Monday, September 17, 2012

Pardon My Analysis

Coming of age, as I did in the 70's and 80's, comic books served as my door to “real books” and hip hop to a treasure trove of re-purposed jazz, R&B, and on occasion, sobering social observations.   So, like many of my generation, I came to understand that "the revolution will (would) not be televised” from Schoolly D's 1988 track” Treacherous" and not from the original –-poet/musician Gill Scott-Heron’s verse on the1970 album "Small Talk at 125th and Lenox".   But it has always been another, less notorious, Scott-Heron verse that stuck with me.   In 1974, he collaborated with flautist Brian Jackson on the album  "First Minute of a New Day".  On the song “We Beg Your Pardon (Pardon Our Analysis)”, Scott-Heron recites: 

“We beg your pardon America, we beg your pardon once again
Because we found out that seven out of every ten black men behind jail, and most of the men behind jail are black
Seven out of every ten black men never went to the ninth grade
Didn't have 50 dollars and hadn't had 100 for a month when they went to jail
So the poor and the ignorant go to jail while the rich go to San Clemente”

Yes, Scott-Heron’s numbers are off. I’m reasonably certain that most songwriters and poets don't spend their time verifying statistics. That being said, his point still rang true to a kid, like me, coming up in Brooklyn’s East New York and I imagine they do to young people today.  The uneducated, underemployed and homeless are whom we see in the lower courts.  And, unfortunately, forty years later, data supports Scott-Heron’s criticism.  In 2011, 29% of Newark Community Solutions participants reported being homeless, only 56% had a high school diploma/GED*, and most indicated they were unemployed or underemployed.  And more directly to Scott-Heron's point, many offenders come before our municipal courts simply because they fail to pay a small fine, sometimes as little as $50.

*According to the US Census, 89% of New Jersey residents and 69% of Newark residents have a high school diploma/GED.

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