The Federal government, under No Child Left Behind, combined with Zero Tolerance policies created by state and local education agencies have produced an education crisis for youth of African descent in the United States called the school-to-prison pipeline. Youth of African descent are criminalized in their classroom and their schools have been transformed into prisons. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education that ended education apartheid in the United States, the number of suspensions and expulsions of youth of African descent has doubled.2
Between 2002-2006, there were 3.3 million suspensions and over 100,000 expulsions. Youth of African descent constitute the majority of those suspensions. They are three times as likely to be suspended for the same offense as their white counterparts. As early as preschool, girls of African descent are suspended at higher rates than most boys.3
Every suspension lowers a youth of African descent’s chances of graduation by 20%.4
In spite of statistics showing that school crime nationally is in steep decline, virtually nonexistent, and usually nonviolent, the U.S. government has mounted what we have assessed is a war on youth of African descent through increased police presence and occupation of their schools.5 Between 1999 and 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice has funneled more than 750 million dollars into school police, placing nearly 10,000 school resource officers mostly in schools where youth of African descent comprise the majority of students.6
Created by the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 1997, the Federal 1033 Program have funneled $5.1 billion in military hardware from the Department of Defense to local American law enforcement agencies.7 As of September 2014 more than twenty school district police agencies received military-grade equipment through the program.8
These weapons have included M-16 rifles, bayonets, armored assault vehicles, grenade launchers, assault helicopters and attack drones.9
In New York City, more than 90,000 high school students go through metal detectors every morning, and almost all of them are Black and Latino. Black and Latino students make up 69 percent of all students, but account for 89 percent of all students suspended and 94 percent of all students that are arrested. 10 In Chicago Public schools nearly 30 black youth were arrested for every one white juvenile. In New Orleans 98.6% of all children arrested by the New Orleans Police Department are youth of African descent.11
Caught in the crosshairs of race and gender, young women of African descent are the fastest growing segment of the prison population in the United States.12 are particularly vulnerable as they are “pushed out, overpoliced and under protected” in US schools. In Florida, Keira Wilmot was arrested and charged with terrorism and later expelled for a science experiment gone wrong.13 Brittany Overstreet was slammed twice into a lunch room table by a school resource officer knocked unconscious and suffered a broken jaw while handcuffed and being arrested for disrupting education— refusing to go with an administrator during her lunch.14
In Colorado Springs, Brianna Grimes and Taleisha McMiller, two honor roll freshman students were assaulted and arrested by a swat team and later expelled for standing up to bullies, even though they reported the bullying to school officials months prior.15 In Texas, 12 year old Indiyah Rush was arrested and expelled for abuse of a controlled substance when she shared her asthma inhaler with a classmate suffering an asthma attack.16
The result of racist school discipline has resulted in inequitable access to education and national graduation crisis for youth of African descent at 69% compared to 86% for their white counterparts.17 Particularly impacted are males of African descent with a national graduation rate of 59%.18 There is a direct connection between access to education and quality of life.
The second attack on the education of youth of African descent has been systemic denial of their parents to determine the kind of education. Massive school closures and privatization of Black school districts has been financed and incentivized by the Federal Department of Education‘s Race To The Top policy and School Improvement Grants.19 State Takeovers seize control of local schools from democratically elected school boards, replacing them with Mayoral or state appointed boards or controllers. In most cases, it places the power in the hands of predominately white state legislators and effectively disenfranchise Black parents from self-determining the education their children will receive.
Predominately Black school districts in Detroit, New York, and Chicago have all had more than 100 public schools closed in recent years. Additionally, Columbus (OH), Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Baltimore have all had more than 25 public schools closed in recent years. In 2013 alone, over 125 schools were closed disproportionately impacting youth of African descent by 87%. Of the 101 school districts taken over by state governments in 2014, 97 have been converted to charter and 97% of them were predominately serving youth of African Descent.20 In New Orleans there are no public schools left in the entire city.
Once closed and converted to charter schools, millions of Black taxpayer dollars are funneled into private corporations. These unregulated charter operators or education management corporations seek to make a profit of Black children by offering an education for less. The consequences of school closures and privatization has had deadly consequences for children of African Descent. Sixteen year old Derrion Alberts was killed in a fight between two rival neighborhood factions of students at Christian Fenger Academy High school brought together by the closing of three neighborhood high schools under Chicago‘s ‘New Schools’ and ‘School Turnaround’ policies.21
Laphorsia Massey, 12 year old Philadelphia middle schooler died from asthma attack in school because there was no school nurse because of a 543 million Dollar budget deficit manufactured by Pennsylvania state government forcing massive school closings and firing layoffs.22 The same year the state approved the building a 643 million dollar prison.
Then there is the heart breaking death of George Carter. I remember lil George Carter vividly the night the George Zimmerman verdict was announced. He was one of thirty youth leaders stuffed into my hotel room, shook and scared they could be the next Trayvon Martin. His fear was different. He wasn’t scared of the police or a white vigilante. He was scared it would be someone like him that would take his life. Conditions in his New Orleans neighborhood since Katrina had not improved but gotten worse. And worse of all, they hadn’t reopened a school in his neighborhood.
The complex confluence of state and inner communal violence was flooding his community with death and destruction. A year later lil George was murdered on his way to catch his 7:00am school bus by another youth. The circumstances of his murder and postmortem criminalization is one of the inspirations of the national movement to end the war on youth. George dared to dream aloud. He had a radical imagination that was beautiful and inspiring. He dreamed of sending students to pick strawberries, instead of suspensions. He dared to transform where others only sought reform. He imagined schools with mood detectors instead of metal detectors.23
NATIONAL EDUCATION IS LIBERATION DEMANDS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Education Is A Human Right Guaranteed To All
We want an immediate end to the state violence known as the school to prison pipeline and all zero-tolerance discipline policies in both public and charter schools, which target youth of color and push them out of schools and into the criminal system. We call on the Federal government to protect the human rights of Black, Brown, LBGTQ and Undocumented youth from the school to prison pipeline through a National Student Bill of Rights and Constitutional Amendment.
Restorative Justice Now
We want the Federal Department of Education to require school districts that receive federal funding to adopt restorative/transformative justice and remove willful defiance, disorderly conduct and other minor infractions as punishable by suspension, expulsion, ticketing and arrest from their student codes. We call on the Department of Justice & the Department of Education to provide $500 million in federal funding to provide training, staffing and supports to schools working to fully implement restorative justice and/or other programs to end the school-to-prison pipeline.
End The Federal 1033 Program and Police Out of Schools
We want an end to the Federal 1033 Program, the return of all militarized weapons and machinery from local police departments and school districts back to the Department of Defense. We call for the removal of School Resource Officers from schools and the redistribution federal funds towards community-based solutions that work like community peace-builders, restorative justice programs, ethnic studies, school counselors and social workers.
We want the end of the privatization of our education that strips our communities and families of our human right to self-determine our education. We call for a moratorium on federal funding for new or expanding charter schools, the end of mayoral control and state takeovers. We want education democracy and community control of our schools.
Jonathan Stith is a founding member and National Coordinator for the Alliance Educational Justice, a national network of intergenerational and youth-led organizations working to end the school-to-prison pipeline. He has 20 years of experience working with youth and community organizations to address social inequities. As the former Executive Director of the Youth Education Alliance (YEA), he was a critical leader in the School Modernization Campaign that won 3.2 billion dollars for school renovation and repair in the District. He was also a steering committee member of the Justice for DC Youth Coalition that successfully organized youth and their families to win critical juvenile justice reforms in the District. Last and most importantly, he is a father of three teenagers.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with permission or license. We thank the Author, Jonathan Stith and The Alliance for Educational Justice, for their kindness, strength, wisdom, and for their enduring commitment to the People of African Descent. May we each consider and act on The Right To An Education.