The Beat Within: This Is a Poem About What Causes Poems Like This to Be Written

Before I begin this poem ...
I'd like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence …
In honor of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon
On September 11th 2001 ...

I'd also like to ask you to offer up a moment of silence …

For all those who’ve been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared, tortured, raped or killed in retaliation for those strikes ... for the victims in Afghanistan, Iraq, in the U.S. and throughout the world ...

And if I could add just one more thing ...

A day of silence.

For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who died at the hands of U.S.-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation.

Six months of silence ...

For the million and a half Iraqi people … mostly children ... who died of malnourishment or starvation as a result of a twelve-year U.S. embargo against that country … before the war ever began … and now … the drums of war beat again ...

Before I begin this poem ...

Nine months of silence
For the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Where death rained down and peeled back every layer
Of concrete, steel, earth and skin
And the survivors
Well they went on as if they were alive ...

One year of silence …

For the millions dead in Vietnam ... a people ... not a war ... for those who know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel — their relatives’ bones buried in it — their babies born of it ...

Two months of silence ...

For the decade of dead in Colombia ... whose names … like the corpses they once represented … have piled up and slipped off our tongues ...

Before I begin this poem ...

Seven days of silence ... for El Salvador
A day of silence … for Nicaragua
Five days of silence … for the Guatemalans
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years …

1,955 miles of silence …
For every desperate body that burns in the desert sun
Drowned in swollen rivers at the pearly gates to the empire’s underbelly
A gaping wound sutured shut by razor and corrugated steel ...

Twenty-five years of silence …
For the millions of Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky
For those who were strung and swung from the height of sycamore trees
In the South
The North
The East
The West
There will no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains ...

100 years of silence …
For the hundreds of millions of indigenous people from this half of right now
Whose land and lives were stolen
In postcard-perfect plots like
Pine Ridge
Wounded Knee
Sand Creek
Fallen Timbers
Or the Trail of Tears
Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry
On the refrigerator of our consciousness ...

From the somewhere within the pillars of power …
You open your mouth to invoke a moment of silence …
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut

A moment of silence …
And the poets are laid to rest
The drums disintegrated to dust ...

Before I begin this poem.

You want a moment of silence …
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
While the rest of us hope to hell that it won't be
Not like it always has been
Because you see
This isn't a 9/11 poem
This is a 9/10 poem!
A 9/9 poem!
A 9/8 poem!
A 9/7 poem!
This is a 1619 poem!
A 1492 poem!
This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written
But if it is a 9/11 poem
It's a September 11, 1973 poem for the people of Chile
It's a September 12, 1977 poem for the Steven Biko of South Africa
It's a September 13, 1971 poem for the brothers at Attica prison in New York
It's a September 14, 1992 poem for the people of Somalia
This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground
Amidst the ashes of amnesia
This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told
The 110 stories that history uprooted from its textbooks
The 100 stories that CNN, ABC, The New York Times and Newsweek ignored
This is a poem to interrupt their programs
This is not a peace poem
Not some poem of forgiveness
This is a justice poem
A poem for never forgetting
This is a poem to remind us
That all that glitters
Might just be
Broken glass
And still you want a moment of silence for the dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empties;
The unmarked graves
Lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children.

Before I begin this poem …

We could be silent forever ...
Or just long enough to hunger for the dust to bury us
And would you still ask us for more of our silence ...

Well if you want a moment of silence ...
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines
The televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights
Delete the emails and instant messages
Derail the trains and ground the planes

If you want a moment of silence …
Put a brick through the window of Taco Bell
And pay the workers for wages lost …

Tear down the Liquor stores
The Townhouses
The Penthouses
The Jail houses
And the White Houses

If you want a moment of silence ...
Then take it now!
Before this poem begins
Here’s your silence
Take it!
Take it all!
But don't cut in line
Let your silence begin
At the beginning of crime …

Jesse Jackson, 52, is currently in the San Francisco County Jail for a probation violation. He has spent the better part of the last 35 years in and out of the criminal justice system.

The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, was founded by David Inocencio in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at

Juvenile Court Judges Latest to Express Concern over Armed Security in Schools

Photo from Fort Wainwright Public Affairs

Youth advocates have worked to reduce police involvement in school discipline

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is voicing concern over the push to put armed police or guards into American schools following the Newtown school massacre of 20 first-graders and six staff last December.

On Tuesday, the Reno, Nev.-based group posted an excerpt of a letter sent to Vice President Biden, who has been leading a month-long effort to gather ideas for more effective gun restrictions and improved school safety. The White House is reportedly poised to reveal some recommendations Wednesday at a midday press conference.

In its letter to Biden, the NCJFCJ expressed strong misgivings about the prospect of communities putting armed guards in schools – which could become even more likely if federal dollars are offered to help schools make that choice.

Published reports indicated Biden’s task force was considering such a plan, which has also been pushed by Sen. Barbara Boxer, a liberal Democrat from California. In addition, the National Rifle Association has been vocal in its backing of armed security in the nation’s schools.

Echoing concerns by civil-rights and juvenile-justice advocates, the NCJFCJ warns in its letter than an expansive police presence in schools can lead to unintended and negative consequences. The judges’ group argues that the posting of police officers to ensure safety has in the past led to misguided crackdowns on kids.

The letter notes that many counties across the country saw an upsurge in arrests of minors for modest indiscretions after districts began deploying police on campuses during the 1990s. The increased police presence on campuses has not improved school safety, the judges’ organization argues, while asserting that graduation rates in some of these schools have fallen. Some students’ futures have been jeopardized, the judges say, by early introduction into the criminal-justice system.

“The influx of police in schools has been one of the main contributors to the growing number of children funneled into this pipeline,” the letter to Biden says. “Research shows that aggressive security measures produce alienation and mistrust among students which, in turn, can disrupt the learning environment. Such restrictive environments may actually lead to violence, thus jeopardizing, instead of promoting, school safety.

The NCJFCJ’s letter was signed by its president, Judge Michael Nash, who is the Los Angeles County Juvenile Court’s presiding judge.

The letter refers to the 75-year-old NCJFCJ as one is a nation’s oldest and largest judicial membership organizations. Members study and recommend methods for improving juvenile-justice practices and advise more than 30,000 juvenile-justice professionals.

Nash, along with other juvenile court judges, has been an enthusiastic participant in a push  to reform school-discipline practices in Los Angeles and elsewhere, in part by reducing the use of police officers at schools.

He was interviewed by the Center for Public Integrity for a recent series of stories about the deployment of school police in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the area’s largest. Officers in the California district, data analysis showed, were ticketing thousands of mostly low-income Latino and black students annually for alleged conduct ranging from tardiness to school-yard fights.

In March, the NCJFCJ took an official position that discipline practices had grown too harsh in a some regions across the country, resulting in too much police involvement and too many students sent to court for relatively minor misbehavior.

In July, the NCJFCJ began a national project to reduce school expulsions and promote new ways to keep students engaged in school.

“Any proposal to place more armed personnel in school,” the letter says, “would be counterproductive to the success of this project.”

In conclusion, Nash’s letter invites Biden to contact the group. The judges, the letter says, are “committed to remain involved in ongoing conversations to craft solutions to enhance student safety while promoting student school involvement and success.”

Last Friday, the Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project and several other organizations involved in school-discipline reform released a report also expressing concerns about putting police in schools in response to the Newtown shootings. The Advancement Project has also begun a petition drive to oppose financing armed guards in schools.

After a number of its representatives met with aides to Biden and President Obama, the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition also issued a series of recommendations for a “comprehensive” approach aimed at keeping children safe from gun violence.

“Across the country, people are searching for answers,” the Washington, D.C.-based coalition says in its recommendations. “The NJJDPC views this as a critical moment to invest more broadly in the true safety of proven strategies, not in the false sense of security of arming teachers or increasing police presence in every school. It is our view that true safety will not result from having more guns in schools or other places where youth congregate.”

The coalition includes the Campaign for Youth Justice, the National Juvenile Defender Center and the Center for Children’s Law and Policy.

The Newtown children and teachers and other staff were gunned down by a disturbed local man who shot his way into the school with semi-automatic weapons belonging to his mother.

The National Rifle Association, in response to the shooting, has offered to train staff at schools in communities that decide to arm teachers or other employees who are designated to protect students in the event of an attack.

In the meantime, some communities are already taking action unilaterally.

The small Montpelier school district in rural northeast Ohio, for example, has decided to pay for training four employees – who are not teachers -- who have agreed to carry their own guns inside the district’s one building. About 1,000 students are enrolled in kindergarten through high school. Legislators in various states, including South Carolina and Oklahoma, are considering legislation to allow teachers or other staff to have guns inside schools.

And in Arizona, the Associated Press reported, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio – who has been investigated for allegedly violating the civil rights of Hispanics – plans to post armed volunteers on the perimeters of schools.

School Discipline Reform Groups Question Proposals for Armed Security

Initiatives emerging from shootings may conflict with efforts to reduce police involvement in school discipline

A student from San Pedro High School in the Los Angeles area is detained for truancy in 2010 by Los Angeles city officers. Photo by Brad Graverson/Torrance Daily Breeze.

As the White House considers proposals to allocate federal money for armed guards in schools, prominent school-discipline reform groups have issued a report denouncing the idea as a misguided reaction to the Newtown school shooting.

“Placing more police in schools has significant and harmful unintended consequences for young people that must be considered before agreeing to any proposal that would increase the presence of law enforcement in schools,”says an issue brief released Friday by the Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools and other organizations.

The Advancement Project, founded in 1999, has offices in Washington D.C. and California, and has worked with school districts and states to adopt alternatives to school suspensions and expulsions. Dignity in Schools is also devoted to working with school districts, advocating fewer school suspensions and less involvement of law enforcement in school discipline.

The groups called on the White House and Congress, before they act, to consider how the school-discipline climate changed after more police were introduced to schools in response to the Columbine school shootings nearly 15 years ago in Colorado.

“We have seen what happens when [schools] ramp up police presence and other security measures in response to a shooting or other violent act. In Colorado, it resulted in more students getting arrested for minor misbehaviors, more students being pushed out of school, and a declining sense of safety in schools,” the brief says.

“These unintended consequences,” the report continues, “are persistent and pervasive – despite efforts by parents, students, and the school district, the high arrest rates and racial disparities that resulted from increased police presence and zero tolerance policies still exist.”

Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading a new White House effort on gun control and school safety, is reportedly interested in the idea of allocating federal money to schools that wish to have armed guard protection, according to a recent report by the Washington Post.

The idea is being championed by one of Congress’ most ardent liberals, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who told the Post that Biden is “very, very interested” in a plan she presented to finance the deployment of police officers at schools.

“I don’t see why anyone should object to it, left or right,” Boxer told the Post. “It’s an area where I think I can find common ground with my colleagues on all sides.”

Biden has met with a number of different groups this week in his role as leader of the post-Newtown effort —among them the National Rifle Association.

The NRA, under scrutiny for its intense efforts to preserve gun-ownership liberties, has suggested that schools consider training and arming teachers or other appointed staff inside schools. The NRA has offered to pay for and provide training.

"If we truly cherish our kids more than our money or our celebrities, we must give them the greatest level of protection possible and the security that is only available with a properly trained — armed — good guy," NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said at a press conference explaining the group’s recommendations.

LaPierre also urged Congress to appropriate “whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school.”

But in its Friday brief, the Advancement Project, whose ideas have gained traction recently in Washington, reacted with dismay to both the NRA and Boxer’s recommendations.

Following the Newtown killings, Boxer also proposed placing National Guard in schools.

“We object to using the limited resources of the federal government to expand the presence of police in schools,” the Advancement Project brief says. “More specifically, we oppose the legislation offered late last Congress by Senator Barbara Boxer to facilitate the installation of National Guard troops in U.S. schools. We cannot support any such actions that have not been shown to make schools safer and instead can lead to terrifying, fatal mistakes.”

The Advancement Project report cites specific examples of students ticketed or arrested for minor infractions in various cities with a beefed-up school police presence, including Denver, Colo., New York City and Los Angeles, as reported by the Center for Public Integrity in a series of recent stories recently.

In Denver, where parent-led reforms are now aiming to reverse harsh discipline practices, schools saw a 71 percent jump in referrals of students to police or courts between 2000 and 2004. Most referrals, the brief notes, were for minor infractions such as using obscenities, disruptive appearance and destruction of non-school property.

“Serious conduct, like carrying a dangerous weapon to school, accounted for only 7% of the referrals,” the report says.

The Obama Administration has noticed these patterns, the report also says, and has taken action to encourage or require schools to adopt alternatives to suspensions and involvement of law enforcement in discipline matters.

On Dec. 12, Advancement Project co-director Judith Browne Dianis testified at the first congressional hearing on the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. That’s a term coined by groups arguing that the involvement of police in what should be school disciplinary matters is putting some students, especially  low-income minorities, on a path to more serious trouble.

This was first reported by the Center for Public Integrity.

Photo by  Brad Graverson/Torrance Daily Breeze.

President to Use Bully Pulpit to Address Bullying

President Obama and First Lady Michelle will convene an anti-bullying conference at The White House, tomorrow, Thursday, March 10.

The White House says the Conference on Bullying Prevention will include top officials from the Department of Education and Health and Human Services as well as students, parents, teachers and others who are trying to address the issue from across the nation.

The conference will also include breakout sessions on proven policies that prevent bullying.

The White House has been eager to engage a wider and younger audience on the issue, reaching out to people through social media. The president announced the conference on his Facebook page and has encouraged people to participate in the conference via live chats.

One of the chats will feature Facebook Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan.

So-called cyber-bullying is seen as a growing problem, one that was recently mentioned in a story by

Obama Budget Calls for Cuts in Juvenile Justice Programs and Revamps Funding Formulas for States

Juvenile Justice Programs across the nation could face $50 million in cuts outlined in the White House budget proposal.   The Obama budget calls for “tough choices,” including a revamp of the way states must qualify for funding, based on how well they meet federal standards.

Title II formula grants would come out of a $120 million fund called the Juvenile Justice System Incentive Grants.  States would have to compete for rewards, based on how well they use evidence-based strategies, diversion programs and whether they reduce disproportionate minority contact (DMC). Youth Today digs into this new concept and how it might work.

The President’s budget is a mix of cuts paired with some increases that could affect communities in different ways, according to On the plus side, the Justice Department may get a 2% increase over all, including more money for the FBI, and $600 million for communities to hire first responder police officers. On the down side, the DEA faces cuts, and the Office of Justice Programs could take a large hit, hurting state and local crime prevention.

Republican proposals from the House Appropriations Committee are even more severe, according to Youth Today. That plan would cut all funding to programs like YouthBuild, teen pregnancy prevention, Teach for America, and state grants for incarcerated youth.  AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service would be gutted.  Juvenile justice grants and Law Enforcement Assistance Grants (including Byrne) would face sharp reductions.