After the tragic mass shooting of 20 students and 6 adults in Sandy Hook Elementary school of Newton, Connecticut in 2012, President Obama called for an investment of 150 million dollars in the placement of police officers, social workers, and counselors in schools in order to make schools a safe haven for students. However, the implementation of police in the schools has proved detrimental. Seventy percent of security personnel are involved in disciplining students, rather than protecting them from external threats. This leads to the issue of excessive police brutality in schools.
The severe punishment of Black youth is a result of strict zero-tolerance policies enforced by police in schools. Dating back to the early ‘90s, zero tolerance policies were used to combat the growing fear of violence in schools.
As a result, suspension rates have doubled since the ‘70s. This was partially a consequence of the loosely defined term “weapon” which resulted in the expulsion of students for actions as trivial as making guns with their fingers.
Simultaneously, schools incorporated the broken windows theory of policing: the practice of cracking down on small offenses in order to discourage more serious crimes. Schools adapted this theory, suspending students for minor offenses such as talking back to a teacher. The beginnings of the school to prison pipeline can be seen in the use of policing strategies in schools, meting out harsh consequences for petty offenses and creating a prison-like environment.
Though these policies were intended to eliminate crimes in schools, they were highly racialized and resulted in negative consequences. Black students represent approximately 16 percent of students, yet they make up 31 percent of students under arrest. The disciplining of Black students (and, more broadly, Black citizens) is disproportional to their population. This demonstrates that the discrimination of Black people is a structural issue; racism is engrained in the very institutions that dominate this nation: from prisons to educational systems.
Though instances of police brutality in schools are frequent, they remain underreported by the corporate media. One of the more well-known, broadly circulated instances of police brutality in schools occurred last October in Columbia, South Carolina’s Spring Valley High School.
After refusing to put away her phone, Shakara, a sixteen year old female, was wrestled out of her chair and thrown across the classroom by police officer Ben Fields. Fields was later fired for his conduct. However, in an ironic twist, both Shakara–the victim of Fields’ attack, and Niya Kennedy–the student who recorded the incident, were arrested and faced a misdemeanor charge.
Incidents such as that which occurred at Spring Valley happen in public schools across America, however, little attention is given to cases of police brutality against minorities both in the classroom and outside of the school.
The disruption of Black students’ education reproduces a system of racial and class inequality. With an education that funnels them into prison, opportunities for many Black youth to succeed economically in America’s capitalist society is automatically limited by having a criminal record. If education is the key to freedom, disrupting the education of Black youth is just one more way to prevent them from achieving their full rights in American society.
The Black Lives Matter movement has demonstrated that the treatment of Black civilians by the police is racist and unjust. Incidents of police brutality in the 21st century mirror police brutality in the 20th century. The systematic lynching of black people and the silencing of black voices is nothing new to America. The incarceration of Black youth today is a mirror image of 19th century American slavery.
How many Black youth must be funneled into the prison system before we start to care? How many Black men and women must be gunned down in the streets or shot in their homes before we take action? The educational and justice systems must be rebuilt to be for the people; police must be held accountable for their use of excessive force on Black bodies whoever it occurs; and America must eliminate the institutional racism that is woven into the very fabric of this nation.