This chapter, “The School to Prison Pipeline” starts with the following sentence:
In 2005, three police officers in Florida forcibly arrested a five-year-old African American girl for misbehaving in school.
I have a memory of remembering that I heard about this. So I’m going to read the quoted sentence again. And again. And again.
Five-year-old black girl. Three police officers using force. Arresting a five year old. For misbehavior.
If you have not already sat with this knowledge, please take a few minutes to sit and think on this.
Thinking Out Loud
I’m going to think out loud. First, arresting a five-year-old for misbehaving is a gross over extension of a police state.
Second, who called for the police on a five-year-old girl misbehaving in school. What structures, policies, and funding have brought about the case where a school would call the police instead of having staff available to help redirect a misbehaving five-year-old?
Third, three police officers arrested the child. Three. Three grown adults able, ready, willing, and available to forcibly arrest a five-year-old girl.
The surplus of police resources availabe to arrest a five-year-old girl demonstrates that that police force had an excess of available officers (e.g., an excess of funding). Setting aside the repugnancy of arresting kindergarteners; I am certain that one grown-ass adult police officer is all that is necessary to physically arrest a five-year-old girl.
Picking back up the repugnancy of arresting a kindergartener, I realize that I may have heard about it. I may have registered the news at the time, but the news did not leave a lasting mark on my psyche.
I have become desensitized to all of the human rights violations perpetrated by the police. I haven’t lived it. I have been privileged to be able to turn away from it.
School Resource Officers
Over the last twenty years there has been an explosion in the number of police officers stationed in schools—one of the most dramatic and clearly counterproductive expansions of police scope and power. In the 2013–14 academic year, there were more than forty-three thousand school-based police officers in the United States. Over 40 percent of all schools now have police officers assigned to them, 69 percent of whom engage in school discipline enforcement rather than just maintaining security and enforcing the law.
While many of these officers work hard to maintain a safe environment for students and to act as mentors and advisors, the overall approach of relying on armed police to deal with safety issues has led to a massive increase in arrests of students that fundamentally undermines the educational mission of schools, turning them into an extension of the larger carceral state and feeding what has come to be called the school-to-prison pipeline.
Yuck to all of that. Further, I can imagine the psychological impact.
I can imagine white students, who are not disproportiately targeted by systemic injustice become desensitized to the police presence. They see police officers as an expected and normal part of their day to day activities; An ever present backdrop to their lives.
Similarly, I can imagine the impact on POC* and the omnipresence of police. The systemic reminder that the police have a right and expectation to be present and policing all aspects of a POC’s life.
No wonder the phrase that speaks loudest is “I Can’t Breathe.” There is no respite. No break.
I had forgotten the late 90s discourse about “superpredators.”
First, conservative criminologist John Dilulio, along with broken-windows theory author James Q. Wilson, argued in 1995 that the United States would soon experience a wave of youth crime…[predicting] predicting that by 2010 there would be an additional 270,000 of these youthful predators on the streets, leading to a massive increase in violent crime.
Dilulio’s ideas were based on spurious evidence and ideologically motivated assumptions that turned out to be totally inaccurate. Every year since, juvenile crime in and out of schools in the US has declined.
However, the “superpredator” myth was extremely influential.
Fear-driven policies and discourse. Words matter. I can recall neoliberal discourse at this time; expand policing to deal with the looming surge. I hear echoes of “superpredator” and know that both Democrats and Republicans capitalized on that language.
Compound policing with the emerging standardized testing, and we can see the beginnings of the strangulation of public education.
I’ve heard the old adage that education can set you free. A capitalist police state doesn’t want you to be free. Ergo, under-resource and resource-in-the-wrong-direction the education system.
High Stakes Testing and Social Control
States that rely heavily on high-stakes tests tend to shift teaching toward test prep and rote learning; this drives out creativity and individualized learning, which contributes to discipline problems as students grow uninterested or resentful. Schools too often respond to this dynamic by adopting ever more restrictive and punitive disciplinary systems. As a result, suspension, arrests, and expulsions increase, driving students out of school and into the criminal justice system. In this environment, teacher morale declines and dropout rates increase.
Vitale frames this section with the above quote, then provides the research and citations to back up the claim.
Nothing about the above situation sounds like a means of improving quality of life.
Overall, the claimed “Texas Miracle” of improved test scores was based on faked test results, astronomical suspension and dropout rates, and the shunting of problem students to prison-like schools outside the state testing regime. Bush rode this chicanery all the way to the White House, where he instituted it nationally in the form of the No Child Left Behind Act.
And Vitale also talks about charter schools, which legislation subjects to far less controls and oversight. In other words a shell-game. Use the de-regulated charter schools to shuffle money and people outside of public scrutiny.
Legislators, building on faulty racially-biased research and public fear, have perverted our public education system. The mandate of education appears to be to create conformity and normalize whiteness while criminalizing and ostracizing any deviation from whiteness.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline
One study§ shows that schools with SROs* had nearly five times the arrest rate of non-SRO schools even after controlling for student demographics like race and income. The impact of these policies has been especially harsh for students of color and those with disabilities. Schools with high percentages of students of color are more likely to have zero tolerance policies and generate more suspensions, expulsions, and arrests.
Alas, the system appears to be working according to capitalist plans.
Students are frequently arrested for minor acts of disobedience and disruption such as using cell phones, disrespecting teachers, and getting into loud arguments. Schools with SROs increasingly turn over more and more school discipline to those officers, finding it easier just to have a police officer come in and remove and arrest a student than to put in the hard work of establishing a reasonable classroom environment through enlightened disciplinary systems. Even well-intentioned teachers have limited options. Healthy and effective disciplinary systems take work and resources, though they are usually a lot cheaper than paying for extra armed police.
Reading this chapter, it is hard to imagine any positive good coming from having a SRO* at a school. The section describes an SRO using handcuffs to bind together, via their biceps, two children with special needs.
And it describes the all to familiar escalation and citation for “disorderly contact”, police induced violence, and then charges of assault and resisting arrest. In a school, for a child kicking a garbage can.
The pervsion of the SRO as an embedded police force in schools begins the dirty work of creating the cycle of ever escalating criminal charges. Starting with a boy kicking a garbage can, living under the expectation of more poise and impulse control than the adult policing them.
We have come to expect that our children practice active shooter drills. We demand that they be cool calm and collected when SROs draw down their authority (legally given yet morally bankrupt) in a most abhorrent manner.
I encourage you to also read Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop. In particular, look at the section on Bastard 101. That section describes the training process. Now, consider that may have been how the SRO received training. Shudder.
When I pick up in my next post, I’ll address the last three sections of Chapter 3:
- The Militarization of Schools
Are you still with me? Want to support Black Lives Matter? And you like games? Go look at DriveThruRPG’s and DMsGuild’s charity bundles and black creator spotlight.
Until next time.