† 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 and Considering Hate, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.
#AssaultinSouthCarolina No Anomaly
by nancy a heitzeg
Video tape of a brutal police officer assault on a Black teenage girl in a South Carolina classroom has again put issues of school discipline and race in the national spotlight. The incident, which will now be investigated by the Department of Justice, illustrates, in microcosm, the harsh reality of criminalized education and its’ discriminatory targeting of both Black boys and girls. Zero tolerance policies ( and their heavy enforcement for the most minor infractions) and a police presence in the schools are at the epicenter of the school to prison pipeline.
Two weeks ago, I presented on the #NoSRO campaign in Minneapolis Public Schools at the Twin Cities Social Justice Education Fair. Here, students of color universally expressed the view that police in the hallways made them feel unsafe, while white adult educators dithered on about personal responsibility and security and regurgitated every ill-advised Officer Friendly antidote ever conjured.
The kids are correct — police have no place in our schools. The School Carolina video and mountains of research show exactly why.
Zero Tolerance, Criminalization and Race in Educational Settings
Lynchberg, Virginia. April 12, 2015. “Kayleb Moon-Robinson, a student at Linkhorne Middle School in Lynchburg, Virginia, was arrested by a police officer assigned to the school and charged with disorderly conduct just days after his 11th birthday.
His crime — kicking a trash can in frustration after being scolded for misbehavior at school.
Weeks later, the sixth grader, who has been diagnosed with autism, disobeyed a new rule — one created just for him — that he wait while other kids left class. As a result, the principal sent the same officer after him.
“He grabbed me and tried to take me to the office,” said Kayleb, according to PRI. “I started pushing him away. He slammed me down, and then he handcuffed me.”
Kayleb’s mother, Stacey Doss, is the daughter of a police officer herself, and was outraged. She claims educators did nothing while the cop took her son in handcuffs to juvenile court. The officer filed a second misdemeanor disorderly conduct complaint and also submitted another charge: felony assault on a police officer…
“I thought in my mind — Kayleb is 11,” Doss said. “He is autistic. He doesn’t fully understand how to differentiate the roles of certain people.”
To Doss’ shock, a Lynchburg juvenile court judge found Kayleb guilty of all those charges in early April…If Doss appeals and loses, Kayleb’s felony may remain on file forever.”[i]
The policies that undergird the creation of a social to prison pipeline are, like all color-blind polices of the Post-Civil Rights Era, race neutral. While the War on Drug rhetoric on which they are modeled, school policies outline guidelines and consequences for prescribed and prohibited behavior and conditions with attendant consequences with no mention of race. A growing body of research, however, indicates that the application of these educational policies is neither neutral nor random. The School to Prison Pipeline disproportionately impacts the poor, students with disabilities, and youth of color. Students of color, especially African Americans, are suspended and expelled at more than three times the rate of their white peers; this, despite no documented differences in rates of disciplinary infractions[i]. This racial over-representation then manifests itself in both higher drop-out/push-out rates for students of color as well as the racialized dynamic of the legal system.[ii]
It was, in fact, alarm over racial disproportionality in the application of discipline that raised the first flags for researchers and advocates. From the outset, it was clear that student of color were being policed and punished at rates that far exceeded their white peers. This pattern is evidenced as early as pre-school, has persisted over the decades, and even recently widened, especially in conjunction with the rise of high-stakes testing. [iii]
A recent compressive analysis of the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) documents the racial gulfs in suspension, expulsion and arrest. The report includes data from every public school in the nation (approximately 16,500 school districts, 97,000 schools, and 49 million students) in all school types – traditional public schools (preschool through 12th grade), alternative schools, career and technical education schools, and charter schools.
- Suspension of preschool children, by race/ethnicity and gender (new for 2011-2012 collection): Black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 48% of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension; in comparison, white students represent 43% of preschool enrollment but 26% of preschool children receiving more than one out of school suspension. Boys represent 79% of preschool children suspended once and 82% of preschool children suspended multiple times, although boys represent 54% of preschool enrollment.
- Disproportionately high suspension/expulsion rates for students of color: Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5% of white students are suspended, compared to 16% of black students. American Indian and Native-Alaskan students are also disproportionately suspended and expelled, representing less than 1% of the student population but 2% of out-of-school suspensions and 3% of expulsions.
- Disproportionate suspensions of girls of color: While boys receive more than two out of three suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates (12%) than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys; American Indian and Native-Alaskan girls (7%) are suspended at higher rates than white boys (6%) or girls (2%).
- Suspension of students with disabilities and English learners: Students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to receive an out-of-school suspension (13%) than students without disabilities (6%). In contrast, English learners do not receive out-of-school suspensions at disproportionately high rates (7% suspension rate, compared to 10% of student enrollment).
- Suspension rates, by race, sex, and disability status combined: With the exception of Latino and Asian-American students, more than one out of four boys of color with disabilities (served by IDEA) — and nearly one in five girls of color with disabilities — receives an out-of-school suspension.
- Arrests and referrals to law enforcement, by race and disability status: While black students represent 16% of student enrollment, they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest. In comparison, white students represent 51% of enrollment, 41% of students referred to law enforcement, and 39% of those arrested. Students with disabilities (served by IDEA) represent a quarter of students arrested and referred to law enforcement, even though they are only 12% of the overall student population.
- Restraint and seclusion, by disability status and race: Students with disabilities (served by IDEA) represent 12% of the student population, but 58% of those placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement, and 75% of those physically restrained at school to immobilize them or reduce their ability to move freely. Black students represent 19% of students with disabilities served by IDEA, but 36% of these students who are restrained at school through the use of a mechanical device or equipment designed to restrict their freedom of movement. [iv]
While race is the most significant factor, disparities in suspension/expulsion escalate at the intersections of class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability. Heavy reliance on policing and punishment is most highly correlated with schools that are segregated by race and class, that is, schools where the majority of students are both poor and of color.
Police State Schooling
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, July 2010. “…Ava Hernandez, a Shorewood resident, is upset her 15-year-old brother, Adam, will face a trial on theft charges Tuesday for allegedly stealing a chicken nugget meal during lunch at the Shorewood High School cafeteria last March.
Adam, a freshman, denied the charges. According to him, it was all a misunderstanding.
He claims he didn’t steal the $2.60 chicken nuggets but rather received it from a school friend who participated in a free lunch program at the school.
After his friend gave him the lunch, Adam said he was accused of stealing by a worker in the cafeteria, which led to an intense scene when Shorewood police were called to the school.
After some questioning, he was arrested by officers and placed in handcuffs in full view of his classmates….
Although Hernandez has been assured her brother will get the theft charge expunged from his record if he stays out of trouble, she doesn’t think that’s the point. As someone concerned about the pipeline that sends young males, particularly minorities like her brother, to prison on a regular basis, she doesn’t want him to start down that path.
‘It’s like they think he’s expendable. I don’t like the idea of someone his age already in the criminal system; that happens too often.’”[i]
While suspension, expulsion and push-out have long been described as indirect contributors to the school to prison pipeline, the increased police presence at schools means more students are at risk of being arrested at school and direct funneling into legal systems. The idea of police in the schools (sometimes referred to as Security Resource Officers or SROs) dates back to the 1950s as part of an effort to connect police to community contexts. Until recently, however, the practice was rare with only 1% of schools reporting a police presence in 1975.[i] The practice is now routine, made possible by legislation that merged in the same era as zero tolerance. The Safe Schools Act of 1994 and a 1998 amendment to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 provided funding for in-school police forces or School Resource Officers[ii]. This was further buttressed in 1999, as the US Department of Justice “COPS in Schools” grant program dramatically increased the use of SROs. The COPS in School program was funded in part as a response to the highly publicized Columbine shootings, and included an expansion of multiple security measures including more police, metal detectors, security cameras, increased locker and person searches, canine units, wide spread availability and officer use of non-lethal weapons such as Tasers and pepper sprays, and in some cases, available SWAT teams. [iii] This, combined with the prevalence of zero tolerance policies, brought the practice of broken windows policing, i.e. the heavy targeting of low-level offenses, from the streets in to the schools. As Kathleen Nolan observes, the result is a further blurring of the schools and the streets:
“Although a variety of policies and practices were part of the culture of control...the most central was the systematic use of order-maintenance-style policing. This included law-enforcement officials’ patrolling of the hallways, the use of criminal-procedural-level strategies, and the pervasive threats of summonses and arrest, which together led to three essential consequences. First, the heavy policing of students on a daily basis and an official policy of police intervention for minor school infractions led to the criminalization of misbehavior. In fact, frequently the police intervention itself triggered the behavior that was ultimately considered criminal. Second, disciplinary incidents that could have been considered violations of the law but had once been handled internally by educators, such as fighting, came to be defined as serious crimes and were often handled through police intervention, summonses, and the arrests of students. Third, as school discipline merged with an ideology of street policing, the boundaries between once-separate domains – the school, the street, and institutions of the criminal-justice system – became blurred..”[iv]
Although enhanced security measures were largely inspired by the school-shootings in predominately white suburban schools, they have been most readily adopted and enforced in urban schools. While almost half of the nation’s public schools have some degree of policing, nearly 70% of under-resourced, highly segregated urban schools report a police presence.[v] New York City schools, for example, employ over 5,000 school safety agents and nearly 200 armed police officers, effectively making the school district the fifth largest police district in the country.[vi] In addition to differences in the volume of police/security between suburban and urban schools, there is a qualitative difference too in the purposes of police. In suburban schools, there is the sense that cameras are looking out and that police are there to protect students form external threats. The opposite is the case in urban schools that are majority Black, Brown and poor; here students themselves are the perceived threat and target of broken windows policing, surveillance use of force, and arrest. [vii]
Police in schools easily translates into more arrests, and these arrests are usually not for serious criminal violations. Studies reveal that a police presence significantly increases both arrests as well as the criminalization of minor misconduct; one three-year study of numerous schools in the same district, for example, found that the schools with police had nearly five times the number of arrests for disorderly conduct as schools without a police presence.[viii] Each year, hundreds of thousands are ticketed and/or arrested at school for minor infraction, this at a time when juvenile justice is an increasingly punitive and legalistic. Research indicates that as many as two-thirds many be for “offenses” such as talking back to teachers, truancy or disorderly conduct.[ix] Many of these arrests are also accompanied by the handcuffing of very young children and the some use of force, including the use of Tasers, pepper spray and other “non-lethal” weapons. National data regarding the use of chemical spray and electroshock weapons in schools is hard to come by, and state-level information on the subject is inconsistent.[x] Consider these typical cases as well:
- A 5 year old boy in Queens NY was arrested, handcuffed and taken to a psychiatric hospital for having a tantrum and knocking papers off the principal’s desk.
- In St Petersburg Florida, a 5 year old girl was handcuffed arrested and taken into custody for having a tantrum and disrupting a classroom.
- Two 5 years in Kentucky, both diagnosed with severe ADHD, were handcuffed by a school police officer for disruptive behavior. Both were so small that the handcuffs had to be placed around their biceps as opposed to their wrists.
- An 11 year old girl in Orlando Florida was tasered by a police officer, arrested, and faces charges of battery on a security resource officer, disrupting a school function and resisting with violence. She had pushed another student.
- A 13 year old in Albuquerque New Mexico was arrested at a middle school for burping in gym class. The tension between him and school officials led to several more run-ins, she said, including a strip search after he was accused of selling
- An honors student in Houston, Texas was forced to spend a night in jail when she missed class to go to work to support her family.
- A 13 year old from New York was handcuffed and removed from school for writing the word “okay” on her school desk.
- In Ponchatoula Louisiana, a 12-year-old who had been diagnosed with a hyperactive disorder warned the kids in the lunch line not to eat all the potatoes, or “I’m going to get you.” The student, turned in by the lunch monitor, was suspended for two days. He was then referred to police by the principal, and the police charged the boy with making “terroristic threats.” He was incarcerated for two weeks while awaiting trial. [xi]
Black Students At Risk
Midgeville, Georgia, April 13, 2012. “In Milledgeville, Ga., a city of 18,000 some 90 miles from Atlanta, Salecia Johnson was accused of tearing items off the walls and throwing books and toys in an outburst Friday at Creekside Elementary. Police said she also threw a small shelf that struck the principal in the leg, and jumped on a paper shredder and tried to break a glass frame.
Police didn’t say what set off the tantrum. Baldwin County (Ga.) schools Superintendent Geneva Braziel called the student’s behavior “violent and disruptive” and said the police were needed to keep the student, other classmates and the school staff safe.
Salecia was handcuffed and taken away in a patrol car to the police station, where she was taken to a squad room and given a soda, police said. She won’t be charged with a crime.
Her aunt, Candace Ruff, said Tuesday the girl had complained about the handcuffs; “she said they really hurt her wrists,” she said. The department’s policy is to handcuff everyone arrested regardless of age for safety reasons, police said….
Salecia’s family said the girl has been suspended for the school year.
Her aunt said, “We would not like to see this happen to another child, because it’s horrifying.”[i]
The most recent data indicates the racial gap is widening as nationally as Black students are three and a half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers who are much more likely to be diverted from punishment via de-stigmatized medical labels.[i] In some districts, Black students are more than 6 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension, with the suspension and expulsion rates for Black girls surpassing that of boys of other races.[ii]
These trends start early, as pre-schools now play a role in suspension and expulsions. Black children represent 18% of preschool enrollment, but 42% of the preschool children suspended once, and 48% of the preschool children suspended more than once.[iii] The racial gap continues throughout elementary, middle and high school. Black students made up only 18 percent of students, but they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions. Black students also account for 42% of all referrals to law enforcement and 35% of those actually arrested at school. [iv]Latinos are also slightly over-represented in these statistics relative to their percentage of the school populations, and these numbers, in combination with those of Black students, result in a majority of punitive school discipline cases. In districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Black and Latino students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.[v] In addition, Black and Latino students together represent over 70 percent of the students arrested or referred to law enforcement at school.[vi]
Black males are more likely than any other demographic to be harshly punished, with Black males with disabilities representing the segment of students most at risk for suspension, expulsion, restraint at school and arrest. While less researched, the suspension, expulsion and arrest rates for Black girls are also stunningly high, and often surpass the rates for their male peers in other racial groups. Black female students with disability labels are second only to the rates for Black males.[vii] The high rates of harsh discipline for Black males is largely understood via the extensive literature on criminalizing stereotypes of Black masculinity and racial threat.[viii] The situation with Black girls, however, may best be analyzed in light of white middle class notions of femininity and the extent to which Black girls are seen to be in defiance of these norms.[ix] Monique W. Morris observes:
While the behaviors for which Black males are subject to punitive school-based responses tend to be associated with perceived threats to public safety (e.g. fighting, weapons, perceived hostility, etc.), the behaviors for which Black females routinely experience disciplinary response are related to their nonconformity with notions of white-middle class femininity, for example, by their dress, their profanity, or by having tantrums in the classroom… it can and should be asked whether the racial threat is applicable for Black females in other, less visible cases, as it is for so many Black males; and whether it manifests as a unique response to the implicit notions about Black femininity that undermine equal treatment in the classroom and beyond…[x]
Indeed, Black girls not only face higher rates of suspension and expulsion than nearly all other groups, they also are subject to harsh disciplinary treatment and arrest at exceedingly young ages. Some of the most egregious suspension stories to capture national attention have involved the handcuffing and arrest of pre-K and elementary school Black girls for what is usually considered typical child-like behaviors. This tendency towards harsh treatment continues through the school years and often includes not only arrest, but use of force measures such as Tasers and pepper spray that are most often reserved for males.
The over-representation of Black girls in all these statistics reveals that controlling Blackness is at the heart of zero tolerance and policing policies in the schools. Despite the proliferation of these policies that immediately impel the school to prison pipeline, they are not meant for everyone. The criminalization of education is felt most heavily in urban schools that are doubly segregated and disadvantaged by both race and class, and against vulnerable populations that are deemed socially disposable. Conversely, disruptive white students, especially those in middle class and affluent suburban schools, are likely to be diverted from criminalization via the application of medical labels.[xi] The differential enforcement of these rules against Black children in the harshest possible ways shapes the pool of students pushed out of the schools and towards the prison in multiple ways, by default or design.
[i] Blue Telusma. 11-year old autistic boy handcuffed at school and later charged with a felony” The Grio. April 12, 2015) Retrieved from: http://thegrio.com/2015/04/12/11-year-old-autistic-boy-handcuffed-at-school-and-later-charged-with-a-felony/
[i] Patricia Leigh Brown, “Opening Up, Students Transform a Vicious Circle”, (New York Times April 3 2013); Howard Witt, School Discipline Tougher on African Americans”. Chicago Tribune. (September 5 2007).
[ii] Daniel J. Losen and Jonathan Gillispie. Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School. The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at The Civil Rights Project. (August 2012); The Schott Foundation for Public Education. The Urgency of Now: 50 State Report on Black Males and Education. (Cambridge, Mass. 2012)
[iv] U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot (School Discipline) (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights March 21, 2014.
[i] Eugene Kane, “Chicken nugget arrest is half baked” Teen accused of theft, faces charge for alleged taking of $2.60 meal at school”. Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, (July 17. 2010) Retrieved from : http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/98681
[ii] Barbara Raymond. Assigning Police Officers to Schools; Problem-Oriented Guides for Police Response Guides Series Guide No. 10. (Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, Inc. Washington D.C. 2010)
[iii] L.A. Addington,“Cops and cameras: Public school security as a policy response to
Columbine.” (American Behavioral Scientist. 2009) 52:10 143; Thomas A. Birkland and Regina Lawrence. “Media Framing After Columbine” (American Behavioral Scientist 20090 52; 1387; Frymer, B. (2009). The media spectacle of Columbine: alienated youth as an object of fear. (American Behavioral Scientist 2009) 52: 1387
[iv] Kathleen Nolan, Police in the Hallways: Discipline in an Urban High School, (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 2011)
[v]Justice Policy Institute. Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools, (Washington D.C. 2011); Chongmin Na and Denise C. Gottfredson “Police Officers in Schools: Effects on School Crime and the Processing of Offending Behaviors”, Justice Quarterly. (2011)
[vi] Mariame Kaba and Erica Meiners, “Arresting Education” in Class Action: An Activist Teacher’s Handbook edited by Jacobin and Chicago Teachers CORE (Chicago, IL: Jacobin, 2015)
[vii] Thomas A. Birkland and Regina Lawrence. “Media Framing After Columbine” (American Behavioral Scientist 52:1387 (2009).
[viii] Chongmin Na and Denise C. Gottfredson “Police Officers in Schools: Effects on School Crime and the Processing of Offending Behaviors”, Justice Quarterly. (2011)
[ix] Advancement Project. Testimony of Judith A. Browne Dianis Co-Director, Advancement Project Hearing on Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline Before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, Senate Committee on the Judiciary. (Washington, DC, Wednesday, December 12, 2012); Justice Policy Institute. Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools, (Washington D.C. 2011)
[x] Chongmin Na and Denise C. Gottfredson “Police Officers in Schools: Effects on School Crime and the Processing of Offending Behaviors”, Justice Quarterly. (2011)
[xi] Daniel J. Losen and Jonathan Gillispie. Opportunities Suspended: The Disparate Impact of Disciplinary Exclusion from School. The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at The Civil Rights Project. (August 2012)
[i] Associated Press, “ Schools Struggle with Disruptive Students as some led off in Handcuffs: Dignity in Schools Campaign, April 4 2012
[i] U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot (School Discipline) (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights March 21, 2014; David M. Ramey, “The Social Structure of Criminalized and Medicalized School Discipline Sociology of Education (2015), 88(3) 181–201
[ii] Daniel Losen, Cheri Hodson, Michael A. Keith II, Katrina Morrison, and Shakti Belway Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap? Center for Civil Rights Remedies (February 2015)
[iii] Tamar Lewin,. “Black Students Face More Discipline, Data Suggests” (New York Times March 6 2012); U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot (School Discipline) (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights March 21, 2014; Victor Rios. Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys (New York: New York University Press, 2011)
[iv] U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot (School Discipline) (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights March 21, 2014
[v]Ibid; Advancement Project. Test Punish and Push –Out: How “Zero Tolerance” and High–Stakes Testing Funnel Youth Into the School-to-Prison Pipeline. (Washington D.C. 2010); U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot Opportunity Gap (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, , 2012.
[vi] Eric Eckholm. “With Police in Schools, More Children in Court” (New York Times April 12. 2013); Kathleen Nolan, Police in the Hallways: Discipline in an Urban High School, (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 2011)
[vii] U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot (School Discipline) (Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights March 21, 2014
[ix] Monique W. Morris. Race, Gender and the School to Prions Pipeline: Expanding Our Discussion to include Black Girls. African American Policy Forum ( 2012)
[xi] David M. Ramey, “The Social Structure of Criminalized and Medicalized School Discipline Sociology of Education (2015), 88(3) 181–201