Yes, three Boston School Committee members got all racist. And, yes, city attorneys screwed up in trying to withhold evidence of racially-tinged texts by two of them from a parents group suing over the way kids got invited to the exam schools this year. But no, the plan used to invite students without exams was not racist, a federal judge ruled today - again.
US District Court Judge William Young said none of the mistakes by committee members and their lawyers warranted re-opening the suit that he had earlier dismissed in a ruling that a federal appeals court had then upheld, that the use of Zip codes and socio-economic data to invite students without exams was racially neutral.
He said that even in the worst case, White and Asian-American students would still make up far more of the student bodies at Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and the O'Bryant School than their percentages of the overall BPS system.
It ought be remembered that geographic and socioeconomic diversity are appropriate, validated educational goals in their own right, without any regard to racial demographics.
He dismissed an argument by the parents group that the revelation of the "Westie whites" text messages represented new evidence that only came to light after he had made his initial ruling and required opening the case.
He said the parents groups already had suspicions that the two School Committee members were not disposed to look positively on actions by what they considered White parents in West Roxbury. And, he said, hat their supposed racial animus might have come up had the group insisted on discovery - detailed interviews that could have included those committee members - but that the group was so convinced its argument against the admissions policy was so strong there was no need, a conviction he then disproved by ruling against them.
"Shoddy handling of public records requests" is not the same as deliberately screwing up during a highly charged court battle, he said.
The law here has been and remains clear: where the governmental action is facially race neutral and uniformly applied, ‘good faith [is] presumed in the absence of a showing to the contrary’ that the action has a disparate impact, the spawn of an invidious discriminatory purpose. ...
[W]hile it is true that trial counsel were less diligent than one would have expected in reviewing and producing the client School Committee’s own records, this was not fraud but inadvertence stemming from the burden of operating at flank speed to prepare for what it very much wanted to be a timely, dispositive hearing - as events so proved. While this Court will not excuse or reward such lack of diligence, on the totality of this record it is not an occasion for [reopening the case].
Still, BPS and the city law office need to do better, he said:
Despite the School Committee’s best efforts to justify its actions, there is no question that the School Committee mishandled the public records requests from Murphy and the Boston Globe. The omitted, racially charged text messages were being sent even as the School Committee adopted the Plan affecting the groups disparaged in those text messages. How and why Lizotte and company [BPS and City Hall attorneys] did not disclose these pertinent messages is suspect and indicative of an effort by the School Committee to keep them hidden, perhaps because they were so embarrassingly racially charged. Indeed, the disclaimer attached to the School Committee’s response acknowledged that the decision to omit certain text messages lay outside any statutory exemption.
Although he found that the admissions policy did not contain racial animus, Young also wrote a long footnote about racism in America:
Racism is the syphilis of American public discourse and civic engagement. It is embarrassing, ugly, deeply humiliating, oppressive, and infuriating, all five. We wish it were gone but don’t know how to get there. So, mostly, we don’t talk about it, since to do so we necessarily acknowledge how deeply it affects (or infects) all of us, some more than others.
No discussion of prejudice would be complete without an acknowledgment of the racist history of our nation. Much as we may wish it were not so, racism is a significant part of our national heritage. After all, our very Constitution originally embraced human slavery as a pragmatic matter. See U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 3 (the Three-fifths clause); id. art. I, § 9, cl. 1 (the 1808 clause); id. art. IV, § 2 (the Fugitive Slave clause); id. art. V (prohibiting any amendment affecting the 1808 clause). Only in the wake of “a great civil war, testing whether [our] nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure,” Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, Nov. 19, 1863, were the legal constraints of slavery struck down. Yet today, more than 150 years later, on January 6th of this very year, an apparent White supremacist dragged a Confederate flag through the rotunda of our nation’s Capitol - something a genuine army, the Army of Northern Virginia, could not accomplish in four years of hard-fought battles. ...
Today, racism in America demeans and degrades the very fiber of our nation. Like cancer, when it appears it metastasizes, spreading hate to recipients with all too predictable consequences.
We must each recognize the racism within us. We each must acknowledge it. We must own it - and we must transcend it.
And we can. We are not born racist. Oscar Hammerstein had it right:
You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
* * *
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
Rodgers & Hammerstein, You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught, on South Pacific (1949).
We can transcend the evil we have learned. We must, lest racism, like syphilis, drive us mad.