Occupy the PEP

On Thursday at Brooklyn Technical HS, the Panel for Educational Policy planned to close 23 public schools citywide. I had just returned from a trip on Thursday and didn’t feel that I had the energy to go; I had been to several last year and found that they were a sham public meeting like so many I had been to as I covered the Atlantic Yards saga. Such meetings are supposed to give the public a chance to discuss impending school closures, but in fact, the panel’s decisions are already made and the events become little more than a steam valve that merely simulates the appearance of public participation.

Earlier this year at the first PEP meeting, in solidarity with the Occupy movement, the meeting was taken over by parents and educators using the human mic (video by meerkat media).

This move was so powerful and successful at taking over the meeting that the PEP panelists eventually walked out. Another massive protest was planned for Thursday, so, despite my exhaustion, I grabbed my camera, jumped on my bike and headed down.

When I got there, people were streaming from the building, some saying that they were getting scared because as the meeting got contentious, a mass of police officers entered with riot handcuffs attached to their belts.  Every time an officer walked down the hall, one’s eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the white flex cuffs that hung from his belt.

Despite all the screaming, I could hear that many speakers were serious and well prepared.  I was swayed by the profound things being said, so I made a quick video of this man, whose name I missed.  His words were powerful.

Later, I approached a couple of officers and asked if they had kids. One walked away and the other, from Staten Island, spent the next 20 minutes talking.  He grew up in Clinton Hill in Willoughby Walk about a block from where I live.  He has two kids about the same age as mine and sends them to private school.  He coaches basketball and spends a lot of time working on Police Athletic League programs.  I told him that I respected the fact that they had to do their job.  At the same time I suggested that outside of work they might make a public statement decrying the policy of turning supposedly public meetings into a police state.  He wasn’t about to do that, but he agreed that there was something sad about the state of the event.  We had a great talk, but it was clear that the police won’t be joining the people anytime soon.

A few hours later, after many more profound comments and pleas to keep schools open, the panel of officials — the majority appointed by Mayor Bloomberg — closed all 23 schools.

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