Thursday, May 29, 2014

In the 'Post-Racial Era': The Pre-school-to-Prison Pipeline

Manual Arts Senior High School student Damien Valentine, 16, worked with community groups to pass a proposal last year that bans suspensions of defiant students in L.A. Unified. (Christina House / For The Times)
Black children make up 18% of preschoolers (mostly 4-year olds), but make up nearly half of all out-of-school suspensions. -- NPR
Quick-trigger suspensions of African-American students, especially boys, in vastly disproportionate numbers often for the same offense as other students, is a powerful indicator of (well why not call it what it is) institutional racism. It's also a precursor to what is now being called, the "school-to-prison pipeline". Kids who are suspended or expelled from school are more likely to drop out, and those dropouts are more likely to end up with criminal records. In many school districts, especially those with large black and Latino student populations, school discipline policies push kids directly into the juvenile justice system.

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, on discipline in the nation's public schools shows just how very early that gap is present. The Washington Post calls the findings "stark". Students of color, boys and girls, are suspended at three times the rate of white students, and the disparities begin in preschool. Black children make up 18% of preschoolers (mostly 4-year olds), but make up nearly half of all out-of-school suspensions.

Discriminatory suspension policies in Los Angeles schools under Supt. John Deasy's regime, have caught the attention of Rep. Janice Hahn. In a letter made public to Deasy, Hahn asks him to "personally look into" what the L.A. Times calls, "racial tension" at Markham Middle School in Watts. Hahn reports that Markham parents are concerned about African-American students being "treated unfairly by being sent home for issues that do not require suspensions."

I hate the term "racial tension" which places the burden for racial injustice on the victims -- those feeling tense about the situation, in the case of Markham, the schools 1,100 black and Latino students. It's one of those terms that is used increasingly in the media now that we have supposedly entered the "post-racial era." In its story on Markham, the Times accuses the black parents of "fanning the flames of racial tension" by protesting discriminatory school suspension policies.
Headline from the Sun-Times: "Disparities in pot arrests reveal two Chicagos"
Similar patterns of selective enforcement based on race, transcend schooling. In a sense, racial discrimination in schools is simply preparing students for their post-schooling lives. There's no better example that Chicago where new drug laws give police the option of either writing tickets or arresting marijuana users. The results have been horrifying. Since the city ordinance was enacted almost two years ago — allowing officers to ticket or make an arrest — recent reports show officers have chosen to make an arrest 9 out of 10 times.

Yesterday's  Sun-Times reports that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is ordering top cop Garry McCarthy to "explain why misdemeanor marijuana possession means one thing on the North Side — and a very different thing on the South and West Sides." As if Rahm didn't know.

McCarthy might well have answered:
For the same reason your school-closings and opening of selective-enrollment and charter schools mean one thing on the North Side and something very different on the South and West sides.

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