Wandering Eye: Revisiting 'In Defense of Looting,' the effectiveness of charter schools, and more

Considering the amount of attention that's been given to the vandalism that occurred during Saturday's Freddie Gray protests, it seems worthwhile to reread a perspective on vandalism and looting that's a bit different from the usual disapproving tone. During the protests in Ferguson last August, Willie Osterweil wrote "In Defense of Looting" for The New Inquiry, which argues that "For most of America's history, one of the most righteous anti-white supremacist tactics available was looting." Even if you don't agree with his thesis, it's a fascinating read, and the discourse surrounding Ferguson that he cites eerily mirrors the discourse that's been surrounding the Baltimore protests so far: "When protesters proclaim that 'not all protesters were looters, in fact, most of the looters weren't part of the protest!' or words to that effect, they are trying to fight a horrifically racist history of black people depicted in American culture as robbers and thieves . . . However, in trying to correct this media image—in making a strong division between Good Protesters and Bad Rioters, or between ethical non-violence practitioners and supposedly violent looters—the narrative of the criminalization of black youth is reproduced. This time it delineates certain kinds of black youth—those who loot versus those who protest. The effect of this discourse is hardening a permanent category of criminality on black subjects who produce a supposed crime within the context of a protest. It reproduces racist and white supremacist ideologies (including the tactic of divide-and-conquer), deeming some unworthy of our solidarity and protection, marking them, subtly, as legitimate targets of police violence. These days, the police, whose public-facing racism is much more manicured, if no less virulent, argue that 'outside agitators' engage in rioting and looting. Meanwhile, police will consistently praise 'non-violent' demonstrators, and claim that they want to keep those demonstrators safe." Commissioner Anthony W. Batts has, indeed, been insisting that "a minority of out-of-town instigators caused the violence," even though "online court records Sunday showed that only three of those arrested during Saturday's protests were from outside Maryland," according to The Sun. (Anna Walsh)


Last week President Barack Obama apologized to victims of a drone strike that killed two western hostages held by al-Qaida in Pakistan. It was a remarkable event, among the first cracks in the facade this administration had erected around its targeted strike program. The New York Times' Scott Shane breaks down the history of the drone program and its problems in this piece. The takeaway: "Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess." The policy that you ought to know who you are killing is new to war. It used to be more a function of law enforcement, but because terrorism is so much more like crime on a grand scale than war on a small scale, it seems more than reasonable that western war fighters ought to know who they are shooting at. That is why this administration has heretofore insisted—falsely—that they do. "Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and lead author of a 2013 study of drones, said the president's statement 'highlights what we've sort of known: that most individuals killed are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names.'" This is more than a moral failure. It is a strategic failure too: "The proliferating mistakes have given drones a sinister reputation in Pakistan and Yemen and have provoked a powerful anti-American backlash in the Muslim world. Part of the collateral damage in the strikes has been Mr. Obama's dream of restoring the United States' reputation with Muslims around the globe." (Edward Ericson Jr.)


While charter schools' effectiveness in better educating poor and minority students in urban areas nationwide received high marks from Standford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes last month, a new study out of Duke University finds that "the charter schools in North Carolina are increasingly serving the interests of relatively able white students in racially imbalanced schools." Taken together, perhaps the two studies highlight the importance of understanding the politics and intent of implementing charter schools in different states. The idea with charter schools is not to divert public resources to cause segregation that spurs better schooling for the already advantaged, but to provide autonomy so those disadvantaged by underperforming public schools are better educated. Perhaps now someone can build on the two studies and compare how North Carolina's charter-school regime was put in place compared to the numerous states where Stanford found urban districts that posted remarkable gains in math and reading among poor, minority, and special-education students. (Van Smith)

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