† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
#StudentsNotSuspects #NoSROs #Mpls
by nancy a heitzeg
Minneapolis is a beautiful Blue City. It ranks near or at the top of a number of livability indices: low unemployment, high income and low poverty rates, affordable housing, literacy and high educational attainment, robust voter turnout and political engagement, high percentages of colleges, art/theater, bike paths, green space, lakes and coops per capita.
Minneapolis ranks near or at the top too on indicators that reveal the city is less than “livable” if you are Black. The Black unemployment rate is nearly 4 times that of white, making it the highest racial unemployment gap in the nation. Black-white gaps in the City of Minneapolis on census indicators such as household income, homeownership and educational attainment contribute heavily to Minnesota’s ranking as the worst state for financial inequality. Racial segregation persists by neighborhood and school; about 62 percent of black students attend high-poverty schools, compared with 10 percent of white students. Unsurprisingly, the s0-called “achievement gap” as measured by test scores and graduation rates is also amongst the highest in the nation.
Minneapolis similarly ranks high with regard to racial gulfs in matters of criminal injustice. The racial disparities are staggering, with Blacks and American Indians dramatically over-represented in arrests for the low-level offenses used as pretexts for racial profiling, and in all aspects of correctional control from probation to prison. This racially biased policing extends to the Minneapolis Public Schools which again runs one the nations “leading” school to prison pipelines.
Minneapolis School to Prison Pipeline and the Role of SROs
Minneapolis Public Schools have come under Federal scrutiny for the dramatically disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates for students of color. For more than a decade the rate at which Black and American Indian students were suspended/expelled exceeded the national average, achieving at the zenith, a rate of nearly 5 times more than white peers. The most recent data shows that Black students are 4 times more likely to get suspended compared with white students. Special education students and American Indians were the next most likely to get suspended.
In an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the Minneapolis School District has now enacted a new policy where every non-violent suspension of a Black, Hispanic, or American Indian student will now be reviewed by the Superintendent’s office before they are approved.
While this begins to address one pillar of the school to prison pipeline, it fails to account for the role of police in the hallways and in-school arrests. Minneapolis Public Schools spends $1 million annually (matched by another $500,000 from the city) to employ 16 Minneapolis Police Department officers as Security Resource Officers (SROs) in the schools. While arrests have slightly declined in recent years, the racial dis-proportionality reflected in suspensions and expulsions is present here too, leaving us again with amongst the highest rankings for racial gaps in arrests. It is important to note too, that the overwhelming majority of school based arrests are for minor misbehavior. Nearly 90% of these arrests are for misdemeanors or lesser offenses.
In Minneapolis, as elsewhere, a police presence in schools results in the criminalization of minor and typical youthful misbehavior. In addition to the risks posed by zero tolerance policies and suspension/expulsion, police in the schools are a direct conduit into the pipeline.
This has to stop. In Minneapolis, the Coalition for Critical Change and the Social Justice Education Movement are calling for an end to SROs in the schools. Please join us – wherever you are – in imagining how to better spend $1.5 million in our schools.