The Criminalization of Black Males Starts in Our Schools
April 17, 2018

A viral video showing two Black men being surrounded by police officers and eventually arrested and removed from a Philadelphia Starbucks for “trespassing” has captured the attention of the nation. In response to the incident, the Starbucks CEO has called the arrest “reprehensible”, while Black Lives Matter and other activists have held protests at the store.

The video is sparking up the national discourse around what people of color already know about: the idea that deeply held implicit biase and ingrained fear in white people leads to your mere existence being a crime.

Crimes like driving while black, walking while black and waiting for a friend in Starbucks while Black.

The problem starts in childhood, according to a new report by the United States Government Accountability Office. The report, ‘Discipline Disparities for Black Students, Boys, and Students with Disabilities’ shows that Black students are disproportionately disciplined in K-12 public schools throughout the country.

Black students represented 15.5 percent of all public school students and accounted for 39 percent of students suspended from school, an overrepresentation of about 23 percentage points. And it’s not just suspensions. Across the board, Black students were found to be significantly overrepresented regardless of the type of disciplinary action.

Just like the two Black men being arrested for “trespassing” in a Starbucks while waiting for a friend, an action white bystanders noted they often do, the data shows that Black students are more severely punished than their white peers, even for the same offenses.

It is a step in the right direction to see many of the white witnesses to the Starbucks incidents speak up on the role of implicit bias, and need for other white folks to use their privilege to address similar incidents. But, it seems like we can take that conversation a step further.

The truth is that Black men don’t just become criminalized as adults, but rather as early as preschool and inside of classrooms throughout America.

The Starbucks employee who felt the need to call the police on two black men for an offense we can assume would not land white customers under arrest, is simply an extension of teachers who continue to let their biases lead to excessive discipline for Black students.

In a recent interview, Melissa DePino, the woman who took the original video of the incident that is being shared all over social media, notes “people don’t believe black people when they say this stuff happens. It does. They want to know the extenuating circumstances. There are none.”

The only thing shocking about the Starbucks ordeal, is that people are surprised.

Black people are consistently profiled, targeted and punished regardless of their actions, and the Government Accountability Office’s report just shows that this is no different in our schools.

Like DePino says, people WANT to assume that there is more to every story. It just doesn’t make sense to them that Black people could be targeted for no reason.

This is a thought process of privilege. White people aren’t subjected to these incidents and therefore in their minds, they must not exist.

Hopefully, the report sheds light on the insane disparities in discipline in our schools and moments like the arrest at the Philadelphia Starbucks keep the conversation going on how to actually make some progress.This is especially important as Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration and it’s supporters lash out and consider scrapping altogether the Obama-era guidance given to public schools with the specific purpose of targeting and reducing racial disparities in student discipline.

Whether you want to believe it or not, the evidence is clear, we have a problem. Now, what is your role in fixing it?

You can read the United States Government Accountability Office’s full report here.

 

 

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