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Crimes Against the American People

From the SUNY Empire State College Website
Conscious that all peoples are united by common bonds, their cultures pieced together in a shared heritage, and concerned that this delicate mosaic may be shattered at any time.

--from the Preamble of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Court investigates and prosecutes crimes against humanity and genocide.


A polemical post today, dear reader, as I am fired up after the State of the Union and troubled, troubled indeed by what I heard. I could hardly sleep. But I also know that it is the quotidian details of life—not well-crafted spun speeches—that remind us where our responsibility to one another lies. This morning it was in the civility and kindness of a young man who came to replace the battery in my car. When Jose called to say he was just blocks away, I noticed that his voice was calm and his manner respectful, unlike a gruff man or two in other AAA shops in my hood.

I’d been struggling with the battery problem for a week, knowing it was under warranty and I could not get the car upstate to my mechanic unless the battery held a charge. It didn’t; I needed a new one. I had to call AAA out a second time. And though it was raining, I got out of the car to chat to Jose and to watch him work.

He was more than understanding, he was empathetic. When I said that I appreciated his friendliness and patience, he said that having waited for three hours for service, he knew that my morning hadn’t been a good one. He didn’t want to make it worse.

Small and lithe, he was wearing a too-large baseball cap and sweats. His hands were as dexterous as a sculptor’s and he moved with precision, care and deep knowledge of the car’s innards. The ailing battery was soon out and loaded into my trunk. I asked Jose if he liked his job and he said it was okay but that he had wanted to go to college to complete his education. His grades weren’t brilliant and he’d given up. Then, of course, there was the cost.

That was my opening. I told him that I was a college professor and that he should not give up. It’s a crime against the American people, I thought, not to offer universal higher education—for free. Here is a man who wants to learn, who is eager to learn, who is a devoted son and brother, who grew up in my underprivileged hood, just minutes away from the most boasting affluence. It is not fair and it is not just.

I got into the cab of his truck out of the rain to pay my bill and told Jose about Empire State College, part of the State University of New York. Its tag line is: “College Built Around Your Life.” It’s designed for men and women who are already working and have family and other obligations, men and women who grow up in the neighborhoods of my divided city beyond the borders of affluence and privilege. And like other institutions in our now faltering democracy, its funding is constantly under threat.

Who will ensure the education of our future citizens if our public education collapses?

We cannot let this happen. We must not.  Read More 
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