Note: The views expressed here are the writer’s and not necessarily those of the ACLU of Virginia.
By Stephanie Younger, a black student, aspiring computer programmer, poet, writer and a Central Virginia based activist.
In the wake of today’s youth-led movement for gun reform, part of the Parkland student activists’ manifesto is a request to make our schools safer by strengthening our law enforcement in schools.
The Justice Department’s instinctive response to this was to grant money to areas that want to add school resource officers (SROs). But what would this mean for black students who live in a world where they must choose between their safety and their education?
Black students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have voiced concerns about having more school resource officers at their schools. Not only do they feel silenced by the media, but they also feel profiled and targeted by the police.
A group of Black students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High called a press conference today to say they have concerns that may not mirror those of their white peers, and that the media should listen. Kai [Koerber] said while some might feel comfort to have more police officers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, he does not. He said it's intimidating & that black students would face most of the consequences of an overmilitarized and predominantly white school. - Nadege C. Green, social justice reporter for WLRN, South Florida's NPR station.
While it is important to keep our schools safe, we also need to address the disproportionate rates of young black victims of gun violence. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), black American children experience firearm violence at 10 times the rate of white children. Black children live in a world where they fear for their lives, especially at the hands of those whose job is to “serve and protect.”
Black students who have to deal with this reality everyday are more susceptible to abuse and exploitation by school law enforcement. It’s significant to address the criminal justice system’s history of their treatment of Black youth.
In October 2015, Deputy Ben Fields violently flipped and dragged a black teenage girl at Spring Valley High School in Richland, S.C., for taking out her cell phone. While her classmate, Niya Kenny, was arrested for filming the incident, the deputy was cleared of all charges. Similarly, a school resource officer at a North Carolina high school aggressively body-slammed 15-year-old Jasmine Darwin, who suffered a concussion as a result.
These are only two of many instances of abuse that black students across America have faced at the hands of police. As Virginians and as community advocates, it’s also important to address how more law enforcement in our schools plays into the school-to-prison pipeline. In a state where the most referrals to law enforcement occur, acknowledging how black girls experience the school-to-prison pipeline in addition to sexist dress codes is relevant as well.
According to #LetHerLearn, a campaign launched by the the National Women’s Law Center, black girls in Virginia are 4.5 times more likely to be suspended from school than white girls, with black girls comprising 28 percent of all girls referred to law enforcement.
Without intersectionality and the willingness to come to terms with America's dark and racist history with gun violence and the school-to-prison pipeline, we will disregard the fact that “arming our teachers” and ramping up our SROs won't make school safe for everyone. Black students deserve more inclusion in the conversation that disproportionately affects them.