, skill, and criminal record "mismatches" are themselves deeply colored by and expressive of a covert racism that involves special white fear and loathing toward males within the African-American population.

Paul Street is Vice President for Research and Planning at the Chicago Urban League.