Tanya McDowell is a homeless mother who sent her son to a public Norwalk, Connecticut school while living in Bridgeport. The authorities in Norwalk felt that this was a crime. As a result, a Norwalk court sentenced McDowell to twelve years in prison and she has been fined $6,200. McDowell happens to be Black.
The idea of sending a mother to prison for sending her son to a public school appears to be incomprehensible. However, the court decision sending McDowell to prison took place in a nation that claims to represent “liberty and justice for all.” In order to understand the background to this case, we need to look at a bit of history.
The history of the struggle against discrimination
The heroic struggle to free the people of the United States from Jim Crow segregation is known throughout the world. The Civil Rights movement effectively forced the Supreme Court to make its decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education Topeka. This decision ruled that the idea of separate but equal, or segregated education is illegal. However, this decision only applied to students living in a particular school district. Today, education continues to be segregated when we compare many inner cities to the suburban communities. This is the problem that Tanya McDowell faces today.
The Census Bureau lists the Norwalk, Stamford, Bridgeport, Connecticut metropolitan area as the 13th most segregated metropolitan area in the nation. Typically this means that educational facilities are funded at a much higher rate in the suburban areas than in the inner cities.
Philadelphia is rated as the ninth most segregated metropolitan area in the nation. Per student funding for education in Philadelphia is about $11,000 per year and about 90% of the school population is Black or Latino. When we cross the Philadelphia border at City Line Avenue, we enter the Lower Merion School District where per student funding for education is about $22,000 and about eighty to ninety percent of the student population is Caucasian.
Tanya McDowell and the struggle against discrimination
Tanya McDowell has a more consistent view of the educational system in this country than the Supreme Court. McDowell understands that segregated educational facilities are not equal. While the judicial system allows gross disparities in the funding of education, McDowell took a different approach. She used the address of her babysitter, Ana Rebecca Marques, to register her son in a Norwalk school while she lived in Bridgeport.
The authorities in Norwalk charged Tanya McDowell with stealing $15,000 in educational services from the district. The housing authority in Norwalk evicted Ana Rebecca Marques from her so-called public housing for providing the documents that allowed McDowell’s son to go to school in the district. Twenty-six other students have been thrown out of Norwalk’s so-called public schools for similar reasons.
When we consider the charge that Tanya McDowell stole money from the Norwalk School District, we might consider a few facts. The historical facts are that huge amounts of money were effectively stolen from Black people during slavery, Jim Crow segregation, as well as the legalized discrimination we see today. This theft was, and continues to be perfectly legal and, to the best of my knowledge, no one ever went to prison for stealing this money. To the contrary, some of the most lucrative financial enterprises have reaped enormous profits from this discrimination.
The Mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut is Richard A. Moccia. His daughter, Suzanne Vieux, is the District Attorney who prosecuted Tanya McDowell. These politicians have a similar outlook as the top government officials, which include President Barack Obama. These officials understand that there is blatant segregation in the educational system in this country and they have decided to do nothing about it. To the contrary, they advocate for horrendous cutbacks that have made the disparity in educational funding even more dramatic.
The Connecticut Parent’s Union, and the NAACP have given their support to Tanya McDowell. There was also a petition with 15,600 signatures that also supported her fight to avoid incarceration.
Gwen Samuel, who heads the Connecticut Parent’s Union, had this to say as to why she supports Tanya McDowell:
“She [McDowell] understands something about the importance of education…I’m disappointed and I’m scared… I’m afraid of a system that would rather arrest me for being a good parent than help me raise my child to be a productive citizen.”
This is an election year. Politicians routinely rant and rave about the importance of education. All of these arguments will amount to nothing more than a lot of gibberish if these politicians refuse to say the words: Free Tanya McDowell.