Author Archive: Stephen Danley

An Air-brushed State of the City Address in Camden

Cross-posted from the Local Knowledge Blog.

“Air-brushing” Camden – DAMN – that’s the perfect phrase. Thanks, Stephen, for this post about what the Christie administration and official and corporate Camden refuse to give a damn about. THIS POST is what they should be reading. – Rosi

No matter how skeptical I am walking into the building, the shark room in the Camden Aquarium always takes my breath away. It’s majestic. It gives any event a little gravity. Not that the Cooper’s Ferry Annual Meeting, featuring the mayor’s State of the City Address, needed more pomp and circumstance. It had every Camden dignitary, politician, potential developer or cheerleader possible (and they were all thanked more than once). But the meeting made me sad. It made me sad because it was a dishonest conversation about Camden. The Narrative (with a capital N) was that everything is fixed, everything is getting better, everything is hopeful. But to make that case, the speakers had to hide the real Camden, the one I know and love. I long for the day that we can stand in front of developers and tell them about Camden as we know it, not about a 5 block radius of downtown, and talk about Camden’s diversity and history as assets, not something to sweep under the rug. I walked into the aquarium wanting to hear a pitch for Camden that asked people to be a part of what was already here, not pine about a mythical shining city that fails to resemble the city we live in.

The Power of Privilege – Camden Residents are Always the Last to Know

Promoted by Rosi. Cross-posted from the Local Knowledge Blog .

Here we go again.

Last year, new charter schools coming to Camden were holding recruiting sessions at Rutgers-Camden before the schools were approved or announced. This year, Camden residents are again the last to know about new schools.

It’s not exactly an industry secret that Mastery and at least one other charter are expanding in Camden next year, and KIPP will be soon if not in the fall. But it is problematic that those schools are telling partners, pushing press releases, and in at least one case, even hiring staff, before the new schools are announced here in Camden, and before the community has a chance to discuss the expansion.  

Does New Jersey have the Political Will to Help Camden?

Promoted by Rosi. This is cross-posted from the Local Knowledge Blog:

A Camden High School student spoke at my class last semester. He told one particularly poignant story, of how he’d been evicted from his home and had spent a few months living out of a car. Each morning, at 5:45am, his mother would wake him so that he could be the first person to go into the local McDonalds. There, he would brush his teeth and get ready for school.

Among all the stories I’ve heard in Camden, I think this one may be the most important. It is about stability, and how hard it is for young people who lack it to succeed. This student talked about how he never had that stability, how he was constantly moving, until he joined the Junior ROTC program. The stability and structure of going to that program each day after school was what turned his life around.

This young man isn’t alone in his need for stability. Camden City as a whole desperately needs sustained commitment from the state of New Jersey. Because Camden runs a significant annual deficit, it is constantly in need of state support. The politics of giving that support can make or break the city.

After “investment,” Camden neighborhoods struggle to get their share of resources

In Camden, 2014 was a year of change. The education system was fully under state control, the new metro police force was ramped up, and a bevy of tax breaks were handed out to corporations for moving to Camden. Through all this change, there is one critical question that is being asked more and more often by Camden’s residents and advocates. Who benefits from all these changes? If 2014 was a year of change, 2015 is the year Camden needs to fight to get its fair share of the resources designed to help the city.  

Memphis: Don’t listen to the press, listen to the officers who were thrown out of Camden

This guest post was written by a former Camden police officer and was passed along to me by the NAACP. It is cross posted from the Local Knowledge blog. The video and news article that it responds to was titled: “What Memphis can learn from the war on crime in Camden.”:

The Truth

Memphis: Want the truth? Don’t listen to the press, listen to the officers who were thrown out of Camden.

– In Camden, the department went from an “older, diverse” department (roughly 1/3 white, 1/3 black, and 1/3 Hispanic) to 60% white and less minorities.

– Civil Service rules (you know the ones where officers take a state test for promotions) were suspended and the chief was able to promote his friends several ranks up the ladder, better who you know than what you know.

– Crime was driven up prior to the county takeover. Notice they will only compare the Metro stats to the high 2 years just prior. How did this happen? Well, they assigned double, even triple, the number of officers on their days off to patrol empty parking lots for concerts that were not starting until hours later. Thus costing the city the difference.

– Overtime was driven through the roof. Officers spouses actually complained at a City Council meeting that there was too much unwanted/unneeded overtime being forced on an already stretched-thin force. No time off to de-stress.

– Crime numbers are artificially and illegally being changed.

– Burglaries are being changed to thefts (theft from auto in many cases) or trespassing (burglaries to buildings).

– Aggravated assaults are being changed to simple assaults. (this is documented in a Philadelphia Inquirer article by Michael Boren.)


Camden Schools Remade in the Image of “No Excuses” Charters

Cross-posted from the Local Knowledge Blog. Promoted by Rosi.

There has been a lot of attention, and rightfully so, to the opening and approval of new “No Excuses” charters in Camden. These schools have questionable pedagogical practices, and a putrid record of educating black males. But, as of the latest numbers of new “No Excuses” school attendees were only in the low 500s. Plenty of students remain in traditional public schools, and those schools are being forcibly remade in the image of charters. They are adopting “No Excuses”-style discipline, pedagogical methods, and even using assessment tests from Uncommon’s North Star Academy in Newark.

It Takes an Assemblyman being Wronged to get Police Cameras Right

This is cross-posted from the Local Knowledge Blog. Promoted by Rosi.

Over the past few weeks I’ve tried to display some balance amidst the celebratory coverage of the Camden County Police Force. I hope it is possible to celebrate the drop in crime while also acknowledging the politics played with both the department and its numbers over the past few years. More importantly, I think it’s critical to highlight the voices of those, particularly racial minorities, who are having a different experience with the police force. Part of the reason that is critical is that the troubles of Ferguson were underpinned by a lack of voice for that same population. That’s why I found the recent rush to legislation over crime cameras to be such good news, but also indicative of the difficultly we have in listening to vulnerable communities.

Community Voice in Camden: Teachers Missing from Our Schools

The community fight against school privatization in Camden leaps forward. Promoted by Rosi, cross-posted from the Local Knowledge Blog. The speech below was given by Camden parent Carmen Crespo at a press conference last week announcing a lawsuit against the Camden School District:

It is an honor to be here today speaking on behalf of the thousands of parents of school age children in this city who, until very recently, haven’t had their voices heard. Until just a few months ago, I, like most Camden parents, was unaware of the changes coming into our district or how they would affect my children and my neighbor’s children. I quickly learned that our school district was supposedly in a funding deficit and would be laying off many teachers and support staff to cover this supposed deficit.

Missing-PieceI also learned that applications were filed to open new Renaissance schools, using the district funding that Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard claimed that we did not have. The more I learned, the more I felt the need to advocate on behalf of our children and of the teachers and staff who were being taken away from us. Those teachers love our children and have dedicated their lives to educating them so that they can grow up and be successful adults.

No, Camden is not the “un-Ferguson”

This post is cross-posted from the Local Knowledge Blog

Thank you, Stephen, for posting this here. Promoted by Rosi.

It’s always good to see positive news about Camden, so I was tentatively excited to see Kate Zernike’s New York Times article “Camden Turns Around with a New Police Force.” What I saw made me nervous. The New York Times piece shared good news, but without appropriate context or history, and it was framed with a cringe-worthy comparison to Ferguson, while simultaneously, and ironically, discrediting local NAACP leadership. This one tweet, retweeted by Kate Zernike, sums it up by calling Camden the “un-Ferguson.” But it’s not. Camden’s story is more complex than that, and it faces many of the systemic challenges around police treatment of African-Americans and other minorities that simmered under the surface in Ferguson.

Triage Until Change: Keeping Schools Open in Camden

This article is cross-posted from the Local Knowledge Blog. Promoted by Rosi.

Last night’s “What is Really Happening in Camden Schools?”  meeting was largely an information session for parents seeking answers. The Education Law Center’s David Sciarra and Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin laid out the legal and historical background of Camden’s movement towards Renaissance schools. Other speakers, like Keith Benson, spoke on familiar themes, such as the intersection of gentrification and Charter schools. And parents had the opportunity to ask questions (although I wish dialogue with parents would have come earlier). I’m getting my hands  on those presentations, and hope to have additional coverage and even guest posts here. But I wanted to share my big takeaway; a battle over attendance is brewing in Camden.

Photo by April Saul in her collection Camden, NJ: A Spirit Invincible. Check out her facebook page.