† 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.
The #Police in Your Heads
by nancy a heitzeg
Last week the Minneapolis City Council voted 12-1 to repeal the rarely used, racially enforced, and constitutionally questionable ordinances on Lurking and Spitting. The effort was spearheaded by City Council Members Council Members Cam Gordon and Blong Yang and passage was supported by a variety of groups, including the Minnesota ACLU, Coalition for Critical Change, #Blacklivesmatter Mpls, Community Justice Project and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. The Council was persuaded by a series of ALCU Reports that documented the role of these low level offenses in racial profiling and compelling testimony from the community as to the negative impact of “public ordering policing” and racial profiling on their everyday lives.
The victory was not achieved without some attempts at derailing via fear-mongering – mostly from the sole vote against repeal, Council President Barb Johnson, Downtown Business interests , the police union , and a few random white citizens who fantasize that such ordinances may keep them “safe.” Largely ignoring the extensive data linking these offenses to racial profiling and criminalizing poverty, the red flags of livability, safety, and the slippery slope were waved; “we may find that the ripple effects from such changes simply undermine the security of individuals who live, work and visit here.”
Policing, here as so often, is the first knee-jerk and the last resort to anything and everything that might disrupt “whiteness” and/or property. This is the default for dealing with any sort of “other”; there is no alternative thought, no imagination.
The Police in Their Heads.
The Police are in our schools too, and in less enlightened fashion, the Minneapolis Board of Education resolved to amend and extend for one year its’ contract to keep Security Resource Officers in the schools. This, despite a pernicious school to prison pipeline for students of color run by the Minneapolis Schools.
The connection between police in the hallways and a racialized rate of arrests at school for minor infractions is extensively documented. Police play a key role in the school to prison pipeline and the criminalization of youth of color, especially Black students. This is true everywhere and especially so in Minneapolis. Nonetheless, the mere mention of removing police from the schools inducing nothing short of panic. There is incredulity as if police were not recent additions to the education system and had been permanent fixtures of the school landscape since the era of Horace Mann. As if we most of us didn’t survive – no prosper – in schools without cops but instead teachers, and community and conversation and problem-solving. And love.
The Minneapolis Board of Education is so threatened by the thought of removing SROs that they resort to making sure former Mayor RT Rybak appears for public testimony mumbling about safety.. something something.. gangs… danger warning… safety… with zero mention of the brutal un-lying numbers that show Black students arrested at 4x the rate of white peers. Evidenced too by the willingness to cling to personal antidotes of how students love Officer Mike (and hey maybe some do – but what is the structural relevance of that?) whiling ignoring the heart-wrenching testimony of those who tell of lives sent on a road to ruin by police in the schools.
The most disturbing narrative that emerged in defense of police in schools – one furthered by both school officials and certain community members – is this: The rift between the Black community and the police must be healed, and police must be in the schools so that Black children will love them, trust them, and maybe want to be them. According to this surreal narrative, this, of course, is not the job of the police, or even Black adults but Black children, who apparently must not ever go to school for an education like everyone else purportedly does, but who must always be in service to the prison industrial complex. One way or another: as fodder for the school to prison pipeline, trainers for police, unwitting unconstitutionally interrogated suspects or snitches, recruits for the military and/or police academies.
No other set of children would be so summarily, systematically abused by those entrusted with their “education”. Yet for those with the Police in their Heads, these children are seen as nothing more than cops/criminals in waiting. We must envision for them, for ourselves, a world beyond policing and punishment.
You’ll see this for yourselves in the Public Testimony video, which I will post once it is available. In the meantime, I leave you with the still timely critique of the white middle class mess that opened the floodgates for policing in school.