In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white police officer, many of us are filled with grief and outrage at the violence Black people face in this country.
It’s imperative we remember that this violence is not just limited to Black adults. We must recognize that the United States has sanctioned centuries of violence against Black children, too. Today, this history of racist violence manifests in many ways, including schools’ impulse to control and police Black students in our schools.
Who can forget the image of a young Black girl in South Carolina being thrown to the ground and dragged across her classroom floor by a school police officer known as “Officer Slam?” The officer went unpunished.
Or the suspension of Christian Philon, a 12-year-old honor student in Georgia, who was suspended for 10 days for accidentally using counterfeit bills to pay for his school lunch? And these are just the stories reported in the news. As an advocate for children of color, I know that such incidents, and worse, take place in schools in California and across our country.
Communities of color across California have been working to address this violence for years, and since Floyd’s killing caught on video, school districts have finally begun to afford those efforts the attention they warrant.
In Oakland, for example, the George Floyd Resolution to Eliminate the Oakland Schools Police is up for a school board vote on June 24. Similar changes are being considered by some of the state’s largest school districts, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Stockton. Black students, in particular, would have a significantly better educational experience if we support these community efforts.
Research shows Black students have lost four times as many days of instruction due to school suspensions as their white peers in California. The consequence of increasing school policing and adding surveillance has been an increase in school-based arrests. Nationwide, Black students make up 15% of the student population, but 31% of students who are referred to law enforcement or arrested at school.
These experiences result in more Black children than their white peers ending up in jail or prison — a journey that alters the trajectory of their lives. The experience of racism in school has been linked to greater incidences of depression, anxiety and loneliness. And children who are involved in the juvenile justice system — particularly Black and Brown boys — are less likely than their white peers in and outside the juvenile justice system to graduate from high school and secure gainful employment.
For years, the Black community in California has spoken out about the atrocity of using suspension and policing in schools. For example, the Black Parallel School Board in Sacramento has raised its voice about the disproportionate impact of suspensions on Black students, to the local school district and before the California Legislature.
The Black Organizing Project in Oakland has organized tirelessly against the racism underlying police presence in schools. Recently, it proposed that the Oakland school board adopt the George Floyd Resolution. School boards around the country are passing related resolutions, including Oakland Unified School District’s neighbor, the West Contra Costa County Unified school district.
It is time that California’s non-Black advocates, educators and community members acknowledge our complicity in racism against Black children and become stronger allies for Black families. Organizations such as the Black Organizing Project and community members of color should not have to do this alone.
Take action to remove harmful school discipline and school hardening policies from our schools:
- Support the George Floyd Resolution and make other demands to remove school police and surveillance from your local schools.
- Invest funds in staff and services that support Black children’s well-being, such as counselors, social workers, school-based health centers and after-school programs;
- Create time and funding for school staff to learn and apply alternatives to exclusionary school discipline.
- Listen to Black families’ stories about multigenerational experiences with school discipline and school police. Let them lead the way to a more inclusive, loving education community for Black children.
We have all failed Black children by allowing structural and interpersonal racism into our school systems. It is now on all of us to value them, love them and raise our voices for and with them.
Atasi Uppal is a senior policy attorney at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, California.
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