States want to prevent schools from telling the truth about racism in America. Here’s what educators can do about it.

States want to prevent schools from telling the truth about racism in America. Here’s what educators can do about it.

States want to prevent schools from telling the truth about racism in America. Here’s what educators can do about it.

Rann Miller, Chalkbeat

It’s not enough to quote Martin Luther King Jr. and point to stories of Black success.

At least half a dozen states have introduced legislation to prevent the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools. Educators in states where such bills become law would be blocked from teaching about the racist roots of Western society, generally, and the United States, specifically, and how racism continues to plague us. Some states are trying to ban the use of the 1619 Project, as well.

Courtesy photo
Rann Miller

To understand why Critical Race Theory, or CRT, and the 1619 Project — a New York Times magazine series about how slavery has shaped the U.S. — draw the ire of many Republican legislators, we can look to the late Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire for guidance:

Conditioned by the experience of oppressing others, any situation other than their former seems to them like oppression. Formerly, they could eat, dress, wear shoes, be educated, travel, and hear Beethoven; while millions did [none of those things]. Any restriction on this way of life, in the name of rights of the community, appears to the former oppressors as a profound violation of their individual rights. 

But it is not oppression.

It is entirely plausible that the lawmakers passing these bills feel that any restriction to or challenge of teaching and learning from a Eurocentric lens is a profound violation of their rights and those of their constituents, specifically because they’re white. That would explain why so many white people levy the claim of reverse racism on CRT or the 1619 Project. 

There’s anxiety regarding America’s changing demographics and perceived direction, but the reality is that, even in this increasingly diverse nation, power and authority remain largely in the hands of white people. Roughly 80% of all teachers and administrators in U.S. public schools are white. These are the individuals who set the tone for what is taught and how it is taught. 

By contrast, white students make up only 46% of American public school students. 

In New Jersey, where I live, where I’ve taught, and where I currently direct after-school programming, lawmakers have chosen to embrace the teaching of Black history with the passage of its Amistad Law, which mandates that all public schools teach Black history. The commission notwithstanding, white teachers comprise the the vast majority of those making curriculum decisions about Black History.

In the district where I currently work, of the six curriculum supervisors of curriculum, only one is Black, while 24% of our district students are Black.

There is a common and specific rationale among those who argue against teaching the truth of American history. It goes something like this:

While enslavement and segregation did happen. It happened long ago and was not instituted by anyone alive today. Black people, like Barack Obama and Kamala Harris, have succeeded in spite of racism. Therefore we can move on. … Besides, I don’t see color; as Dr. Martin Luther King said, I judge people based on the content of their character alone. 

I’ve heard these arguments numerous times from colleagues and superiors alike who didn’t understand the need for things like culturally relevant pedagogy and culturally responsive texts, more Black and Latinx teachers, and a Black Student Union. I’ve heard it in personal conversations with white people. I’ve heard it from some Black people, too.

But as a teacher and student of history, I am well aware of the truth of our society’s white supremacist roots, its racist systems, and its white spaces. It is responsible, for example, for white teachers suspending Black children at disproportionately high rates. 

I understand the trepidation white teachers may have teaching enslavement and segregation; some of my colleagues have shared that with me. Some have told me that they don’t want to offend. Others have said that there’s information they just don’t know. 

I also understand that white teachers may be unaware of the systemic racism within the Constitution or the nation’s history oppressing Black and brown people outside of its borders, such as in Haiti and its role in overthrowing governments in Black and brown lands like Hawaii. I never learned those truths in school. Why would teachers and parents and politicians be comfortable with history lessons they were never taught and ones that debunk much of what they always believed to be true?

So what is the solution? Thankfully, there are some things that district leaders can do. 

First, they must really invest in their professional development programs — ones that teach about historical truths surrounding white supremacy and racism and ones that teach educators how to apply this knowledge to their content area and the grade levels they teach. 

Second, district leaders must identify teachers willing to teach — or willing to learn how to teach — these necessary truths to students in all content areas. It certainly doesn’t hurt to hire more Black teachers. Not that white teachers can’t do it, but speaking as a former Black social studies teacher, I wanted to teach about racism, enslavement, and the Africans who arrived in the Americas before African enslavement, and I wasn’t scared to do it.

In addition to hiring more Black teachers, hire Black curriculum supervisors and directors — those with the power to select and distribute culturally relevant and responsive texts, teaching strategies, and assessments. 

State policymakers can attempt to outlaw what students learn. But they cannot outlaw what teachers learn, and they cannot prevent school districts from hiring more Black educators. This is a way to circumvent their legislative efforts. 

Certainly, some will disagree with these suggestions, just as my children disagree with eating their vegetables. However, it doesn’t stop me from putting the vegetables on their plate, nor should we fail to teach the truth of American history. 

Rann Miller is an educator from New Jersey. He is a former social studies teacher and a director of a local after-school and summer program. In addition, Miller is a professional development presenter and public speaker. His writings on race, education, politics, and history are featured in the Hechinger Report, Education Week, and the Grio. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Black community has new option for health care: The church

Black community has new option for health care: The church

In this May 9, 2021, photo, Rev. Joseph Jackson Jr. talks to his congregation at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee during a service. He is president of the board of directors for Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope, which along with Pastors United, Souls to the Polls and the local health clinic Health Connections, is working to get vaccination clinics into churches to help vaccinate the Black community. He’s also been urging his congregation during Sunday services to get vaccinated. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Every Sunday at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. Joseph Jackson Jr. praises the Lord before his congregation. But since last fall he’s been praising something else his Black community needs: the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We want to continue to encourage our people to get out, get your shots. I got both of mine,” Jackson said to applause at the church in Milwaukee on a recent Sunday.

Members of Black communities across the U.S. have disproportionately fallen sick or died from the virus, so some church leaders are using their influence and trusted reputations to fight back by preaching from the pulpit, phoning people to encourage vaccinations, and hosting testing clinics and vaccination events in church buildings.

Some want to extend their efforts beyond the fight against COVID-19 and give their flocks a place to seek health care for other ailments at a place they trust — the church.

In this May 9, 2021, photo, Rev. Joseph Jackson Jr. talks to his congregation at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee during a service. He is president of the board of directors for Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope, which along with Pastors United, Souls to the Polls and the local health clinic Health Connections is working to get vaccination clinics into churches to help vaccinate the Black community. He’s also been urging his congregation during Sunday services to get vaccinated. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)

“We can’t go back to normal because we died in our normal,” Debra Fraser-Howze, the founder of Choose Healthy Life, told The Associated Press. “We have health disparities that were so serious that one pandemic virtually wiped us out more than anybody else. We can’t allow for that to happen again.”

Choose Healthy Life, a national initiative involving Black clergy, United Way of New York City and others, has been awarded a $9.9 million U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant to expand vaccinations and and make permanent the “health navigators” who are already doing coronavirus testing and vaccinations in churches.

The navigators will eventually bring in experts for vaccinations, such as the flu, and to screen for ailments that are common in Black communities, including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, AIDS and asthma. The effort aims to reduce discomfort within Black communities about seeking health care, either due to concerns about racism or a historical distrust of science and government.

The initiative has so far been responsible for over 30,000 vaccinations in the first three months in 50 churches in New York; Newark, New Jersey; Detroit; Washington, D.C.; and Atlanta.

The federal funding will expand the group’s effort to 100 churches, including in rural areas, in 13 states and the District of Columbia, and will help establish an infrastructure for the health navigators to start screenings. Quest Diagnostics and its foundation has already provided funding and testing help.

Choose Healthy Life expects to be involved for at least five years, after which organizers hope control and funding will be handled locally, possibly by health departments or in alignment with federally supported health centers, Fraser-Howze said.

The initiative is also planning to host seminars in churches on common health issues. Some churches already have health clinics and they hope that encourages other churches to follow suit, said Fraser-Howze, who led the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS for 21 years.

FILE – In this file photo taken June 6, 2021, first lady Jill Biden, center left, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Choose Healthy Life public health navigator Linda Thompson and Choose Healthy Life Founder Debra Fraser-Howze, far right, speak to a person as they visit a vaccine clinic at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in the Harlem neighborhood of New York. The church is part of Choose Healthy Life, a national initiative involving Black clergy, United Way of New York City and others, that has just been awarded a $9.9 million U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant to expand vaccinations and provide screening and other health services in churches. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)

“The Black church is going to have to be that link between faith and science,” she said.

In Milwaukee, nearly 43% of all coronavirus-related deaths have been in the Black community, according to the Milwaukee Health Department. Census data indicates Blacks make up about 39% of the city’s population. An initiative involving Pastors United, Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope and Souls to the Polls has provided vaccinations in at least 80 churches there already.

Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the country, according to the studies by the Brookings Institution. Ericka Sinclair, CEO of Health Connections, Inc., which administers vaccinations, says that’s why putting vaccination centers in churches and other trusted locations is so important.

“Access to services is not the same for everyone. It’s just not. And it is just another reason why when we talk about health equity, we have … to do a course correction,” she said.

She’s also working to get more community health workers funded through insurance companies, including Medicaid.

The church vaccination effort involved Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope, which is faith organization working on social issues. Executive Director and Lead Organizer Lisa Jones says the effect of COVID-19 on the Black community has reinforced the need to address race-related disparities in health care. The group has hired another organizer to address disparities in hospital services in the inner city and housing, and lead contamination.

At a recent vaccination clinic in Milwaukee at St. Matthew, a Christian Methodist Episcopal church, Melanie Paige overcame her fears to get vaccinated. Paige, who has lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, said the church clinic helped motivate her, along with encouragement from her son.

“I was more comfortable because I belong to the church and I know I’ve been here all my life. So that made it easier.”

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Slave-built infrastructure still creates wealth in US, suggesting reparations should cover past harms and current value of slavery

Slave-built infrastructure still creates wealth in US, suggesting reparations should cover past harms and current value of slavery

The Port of Savannah used to export cotton picked by enslaved laborers and brought from Alabama to Georgia on slave-built railways. Cotton is still a top product processed through this port. Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Joshua F.J. Inwood, Penn State and Anna Livia Brand, University of California, Berkeley

American cities from Atlanta to New York City still use buildings, roads, ports and rail lines built by enslaved people.

The fact that centuries-old relics of slavery still support the economy of the United States suggests that reparations for slavery would need to go beyond government payments to the ancestors of enslaved people to account for profit-generating, slave-built infrastructure.

Debates about compensating Black Americans for slavery began soon after the Civil War, in the 1860s, with promises of “40 acres and a mule.” A national conversation about reparations has reignited in recent decades. The definition of reparations varies, but most advocates envision it as a two-part reckoning that acknowledges the role slavery played in building the country and directs resources to the communities impacted by slavery.

Through our geographic and urban planning scholarship, we document the contemporary infrastructure created by enslaved Black workers. Our study of what we call the “landscape of race” shows how the globally dominant economy of the United States traces directly back to slavery.

Looking again at railroads

While difficult to calculate, scholars estimate that much of the physical infrastructure built before 1860 in the American South was built with enslaved labor.

Railways were particularly critical infrastructure. According to “The American South,” an in-depth history of the region, railroads “offered solutions to the geographic barriers that segmented the South,” including swamps, mountains and rivers. For inland planters needing to get goods to port, trains were “the elemental precondition to better times.”

Our archival research on Montgomery, Alabama, shows that enslaved workers built and maintained the Montgomery Eufaula Railroad. This 81-mile-long railroad, begun in 1859, connected Montgomery to the Central Georgia Line, which served both Alabama’s fertile cotton-growing region – cotton picked by enslaved hands – and the textile mills of Georgia.

Sepia-toned lithograph of six Black men and women in sunhats and overalls in a cotton field
Picking cotton outside Savannah, Ga., in 1867. Library of Congress

The Eufala Railroad also gave Alabama commercial access to the Port of Savannah. Savannah was a key cotton and rice trading port, and slavery was integral to the growth of the city.

Today, Savannah’s deep-water port remains one of the busiest container ports in the U.S. Among its top exports: cotton.

The Eufala Railroad closed in the 1970s. But the company that funded its construction – Lehman Durr & Co., a prominent Southern cotton brokerage – existed well into the 20th century.

Examining court affidavits and city records located in the Montgomery city archive, we learned the Montgomery Eufaula Railroad Company received US$1.8 million in loans from Lehman Durr & Co. The main backers of Lehman Durr & Co. went on to found Lehman Brothers bank, one of Wall Street’s largest investment banks until it collapsed in 2008, in the U.S. financial crisis.

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Slave-built railroads also gave rise to Georgia’s largest city, Atlanta. In the 1830s, Atlanta was the terminus of a rail line that extended into the Midwest.

Some of these same rail lines still drive Georgia’s economy. According to a 2013 state report, railways that went through Georgia in 2012 carried over US$198 billion in agricultural products and raw materials needed for U.S. industry and manufacturing.

Black and white image of an old train depot
The 1872 Vicksburg & Brunswick Depot, a passenger and freight station in Eufala, served the Eufala and Georgia Central rail lines, among others. Library of Congress

Rethinking reparations

Savannah, Atlanta and Montgomery all show how, far from being an artifact of history, as some critics of reparations suggest, slavery has a tangible presence in the American economy.

And not just in the South. Wall Street, in New York City, is associated with the trading of stocks. But in the 18th century, enslaved people were bought and sold there. Even after New York closed its slave markets, local businesses sold and shipped cotton grown in the slaveholding South.

Black-and-white lithograph of a wide street lined with large buildings
Wall Street around 1850. New York Public Library

Geographic research like ours could inform thinking on monetary reparations by helping to calculate the ongoing financial value of slavery.

Like scholarship drawing the connection between slavery and modern mass incarceration, however, our work also suggests that direct payments to indviduals cannot truly account for the modern legacy of slavery. It points toward a broader concept of reparations that reflects how slavery is built into the American landscape, still generating wealth.

Such reparations might include government investments in aspects of American life where Black people face disparities.

Last year the city council in Asheville, North Carolina, voted for “reparations in the form of community investment.” Priorities could include efforts to increase access to affordable housing and boost minority business ownership. Asheville will also explore strategies to close the racial gap in health care.

It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to calculate the total contemporary economic impact of slavery. But we see recognizing that enslaved men, women and children built many of the cities, rail lines and ports that fuel the American economy as a necessary part of any such accounting.The Conversation

Joshua F.J. Inwood, Associate Professor of Geography Senior Research Associate in the Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State and Anna Livia Brand, Assistant Professor, University of California, Berkeley

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Honoring Our Heavenly And Earthly Fathers on Father’s Day

Honoring Our Heavenly And Earthly Fathers on Father’s Day

Every year during Father’s Day, a wave of complexity sweeps across the country. Father’s Day can be an great occasion for celebration, a reminder of loved ones lost, a day of sadness for those who did not grow up with their fathers, a day of angst for those who do not like their fathers, and a day of relaxation for the dads who treat it as a break. And every year in churches, we try to figure out how to approach and celebrate Father’s Day. Father’s Day is not celebrated in our society the way Mother’s Day is, and everyone knows it. We know how to celebrate mothers. We know what to get them; the flowers, clothes, crafts, candies, meals, and more are readily available with updates each year. But Father’s Day feels mysterious. We ask ourselves, did we already get this tie? These socks? This outdoor equipment? Why is it that we may struggle so much to honor fathers but find it easy to bless our mothers? The answers are unclear and varied. But if we start with figuring out how to honor God as our heavenly Father, it may help us get better at honoring our earthly fathers.

 

God is Our Father

The Bible refers to God as a father in multiple places in the Old and New Testament. Moses notes in Deuteronomy 1:31 that God cared for Israel in the wilderness like a father cares for their child. The Lord protects and provides for Israel as He leads them out of bondage. He says at the end of the same book that God is to be respected because He fathered Israel by creating, forming, and establishing them, and He mothered them by giving birth to them. Psalm 68:5 identifies God as the Father of the fatherless and defender of widows. God is the Father who cares for us when human fathers are not present. Isaiah 9:6 prophesies that God is the everlasting Father, and Malachi proclaims that all in his audience are children of the same Father God. But Jesus makes this relationship with God even clearer. Jesus calls God His Father, and He is identified as the Son of God in each of the Gospels. In Galatians 4:5-7, Paul explains that believers in Christ are children of God,  and John declares that truth in 1 John 5:1. So it is clear in scripture that God is a Father to all who will receive Him as one. But what does that mean for us?

 

How God Relates To Us As A Father

God is a Spirit and cannot be fully understood or explained using any analogy or even human language. God is greater than any roles we could use to try to explain Him:  father, mother, king, brother, friend, lover, lord, healer, provider, protector, or otherwise. But God chooses to reveal Godself in ways we can understand so we can have a genuine relationship with God. It is because of the descriptions of God relating as a Father in Scripture that we can relate to God a little better and also to human fathers a little better. God relates as a father in many ways but a few key ones we’ve already mentioned are as a source of identity, a protector, a provider, a caregiver, and a guide. God rebukes David and also encourages Him which other biblical fathers do. Hebrews 12 makes it clear that God corrects us because we are His children. Galatians 4 underscores that God blesses us because we are His children. God is present with us in good times and bad times, like any good father. God leads, encourages, provides, protects, corrects, counsels, comforts, and instructs us in the wilderness and the places of plenty as a good Father. Most of all, God loves us as our heavenly Father. God has shown Himself to be a good Father, but how can we be good children to God our Father?

 

How We Honor God Our Father

Jesus gives us the perfect example of what it means to be a good child of God, demonstrating how to honor God. Summed up, it is to love God. We love God through obedience. We love God through spending time with Him. We love God through caring about what He cares about. We love God through giving to other people, because He doesn’t need our money. We love God by doing the work and ministry He has called us to do. We love God by loving our neighbors well. We love God by doing justice. We love God by using our lives to bring Him glory, which is to live in a way that makes Him proud. Jesus explains at length in John 8:31-58 that Father God loves it when we believe in Jesus and do what He said. 1 John 5:1-5 is exceedingly clear that obeying God and loving others is how we can express our love to God. Now that we understand how to honor God as our Father, how do we honor our earthly fathers? 

How Can We Honor Our Human Fathers

Human fathers can never truly compare to our Father God. We shouldn’t even expect them to reach that standard. But they should follow God as the standard, and we should honor them as our fathers if we have good relationships with them. Earthly fathers can be honored in many of the same ways as our Heavenly Father. 

It all comes back to loving our dads. When we care about the things our fathers care about, it makes them happy. It may be sports, cooking, fishing, movies, work, decorating, or some other hobby. When we show care about what dads care about, it brings them honor. We give to dads because they do need our money and gifts, unlike God. Give them something they like, and ask for ideas if you need them. Spend time with your dad if you can. Many people wish they could. If you have an opportunity, then take advantage–it will definitely bring your dad happiness on Father’s Day. 

When young children do what their father says, it brings their father honor and happiness. As a father myself, I cannot tell you the joy I have when my children do what I told them to do without complaining, demonstrating a bad attitude, giving up, or getting distracted. When we are older, this obedience becomes conversational. If you want to honor your father on Father’s Day, ask him what He wants! Sometimes we spend so much time trying to figure out what our dads want instead of simply asking them and then following through. This simple form of relating can bring honor to a father like nothing else. 

But many dads will tell you the best honor their children can give them on Father’s Day or any other day is to live lives that make them proud. Just keep following God your Father. If you honor God with your life, you can rest assured you are making our Heavenly Father and every good dad proud.

NIH director: We asked God for help with COVID-19, and vaccines are the ‘answer to that prayer’

NIH director: We asked God for help with COVID-19, and vaccines are the ‘answer to that prayer’

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Earlier this month, the White House announced a “month of action” to help ensure 70% of U.S. adults are at least partially vaccinated by July 4. Officials have since outlined a flurry of faith-based partnerships, hoping to leverage the clout and know-how of faith groups to aid in immunizing the public against COVID-19.

To help explain the role of faith groups in the national vaccine push, Religion News Service spoke with Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian who also serves as director of the National Institutes of Health. Collins discussed the program, as well as his faith and how he views the intersection of religion and science. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why is the government is looking to religious groups for help in vaccination efforts?

It’s nice to be able to have this conversation. As a scientist and a person of faith, this is right in my sweet spot.

People of faith have issues (with vaccines), and every person has some different set they’re concerned about. When getting an answer from a guy like me, a scientist who works for the government, maybe they say, “Well, maybe he has a reason to want us to do this.” But if your pastor says, “I’ve looked at this information and I want what’s best for my congregation. I don’t want to see more people die from this terrible illness that’s taken almost 600,000 American lives. So I’ve educated myself, and I’d like you to know, from me, the benefits and risks. Can we talk about it?” — that gets people’s attention.

While vaccine hesitancy or anti-vaccine sentiment is not unique to any faith group, a recent poll found white evangelicals have a higher-than-average rate of vaccine refusals. But the same poll also found many of them said they could be persuaded by faith-based overtures. Have you seen evidence these overtures are moving the needle?

Yes, although it’s hard to collect really solid data to say how many people changed their minds because they heard from a faith leader. I could give you lots of anecdotes — although the plural of anecdotes is still not data.

I do think it is not a stretch to say, for all of us who’ve prayed for deliverance from COVID-19, the vaccines are an answer to that prayer. That is very much consistent with the way God often responds to our needs — by working through human capabilities that we’ve been given as a gift by the Creator. Why wouldn’t you want to take that gift and not just look at it, but open it up and then roll up your sleeve?

You noted federal government officials aren’t always the most effective messengers to some communities. But as an evangelical Christian, what about your faith compels you to want to embark on this vaccine push?

When you look at what we know about the time Jesus spent on this earth, it is interesting — read through the four Gospels — how many instances where he is involved in healing. If we are called to be followers, as I am, then shouldn’t we also find opportunities to provide healing as well?

If anybody asks you, “Has it been that bad?” Well, gosh, we’ve lost almost 4 million lives on the planet, and almost 600,000 right here in the United States of America. It’s not over, and if we don’t get the vaccinations up to a high enough level, we may see in the fall and the winter a resurgence — particularly in areas where vaccines were least adopted. Then here we are all over again with people in ICUs, people dying that didn’t have to. As believers, is that something we can look away from? I don’t think so.

Many religious communities of color have not only been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, but also suffer from access issues when it comes to vaccines. Have you seen dividends from efforts by the White House and others to partner with faith groups to help combat those access issues?

Absolutely. That has included some churches that have volunteered to be sites for immunization — right in their fellowship hall. That’s a great thing to do. In this national month of action, we have done additional outreach to those communities that haven’t felt necessarily like they had access, making it possible to get immunized in the barbershop or in the beauty salon, or providing child care for people who might otherwise have trouble figuring out “How am I going to get a shot when I have these two little kids with me that are going to need my attention every second?”

The federal government’s partnership with faith groups in this vaccine push seems unusually robust. What is it about faith communities that makes them particularly beneficial when it comes to vaccination?

As the director of the National Institutes of Health for the last 12 years, we have had partnerships with faith communities for things like hypertension screening, diabetes management and asthma management, but nothing quite like this.

It has been an inspiring occasion, I have to say, to have the opportunity to work side by side with leaders of the faith community to try to get this healing information in front of people. And I hope when we get through COVID-19, which we will, that we won’t lose that.

As a medical expert and a person of faith, what do you think gets left out of disputes between faith groups and the medical community during this pandemic?

One of my goals as a person of faith and a scientist is trying to get people to see the wonderful complementarity and the harmony of scientific and spiritual worldviews.

But I think a lot of people in faith communities haven’t found that to be the case, and maybe have even heard things from the pulpit like “You can’t really trust those scientists because they’re all atheists.” Well, here’s one who’s not, and I’m not alone: About 40% of working scientists are believers in a God who answers prayer. There’s a lot of us out there.

Maybe this is another occasion to try to get a broader understanding about how science and faith are wonderfully complementary. Science is great at answering questions that might start with “how?,” and faith is really good at answering questions that start with “why?” Don’t you, as a person on this planet for a brief glimpse of time, want to be able to ask and maybe get answers to both those types of questions?

Have you seen some of that distrust slip away?

I have, yeah. Going back more than 20 years ago, it did seem like there was a lot of tension for me as an evangelical. There were times where I wasn’t sure I was welcome in the church, and then I’d go to the lab, and I wasn’t sure I was feeling welcomed there either. I wrote a book about this called “The Language of God” back in 2005, trying to put forward arguments about how science and faith really are different ways of looking at God’s creation. It got a lot more attention than I expected.

I think out of that, and a number of other efforts … I do see there has been a shift here, more of a willingness to consider what the harmony is instead of what the battle is.

Are you optimistic the U.S., with the help of faith communities, can meet this July Fourth deadline to partially vaccinate 70% of the adult population?

I am optimistic, but it’s going to be a stretch. It’s going to take the full efforts of lots and lots of people — and especially faith communities — to get us there over what is just another three weeks.

The number of immunizations happening each day is just barely on that pathway, and it actually looks as if some of those immunization levels are dropping instead of going up. We need everybody to line up behind this goal, recognizing this isn’t about pleasing Joe Biden, because a lot of evangelicals are not that interested in pleasing Joe Biden. This is about saving lives.

 

US prisons hold more than 550,000 people with intellectual disabilities – they face exploitation, harsh treatment

US prisons hold more than 550,000 people with intellectual disabilities – they face exploitation, harsh treatment

The rate of intellectual disabilities is disproportionately high among incarcerated populations. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Jennifer Sarrett, Emory University

Prison life in the U.S. is tough. But when you have an intellectual, developmental or cognitive disability – as hundreds of thousands of Americans behind bars do – it can make you especially vulnerable.

In March, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the federal agency tasked with gathering data on crime and the criminal justice system, published a report that found roughly two in five – 38% – of the 24,848 incarcerated people they surveyed across 364 prisons reported a disability of some sort. Across the entire incarcerated population, that translates to some 760,000 people with disabilities living behind bars.

Around a quarter of those surveyed reported having a cognitive disability, such as difficulty remembering or making decisions. A similar proportion reported at some point being told they had attention deficit disorder, and 14% were told they had a learning disability.

As a scholar who has researched disability in prison and conducted in-depth interviews with several adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system, I’m all too aware of the problems that incarcerated people with disabilities face. Prisoners with these disabilities are at greater risk of serving longer, harder sentences and being exploited and abused by prison staff or other incarcerated people.

Stigma and crimes of survival

The rate of both physical and intellectual disability among the prison population is disproportionately high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26% of Americans report any kind of disability. Of those, 10.8% reported a cognitive disability.

This is less than half of the proportion of those in prisons. And rates appear to be on the rise – in 2011-2012, 32% of people incarcerated in prisons reported a disability, with 19% stating a cognitive disability.

High as they are, these rates are likely to be an underestimate. They are based on self-reports, and research has shown many people fail to report a disability – particularly an intellectual or cognitive disability – to avoid stigma or because they simply don’t know they have one.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has also found that people with cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities are more prevalent in jails – where people are sent immediately after arrest, to await trial or to serve a sentence of one year or less – than prisons. Jails tend to be associated with what have been called “crimes of survival,” such as shoplifting and loitering. These offenses are linked to unemployed people and people experiencing homelessness – communities in which rates of disabilities are higher.

As a result, a disproportionate amount of people with disabilities enter America’s criminal justice system. I see this in my research on intellectual and developmental disabilities – diagnoses like autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, ADD/ADHD, Down syndrome, and general cognitive impairment are common in our criminal justice system.

In jail, no one listens

Between 2018 and 2019, I interviewed 27 people with these disabilities about their interaction with the criminal justice system. Eighteen reported having been arrested and/or incarcerated.

Many spoke of the harm and difficulties they face throughout the criminal justice system, from courts to being behind bars.

One man I interviewed who had various learning and attention-related disabilities and was in special education as a child told me: “I was in jail one time [because] when I didn’t understand the questions the judge was asking me, and she sentence me to three months in [county jail] because I didn’t understand.” Officially, this was for disorderly conduct.

Confusion in prison and jail can lead to violence or danger. Needing time to process instructions, particularly in high-stress situations, can be interpreted as obstinacy by staff and officers in charge. One middle-aged man who experienced incarceration on a few occasions told me that if you can’t process instructions, sometimes you are physically forced to comply. He provided the example of seeing someone with mental health needs not going to the shower when requested: “In jail, they don’t have time for that. They’ll just throw you in the shower. They’re not supposed to, but I’ve seen that before.”

Further, being seen as obstinate can lead to disciplinary reports in prison or jail, which could result in added time to someone’s sentence or the removal of certain privileges. It could also result in solitary confinement – something known to exacerbate and create mental health concerns and which has been labeled as torture by the United Nations and human rights groups. One study from 2018 found that over 4,000 people with serious mental health concerns were being held in solitary confinement in the U.S. Again, this is likely to be an underestimate.

Incarcerated people with intellectual, developmental and cognitive disabilities risk being exploited by both officers and fellow inmates. One person I interviewed who had experienced incarceration said officers look for those who have a disability by noting who only watches TV and never reads, marking them for exploitation. He went on to say that “some of the corrections officers, they be doing things they ain’t got no business doing. So they’ll slide up onto the disability boy and use him, you know, because he’d making him feel like ‘This is my dog. This is my boy right here. Come and do this for me.’ And they’ll run and do it. So I think people with disabilities are used more by deceptive corrections guards than people that read.”

Rates of these disabilities are even higher among incarcerated women, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report. This might be related to the fact that women have much higher histories of abuse and trauma, or because they are more willing to report these disabilities.

One woman with cerebral palsy and unidentified intellectual disabilities I spoke with said that in most jails she’d report her disability, but no one would listen to her.

Hidden behind bars

The disproportionate rates of cognitive, intellectual and developmental disability in U.S. prisons and jails have rarely formed part of the conversation on reforming our police and prison system. When discussing mental health in prison, often the focus is on psychiatric disabilities, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There is good reason for this – people with these kinds of disabilities are also at high risk for incarceration.

But, I believe, it has meant that the needs of incarcerated people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been neglected. At present, there is little support for people with these disabilities in incarcerated settings. Prisons and jails could ensure staff are better trained to interact with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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We could also explore strategies to divert people with intellectual, learning and cognitive disabilities away from the criminal justice system. Cities are increasingly exploring alternatives to police for responding to mental health crises, like the CAHOOTS model in Oregon in which a medic and mental health expert are deployed as first responders. Additionally, there could be more attention to these disabilities in mental health courts, which combine court supervision with community-based services. They have been shown to be somewhat effective at reducing recidivism, but which seem to focus on people with schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression or PTSD.

But before that, awareness about the presence of disability in incarcerated settings needs to be higher. The plight of incarcerated prisoners with intellectual disabilities has long been an issue lost amid America’s sprawling prison network.The Conversation

Jennifer Sarrett, Lecturer, Center for Study of Human Health, Emory University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.