In 1997, the 46-year-old sued his local police department after being denied a job there because he scored too high on an intelligence test. More bizarre still, the courts sided with law enforcement
2022 marks the 25th anniversary of the year that everything happened — 1997. It was an ear-biting, Pierce Brosnan-loving, comet-obsessed world, and we’re here to relive every minute of it. Twice a week over the next 12 months, we will take you back to the winter of sheep cloning and the summer of Con Air. Come for the Chumbawamba, and stay for the return of the Mack. See all of the stories here.
In late May 1997, 46-year-old Robert Jordan filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of New London, Connecticut. In the suit, he claimed the police department there had violated his constitutional rights when it determined that he was too intelligent to be a cop. As the Associated Press reported at the time, “Jordan says Assistant City Manager Keith Harrigan, who oversees hiring for the city, told him: ‘We don’t like to hire people that have too high an IQ to be cops in this city.’”
In a subsequent interview with CBS This Morning, Jordan recalled his reaction, saying, “I was just taken aback. Philosophically, I found it offensive to the entire profession of law enforcement.”
The logic the police department employed for their hiring process was clear-cut: Any applicant who scored too high on the intelligence test would grow bored with police work and would leave law enforcement. New London estimated it spent $25,000 training each new police recruit, so they couldn’t afford to lose money training applicants who would quit police work soon after leaving the academy.
The screening process that Jordan underwent was conducted by a company named Law Enforcement Council of Southeastern Connecticut, Inc., and the test he took was a well-known assessment called the Wonderlic Personnel Test and Scholastic Level Exam. The manual that accompanied the test “listed recommended scores for various professions, and cautioned that because overqualified candidates may soon become bored with unchallenging work and quit, simply hiring the highest scoring employee can be self-defeating,” per Jordan’s suit. Jordan scored a 33, but the average police patrol officer scored a 21.
When Jordan heard that the department was interviewing potential new hires and he wasn’t one of them, he asked about his prospects. The assistant city manager informed him that unfortunately “he didn’t fit the profile.” At first, Jordan assumed it was due to his age — at 46, he would have likely been the oldest cadet in the academy. But he filed an administrative complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and that’s when he learned it was his high Wonderlic score that was actually the issue.
“We all know talented, intelligent people that pursue successful careers in law enforcement,” Jordan said at the time. “I just couldn’t accept it. And I found out there is absolutely no evidence. There is no connection between your basic intelligence and job satisfaction or longevity on the job.” Plus, he simply didn’t like how this looked. “What kind of message does that send to children?” he asked. “Study hard, but not too hard?”
And so, he went to court and accused the city and the New London Police Department of violating his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The city, meanwhile, argued that the police were, in fact, able to exclude Jordan based on his smarts.
Amazingly, the city won. A judge agreed that there was a reasonable expectation that cops not be too intelligent. Jordan appealed that decision, and in 2000, he finally got his day in court. But once again, he lost. The 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in New York upheld the Connecticut district court’s decision. The ruling was centered on the legal determination that Jordan’s 14th Amendment protections hadn’t been violated since the “same standards were applied to everyone who took the test.”
The most frustrating part for Jordan was that the court determined it didn’t matter if smarter cops were indeed more likely to leave law enforcement. Instead, the legal question came down to whether Jordan’s constitutional rights had been violated. As it was explained in the court’s decision against his appeal: “We conclude that even absent a strong proven statistical correlation between high scores on the Wonderlic test and turnover resulting from lack of job satisfaction, it is enough that the city believed — on the basis of material prepared by the test maker and a letter along similar lines sent by the [Law Enforcement Council of Southeastern Connecticut] — that there was such a connection. Plaintiff presented some evidence that high scorers do not actually experience more job dissatisfaction, but that evidence does not create a factual issue, because it matters not whether the city’s decision was correct so long as it was rational.”
In other words, all that matters is that the city “believed” the test worked. As long as that belief was equally applied, no constitutional rights were violated.
In the face of defeat, Jordan accepted his fate. But when he spoke with the press, he painted himself as the new face of discrimination in 1990s America. “This kinds of puts an official face on discrimination in America against people of a certain class,” he explained. “I maintain you have no more control over your basic intelligence than your eye color or your gender or anything else.”
But there was a silver lining for Jordan: After his testing debacle, he was still able to land a new job at the Department of Corrections, proving that at least he wasn’t too smart to be a prison guard.
A Jewish couple from Tennessee had their bid to foster and adopt a disabled child denied because their faith “didn’t align” with the adoption agency’s belief system. The couple and multiple other residents have filed a lawsuit against Tennessee’s Department of Child Services.
“After learning they couldn’t have biological children of their own, a Jewish couple in Tennessee hoped to foster—and later adopt—a disabled boy whom they saw as adorable and resilient. To do so, they’d have to work with a state-funded foster care agency.
Ultimately, however, they were told their Jewish faith didn’t align with that agency’s belief system, according to a lawsuit the couple and several other state residents filed against the state’s Department of Children’s Services Wednesday.
“I felt like I’d been punched in the gut,” Elizabeth Rutan-Ram said in a press release announcing the lawsuit, which was filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “It was the first time I felt discriminated against because I am Jewish. It was very shocking. And it was very hurtful that the agency seemed to think that a child would be better off in state custody than with a loving family like us.””
In 2018, the Israeli parliament approved the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law that enshrines Jewish supremacy over Palestinian citizens. The law has distinct apartheid characteristics and requires racist acts as a constitutional value.
The Israeli Knesset voted on 19 July 2018 by a margin of 62 to 55 to approve the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law, constitutionally enshrining Jewish supremacy and the identity of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
This law – which has distinct apartheid characteristics – guarantees the ethnic-religious character of Israel as exclusively Jewish and entrenches the privileges enjoyed by Jewish citizens, while simultaneously anchoring discrimination against Palestinian citizens and legitimizing exclusion, racism, and systemic inequality.
Despite the foundational nature and far-reaching scope of the Jewish Nation-State Law, however, it contains no commitment to democratic norms, or a guarantee of the right to equality, or a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, ethnicity or any other category for all people living under Israeli sovereignty.
This law denies the collective rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who comprise 1.5 million people or 20 percent of the population Israel and constitute a homeland minority group under international human rights law.
Click below to read the full text of Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law
Click below to read Adalah’s short summary of the law
This is what real “decolonization” should look like.
“Decolonize this place!” “Decolonize the university!” “Decolonize the museum!”
In the past few years, decolonization has gained new political currency — inside the borders of the old colonial powers. Indigenous movements have reclaimed the mantle of “decolonization” in protests like those at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access pipeline. Students from South Africa to Britain have marched under its banner to challenge Eurocentric curriculums. Museums such as the Natural History Museum in New York and the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Brussels have been compelled to confront their representation of colonized African and Indigenous peoples.
But what is “decolonization?” What the word means and what it requires have been contested for a century.
After World War I, European colonial administrators viewed decolonization as the process in which they would allow their imperial charges to graduate to independence by modeling themselves on European states. But in the mid-20th century, anticolonial activists and intellectuals demanded immediate independence and refused to model their societies on the terms set by imperialists. Between 1945 and 1975, as struggles for independence were won in Africa and Asia, United Nations membership grew from 51 to 144 countries. In that period, decolonization was primarily political and economic.
As more colonies gained independence, however, cultural decolonization became more significant. European political and economic domination coincided with a Eurocentrism that valorized European civilization as the apex of human achievement. Indigenous cultural traditions and systems of knowledge were denigrated as backward and uncivilized. The colonized were treated as people without history. The struggle against this has been especially central in settler colonies in which the displacement of Indigenous institutions was most violent.
South Africa, where a reckoning with the persistence of the settler regime has gripped national politics, reignited the latest calls for decolonization in 2015 with the #RhodesMustFall movement. Students at the University of Cape Town targeted the statue of the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes, but saw its removal as only the opening act in a wider struggle to bring white supremacy to an end. Under the banners of “more than a statue” and “decolonize the university,” students called for social and economic transformation to undo the racial hierarchies that persist in post-apartheid South Africa, free university tuition and an Africa-centered curriculum.
Now, partly riding the global surge of Black Lives Matter mobilizations, calls for decolonization have swept Europe’s former imperial metropoles. In Bristol, England, last month, protesters tore down the statue of Edward Colston, the director of the Royal African Company, which dominated the African slave trade in the 17th and 18th centuries. Across Belgium, protesters have focused on statues of King Leopold II, who ruled the Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) as his personal property from 1885 to 1908. King Phillipe II of Belgium recently expressed “regret” for his ancestor’s brutal regime, which caused the death of 10 million people.
Colonialism, the protesters insist, did not just shape the global south. It made Europe and the modern world. Profits from the slave trade fueled the rise of port cities like Bristol, Liverpool and London while the Atlantic economy that slavery created helped to fuel the Industrial Revolution. King Leopold amassed a fortune of well over $1.1 billion in today’s dollars from Congo. His vision of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, which opened in 1910 soon after his death, reproduced a narrative of African backwardness while obscuring the violent exploitation of the Congolese.
By tearing down or defacing these statues, protesters burst open the national narrative and force a confrontation with the history of empire. This is a decolonization of the sensory world, the illusion that empire was somewhere else.
Laying a flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo on the statue of King Leopold or hauling the Colston statue into the sea, where thousands of enslaved women and men lost their lives, tears apart the blinders and boundaries between past and present, metropole and colony. Insisting on the presence of the past, the protests reveal Europe’s romance with itself, unmasking its political and economic achievements as the product of enslavement and colonial exploitation.
This historical reckoning is only the first step. Acknowledging that colonial history shapes the current inequalities and hierarchies that structure the world sets the stage for the next one: reparations and restitution.
Reparations is not a single act. The Caribbean Community has already demanded reparations for slavery and Indigenous genocide from Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands. Although there is little movement at the level of states, the University of Glasgow agreed last year to pay 20 million pounds (about $25 million) for development research with the University of the West Indies in recognition of how the university benefited from the profits of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The Herero of Namibia, who suffered the 20th century’s first genocide at the hands of Germany, have also called for redress. Their efforts follow the successful bid for reparations by the Mau Mau of Kenya, many of whom were tortured during Britain’s brutal suppression of their independence movement in the mid-20th century. In other contexts, activists have focused on the return of the looted artifacts that fill Europe’s great museums. France, for instance, has committed to returning 26 stolen artworks to Benin.
But reparations should not focus only on the former colonies and their relations with European states. Colonialism lives on inside Europe’s borders, and Europe itself must be decolonized. Black Europeans experience discrimination in employment and education, are racially profiled and are subject to racist violence at the hands of the police and fellow citizens.
The European Union recently avowed that “Black lives matter,” but its policies deprive Black people of equal rights, imprison them in camps and drown them in the Mediterranean. Overseas imperialism was once believed to be a political necessity for European states; today, anti-immigrant politics plays the same role. In either case, European policymakers disavow responsibility for the misery they bring about.
Repair and redress is owed as much to Black Europeans as it is to former colonial states. It would mean treating Black Europeans, and all migrants from the colonized world, as equal participants in European society. And this form of reparation cannot be perceived as one-off transactions. Instead, it must be the basis of building an inclusive and egalitarian Europe.
This is no easy task and will not happen overnight. But we should remember that just 80 years ago, colonial rule appeared to be a stable and almost permanent feature of international politics. In just three decades, anticolonial nationalists had transformed the world’s map.
The struggle for racial equality in Europe is a fight for a truly postcolonial condition, and its creation is implied by each dethroned statue. If colonialism made the modern world, decolonization cannot be complete until the world — including Europe — is remade.