By Roger K. Clendening
Special to the Denver Weekly News
COLORADO SPRINGS – James …
James Tucker, publisher of the African American Voice, the city's only Black newspaper, has asked the federal government to stop a local school district from advocating an advertising boycott of his publication.
Tucker filed a racial discrimination complaint with the U.S. Justice Department against Harrison School District 2 alleging that Superintendent F. Mike Miles wrote a letter asking businesses not to advertise in the African American Voice.
"If your organization advertises in his paper, you are either wittingly or inadvertently sending a message of support for the paper's extreme views and incivility," Miles wrote in a letter on Harrison School District stationary dated Nov. 2.
"I ask that you take a stand and pull your advertisement from the paper," he wrote in the letter saying that "a quick look through a few editions of the Voice will make apparent the use of personal attacks and the fomenting of racism."
Tucker announced the filing of what he described as a Title VI 1964 Civil Rights complaint against Miles and the District 2 School Board during a news conference this week.
For several years, Tucker has been publishing a scorecard of those business entities he maintains are "Title VI Civil Rights Violators" because, he maintains, they receive federal funds, and otherwise do business with white-owned media, but refuse to advertise or contract with the Voice.
A front page box in the December edition, for example, signed "Sincerely, Dr. James Tucker," displays photos of Miles; Paula Miller, Pikes Peak Library District Executive Di- rector; and Jerry Forte, Colorado Springs Utilities CEO, and above the photos laments that:
"The African American Voice is sick and tired of the following individuals and agencies discriminating against the community and the Colorado Black Press" and goes on to demand:
• You stop discriminating against the African American Voice Newspaper
• You obey the law, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act
• Jerry Forte, we demand economic inclusion.
• Paula Miller, we demand economic justice
• Mike Miles, we demand More Teachers of Color
Tucker's complaint to the Justice Department, dated Nov. 14, will be handled by the U.S. Department of Education's (DOE) Office of Civil Rights, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington citing a DOE attorney who tracked the complaint number assigned to the case.
The complaint says Miles and the School District have been discriminating against Tucker and the newspaper since Miles became superintendent in 2006. The most recent act of "discrimination," says the complaint, was the Nov. 2 letter in which Miles, "with express or delegated authority, published a tortuously slanderous and intentionally harmful letter on the School District web page and contacted persons who do business" with Tucker with the "express purpose of interfering with the business relationship" between the Voice and Tucker's busi- ness community.
The school district receives federal funds and "ignores the federal mandate that requires the district to include advertising in the African American Voice newspaper," the complaint says, adding that the newspaper is thereby "denied the benefits" of equal protection and is subjected to discrimination under Title VI.
Tucker, an honored Gulf War veteran and retired school teacher, started his newspaper in 1991.
He has been reporting on education issues for several years, advocating for equitable education for Black and Hispanic students, who now comprise a sizeable majority in Harrison District 2, and for more rather than fewer Black teachers. He also reported on an unsuccessful effort to recall Harrison school board members.
The board members are Deborah L. Hendrix, president and an African-American female; Victor Torres, vice-president, and a Hispanic male; Linda Pugh, treasurer, an Anglo female; Keith Varney, secretary, an Anglo male; and Richard L. Price, a director and an African-American male.
Next to a photograph of a smiling Mike Miles in October receiving the local NAACP Freedom Fund Community Partner Award for outstanding achievement in educa- tional leadership, the lead story's opening paragraph asks:
"Where have the African American teachers gone to in Harrison School District?" writes Mike Stahl, executive director of the Pikes Peak Education Association. Since 2006, when Miles came on as the superintendent, "there has been a steady decline in the number of minority and African American teachers" in the district. In 2006, there were 46. In 2009, there were "only" 27, reports Stahl, citing Colorado Department of Education statistics.
Student "minority" populations have grown since 2006, he reports, indicating that Black and Hispanic students now make up 70% of the students in Harrison District 2.
"It would seem reasonable that the district should make efforts to improve minority presence on the teaching staff," Stahl wrote, adding that "It is reasonable to expect the staff to reflect the community."
Moreover, he continued, in Tucker's newspaper, "A declining African American teacher presence in the midst of an increasing minority student population leaves fewer African American role moles for kids to be with every day."
Articles like this one, and Tucker's consistent criticism and challenging of the district's moves to privatize the taxpayer-financed public school system in south Colorado Springs, have not endeared him to the elected officials and their principal employee. Nor has his criticism of Miles and the board for accepting a $1-million grant from the Daniels Fund, a major funder of the charter school movement in Colorado.
In Tucker's complaint, for example, he insists that he is being retaliated against because he is reporting critically, and taking an editorial position on policies and actions the board and Miles have implemented.
Tucker's complaint asks the federal agencies to stop Miles from boycotting, and advocating a boycott of his newspaper.
Tucker has reached out to several national and regional organizations about his circumstances, and several have written him saying that if the issues have not been resolved to Tucker's satisfaction, they are prepared to call for an "economic boycott of all conferences, conventions, concerts" and other public gatherings in Colorado Springs.
A spokeswoman for DOE's Office of Civil Rights said no date has been set for a hearing on the coplaint.