Anti-racist resources and specific requests regarding June 18 sign

Kendal Vaughan <>Aug 3, 2020, 4:13 PM (3 days ago)

Dear Superintendent Brand:

I am the woman who objected to a yard sign steeped in racism—the one planted in the yard of the PTO President for the West Intermediate School, where WPS administrators directed parents and students to go to retrieve end-of-year items.

I am the woman who was ignored by yourself and the principal on multiple occasions.

And, as you know, I am the woman who was arrested for protesting this sign.

I would like to follow up again with you about the sign-related incident on June 18, 2020 and to inquire about which organizations or individuals I should contact instead if this is not within your purview.

I may not have been specific enough in my previous correspondences, and I apologize; what I am asking of you and WPS leadership, specifically, is the following:

–        to review the resources and materials provided herein;

–        to examine the body of information available on systemic and institutionalized racism; and

–        to condemn the racist sentiment in the sign and the venue in which it was displayed.

To summarize the context of my letter and the incident at hand, on June 18, 2020:o   West Intermediate tells families of 5th graders to go to PTO President’s front steps to pick up West Intermediate yearbooks and West Intermediate School shirts;o   I go to designated address, directly past their posted sign reading “This family supports our police and first responders”   I emailed Principal Shaw about the racism in the sign; o   I received no reply by the time it started to get dark;o   I returned to the street in front of the address provided by the school, played a YouTube Black Lives Matter playlist from a bluetooth speaker;   Without approaching or addressing me, the President of the PTO and her husband simply called the police;   The police arrived, asked that I turn down the music, and I immediately complied;   I spoke with officers for probably 40 or so minutes; when one officer told me I would be arrested for disturbing the peace [long after having attenuated the volume of my music], and I asked how I was violating that law or ordinance, one officer said “it’s really vague” and the other said “you’re under arrest.” 

As it pertains to the thinly veiled racist sentiment underlying that sign, I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to explain again why this is racist:

 “This family supports police…”—particularly in the aftermath of George Floyd’s, and Ahmed Arbery’s, and Breonna Taylor’s murders–inextricably conveys “This family supports the institution that killed these Black people [and hundreds more–with impunity].” 

If this PTO President had a sign that read “This family supports Nazis and systemic racism,” no one would be arguing that she had a right to her personal signage in her role designated by the school for yearbooks, etc.;

(…and, in deference to the first responders within this analogy, it wouldn’t be any better if that sign read “This family supports Nazis and cute, cuddly bunnies.”)

If that PTO President had a sign that read “All lives matter,” you’d face a deluge of articles and papers from experts explaining appropriation, marginalization, and the inherent racism therein. 

If that PTO President had a sign that read “Blue lives matter,” you’d face something similar, perhaps with the added scrutiny of the statistics that reveal roughly 50 police are killed annually, while they kill about 1,000 people per year (killing Blacks at a 2.5-3x higher rate than whites).

If that PTO President had a sign that simply paraphrases “Blue lives matter,” though……….. why would you give your stamp of approval–or even tacit approval?

Why “all lives matter” is a hurtful thing to sayCBS NewsJuly 7, 202005:14
Why saying ‘All Lives Matter’ is so problematicCNNJuly 9, 202001:45
Thin Blue Line Flags Stir Controversy In Mass. Coastal CommunityTovia SmithNPRJuly 31, 2020 03:00 audio available“Because the flag has also been associated with white supremacist groups, some say it symbolizes a blatantly racist agenda. And since it has also been adopted by the “Blue Lives Matter” movement, which launched in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, many believe it connotes opposition to the goals of ending police brutality and systemic racism.”
The daughter of an Alabama sheriff condemned ‘Blue Lives Matter’ in a viral TikTok videoInsiderJuly 30, 2020“If you feel like there’s nothing wrong with saying “Blue Lives Matter,” you’re privileged. It’s inconsiderate, it’s insensitive, it’s distasteful, and it’s racist.”

What if that PTO President had posted a sign that more plainly read “This family supports A SYSTEMICALLY RACIST INSTITUTION”?

…Would it be okay to remain silent then?

…Would it be okay to give tacit approval then?

How much data, how many peer-reviewed articles, how many acclaimed writers’ publications would I need to cite for you to see that, because policing has such historically racist roots; continually introduces and enforces racist policies and practices; and perhaps most importantly, consistently delivers outcomes that demonstrably and predictably target, disenfranchise, brutalize, imprison, criminalize, and murder Black people, it is an inherently racist institution???

Economics Research on Racial Disparities in PolicingEconofact, published by Tufts UniversityJune 16, 2020
The Intersection of Policing and RaceCenter for American ProgressSeptember 1, 2016“More specifically, African Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet comprise 40 percent of those incarcerated. Statistically, 1 in 3 African American males born in 2001 will go to prison at some point during their lifetime… African Americans are also 2.5 times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. In their interactions with law enforcement officers, young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot by a law enforcement officer than their white counterparts” 
Findings of Stanford University’s Open Policing ProjectStanford University(2015-current data sets)“When we apply the threshold test to our traffic stop data, we find that police require less suspicion to search black and Hispanice drivers than white drivers. The double standard is evidence of discrimination.” 
Risk of Police-Involved Death by Race/Ethnicity and Place, United States, 2012–2018American Journal of Public HealthSeptember 2018Frank Edwards PhD, Michael H. Esposito MA, and Hedwig Lee PhD “Police kill, on average, 2.8 men per day. Police were responsible for about 8% of all homicides with adult male victims between 2012 and 2018. Black men’s mortality risk is between 1.9 and 2.4 deaths per 100 000 per year… and White risk is between 0.6 and 0.7”
The Relationship Between Structural Racism and Black-White Disparities in Fatal Police Shootings at the State LevelJournal of the National Medical AssociationApril 2018 “Nationally, during the period 2013-2015, Blacks were shot by police at a rate 3.1 times higher than Whites, and unarmed Blacks were shot at a rate 4.5 times higher”
Race and Worrying About Police Brutality: The Hidden Injuries of Minority Status in AmericaVictims & Offenders Journal26 May 2020Amanda Graham ,Murat HanerMelissa M. SloanFrancis T. CullenTeresa C. Kulig  &Cheryl Lero  Jonson “the source of worry for Black communities may lie in the historical brutality and poor relations between themselves and the police, as suggested by Hagan et al. (2005)…. Rather than forming a gradient by falling midway between Blacks and Whites, Hispanics’ worry about police brutality more closely reflects those of Blacks at more than four times that of Whites, suggesting a racial/ethnic divide. These findings thus assert that worrying about police brutality is an emotional injury that minorities disproportionately experience” 
The Dehumanization of Black Males by Police: Teaching Social Justice—Black Life Really Does Matter! [pdf]Journal of Teaching in Social WorkMarch 2019
A. Christson Adedoyin
Sharon E. MooreMichael A. RobinsonDewey M. ClaytonDaniel A. Boamah & Dana K. Harmon]
“In the 50 years after the passage of major civil rights legislation in the country, Blacks are still stereotyped, stigmatized, dehumanized and blamed for many of the social ills that this nation confronts… Being a young Black male is to be associated with criminality, deviousness, and violence and to be considered innately inferior, violent, and animalistic… Given the rise in excessive force on Black men by police officers…perhaps now is the time to fully address this problem.” 
Policing in black & whiteAmerican Psychological AssociationDecember 2016Kirsten Weir“Stanford University social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt, PhD, and colleagues analyzed data from the police department in Oakland, California, and found that while black residents make up 28 percent of the Oakland population, they accounted for 60 percent of police stops. What’s more, black men were four times more likely than white men to be searched during a traffic stop, even though officers were no more likely to recover contraband when searching black suspects (Stanford SPARQ, 2016).And in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, where cafeteria worker Philando Castile was fatally shot by a nonblack officer in July after being pulled over for a broken taillight, statistics released by the local St. Anthony Police Department showed that about 7 percent of residents in the area are black, but they account for 47 percent of arrests.” 

 I understand that Wilmington prides itself as supporting an educated constituency, divorced from ignorant, backward views.

 It might be reasonable, then, to compare ourselves to our neighbors–whose “progressive” town still uses a Native American as its mascot whilst still calling them “Indians–who have a more comprehensive anti-racism curriculum proposal (generated by high school students) prepared than does our town’s cast of grown-ups charged with providing our youth with an anti-racist education. Link provided.

Billerica Memorial High School students comes together in the hopes of bringing diversity to the K-12 curriculumJoy HosfordWicked LocalJune 26, 2020 “The handful of students came together in May after Nakirayi a 15-year old rising sophomore, created a petition which asked Billerica Public School administrators to incorporate more lessons at all grade levels on systemic racism…. after working through the idea in a group-chat, the seven [students] … Nakirayi said while race is addressed at the high school level — currently, there is a course for juniors — she said the reach of the topic should be wider, integrated into all areas of learning.”

And on the topic of local news, NPR writer Tovia Smith wrote of the current situation in Hingham [cited above]: “Because the [thin blue line] flag has also been associated with white supremacist groups, some say it symbolizes a blatantly racist agenda. And since it has also been adopted by the “Blue Lives Matter” movement, which launched in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, many believe it connotes opposition to the goals of ending police brutality and systemic racism.”

I would like to cite this situation, in particular, because it involves a conflict with police and first responders, in that the local police demanded the removal of the thin blue line flag from a town fire truck, and it was the firefighters who stood in defiance even of the police to defend the ongoing use (across the state, in fact) of the thin blue line flag with its known connections to white supremacy. I mean no affront to first responders—in fact I, too, tend to hold them in a separate regard than police in many situations—however, to suggest that rewording “blue lives matter” to “this family supports our police and first responders” softens the anti-Black sentiment implied therein would be irresponsible.

As a taxpayer in our town with two students in its public school system, I have a reasonable expectation that my children receive an anti-racist education.

I should also have a reasonable expectation that pointing out racism within a school-designated arena should not be met with silence from the school, a ‘Karen’-phone call to the police, or a dubious arrest at the hands of those whose racism and power dynamic were the problematic subjects of that person’s sign in the first place.

Finally, I wanted to provide additional resources that you, the school committee, and your teachers and administrators may find helpful going forward:

SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE158 Resources to Understand Systemic Racism in America“The form of anti-black violence with the most striking parallels to contemporary conversations is police brutality. As Katie Nodjimbadem reported in 2017, a regional crime survey of late 1920s Chicago and Cook County, Illinois, found that while African Americans constituted just 5 percent of the area’s population, they made up 30 percent of the victims of police killings….   Today, this legacy is exemplified by broken windows policing, a controversial approach that encourages racial profiling and targets African American and Latino communities. “What we see is a continuation of an unequal relationship that has been exacerbated, made worse if you will, by the militarization and the increase in fire power of police forces around the country,” William Pretzer, senior curator at NMAAHC, told Smithsonian in 2017. 

In closing, I would like to reiterate what I am asking of you and WPS leadership:

–        to review the resources and materials provided herein;

–        to examine the body of information available on systemic and institutionalized racism; and

–        to condemn the racist sentiment in the sign and the venue in which it was displayed.

I look forward to following up again soon.

Kendal Vaughan