Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Curie High School fiasco reveals growing rift between blacks and Hispanics

Mary Mitchell:

Frank Avila claims Tom Ramos is getting a bum rap. Ramos is the local school council chairman at Curie High School, where the Hispanic-majority board voted twice to oust Jerryelyn Jones, an African-American principal who has led Curie for eight years. Avila, a lawyer and fierce Daley critic, called me last week to rant about how Ramos is being portrayed in the media.

"One of the most unfair things about this is they are trying to turn this into a racial incident," Avila said. "This man's wife came to me and said she couldn't handle all of this stress."

Usually, I dread those types of calls. But I was eager to have a conversation with Avila.

As one of the attorneys for Aaron Patterson -- the South Side man who was released from Death Row, only to end up back in prison charged with other crimes -- I didn't think Avila would bite his tongue.

If anyone ought to understand why race is often a subtext to larger issues -- whether it's police brutality or school funding -- it ought to be him.

More important, Avila is part of the fragile coalition between blacks and browns that is threatened by the racial accusations.

I really did want to hear what he had to say about the fallout from Jones' dismissal.

Although Jones won't say her ouster was racially motivated, there is still the perception that the Hispanic voting bloc didn't renew her contract so that they could give the job to a Hispanic.

The perception has unleashed a barrage of anti-immigration sentiments, with people calling into talk radio shows and sending e-mails bashing Ramos and other Curie board members.

"I remember the '60s when the black community embraced the Spanish community because the black community 'felt their pain,' " said one reader in an e-mail. "Now the table has turned and only the Mayor and immigration can fix this mess."

Some of this negativity can be traced to the frustration that builds when people can't talk openly about race.

And if Jones were white, there likely wouldn't have been such media scrutiny of her firing since a number of white principals were fired by predominantly black councils at the beginning of school reform.

Meet Mary Mitchell: Another Reluctant Black Journalist

Jones: 'I want to know why'

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