Woe Unto Us

Budget woes

The Republicans in the General Assembly responded to Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal with their own bill that they passed last month without a single Democratic vote.  Nevertheless, with just a few party dissenters, the GOP majority was able to pass the legislation by thirty votes and send it on to the Senate where the Republicans have the votes to pass the bill and override a Wolf veto.

This bill is heartless to the extreme, prompting Allegheny County Democrat Joe Markosek to say that the GOP budget “cuts to the bone that which many of us agree was already bare.”  The Republicans were savvy enough to finally realize that cutting Wolf’s increases to education would be unpopular.  So this time, they want to take the axe to human services instead.

If the GOP has its way, Wolf’s proposal for child care assistance for low-income families would be cut by $62.9 million, leaving thousands of working families with few or no options for quality care; the waiting list statewide would expand to 19,000 children.  Six million dollars in cuts to home and community-based services for the aged would end supportive services for hundreds of senior citizens, effectively forcing them into nursing homes.

Pennsylvania faces a crisis of opioid addiction but the Republicans would cut $9 million from Wolf’s mental health and substance abuse budget.  Another $4.8 million reduction in aid to counties would also affect those suffering from mental illness and addiction, as well as the aged and those suffering from intellectual disabilities. This cut also hits hard at traditional GOP villains like the homeless.

Oh, the joys of a GOP budget!  Balancing the ledgers comes before satisfying the imperative to serve the needy that is at the core of their professed Christian religion! I could go on and on: the House Republicans might as well say, “Let them eat cake” – if the price of cake weren’t out of reach for so many people.

Politically, they are keeping us, the people of Pennsylvania, on the defensive; we’re constantly fending off cuts to essential services and eagerly embracing whatever small consideration to human need that politicians show.

We’ve got to change the tone and terms of the dialogue.  Human needs should trump all other considerations — no pun intended.

Officer Friendly in Woodland Hills

Woe unto the long-suffering parents of African-American students in the Woodland Hills school district.  White opposition has been a Woodland Hills hallmark since the creation of the multi-racial district in the early 1980s.  Black students have been valued for excellence in athletics — all of Wikipedia’s “notable graduates” are football players, most of them black — but are wanted for little else.

The latest chapter in the school district’s inability to come to grips with integration has made national headlines.  But despite being caught on video roughing up students as if he were in a Law and Order holding tank, Woodland Hills “resource officer” Steve Shaulis has yet to face the assault charges he so richly deserves.  Nor has his able accomplice, high school principal Kevin “Biff” Murray, been punished for being recorded helping Shaulis Tase a student.  In fact, he was rewarded: Murray was given the prestigious job of head high school football coach.  The school board’s support for Murray, who was caught last year threatening a student in an audio recording, sends a clear message to black students and their parents: fuck you!

The student victims of these assaults face various charges ranging from resisting arrest to aggravated assault.  It’s a literal school-to-prison pipeline.  And it’s been going on for years; the recorded incidents go back to 2015.  Woodland Hills parents and former students say it’s been going for a lot longer than that.

The mushmouthed pronouncements of the district (the recorded incidents do not “represent” the district’s “culture”), its actions (promoting Murray to head football coach), its inaction (how could this principal not be fired?), and the refusal of the appropriate authorities — say the county district attorney’s office — to do anything have fueled parent anger and necessitated the involvement of attorney Todd Hollis, who made the surveillance videos public, and the Alliance for Police Accountability.

We should support the parents and students of Woodland Hills in their efforts to rid their school of thugs posing as principals, coaches and “resource” officers.  And we cannot let the school board and superintendent get away with the underlying message behind these incidents: that blackness is something to be feared and contained by any means necessary.

— James Collins