ONTD Political

Police Disproportionately Target Children of Color in New York City Public Schools

9:42 am - 12/10/2012
Schoolhouse to Courthouse

KENNETH screwed up. The 11th grader made a crude joke about the police officers in his Bronx high school — and an officer overheard.

“What did you say?” the officer demanded. “Say it again and I’m going to punch you in the [expletive] mouth.”

“You can’t [expletive] touch me,” said Kenneth, who has Asperger syndrome.

And so it began.

The officer pulled out his nightstick, with one hand, grabbed Kenneth (whose name I’ve changed) by the throat with the other, and pushed him against the wall. Then he pinned the boy’s arms behind his back and pulled him, by the neck of his hoodie, down the fourth-floor hallway.

The officer, who said Kenneth pushed him, arrested Kenneth and drove him to the local precinct, where officers took his photo and his fingerprints, and detained him overnight in a locked cell.

Kenneth says he was not permitted to call his mother — or a lawyer — until much later in the day and it wasn’t until the next morning, when he was taken to court and charged with resisting arrest, that he was read his rights. On the advice of court-appointed counsel, Kenneth pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and emerged from the incident with an arrest record.

The story is disturbing, but not unusual.

Kenneth’s was one of 882 arrests in New York City public schools during the 2011-12 school year. (The police issued another 1,666 summonses for illegal conduct.) The incidents involved ranged from resisting arrest to possessing marijuana to drawing graffiti. Serious felony arrests were rare.

Public outcry over the arrest of 5-year-old Dennis Rivera in 2008 helped lead to a policy change: the New York City Police Department now primarily uses Velcro handcuffs on elementary school children. But the new, soft cuffs don’t address what my organization, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and others say is a high incidence of excessive police force, unlawful arrest and routine civil rights violations in New York City public schools.

In a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of all New York City public middle and high school students, the N.Y.C.L.U. has asked the court to make school discipline the responsibility of educators — not the police.

The New York City Police Department says a large police presence — and, in some institutions, metal detectors — is necessary to prevent violence in schools. The Police Department says the drop in school crime rates — which are lower now than they were 14 years ago — is a measure of their success in keeping schools safe. But crime rates in schools began to drop before school safety was turned over to the Police Department, in 1998.

And too often police involvement has the effect — as it arguably did in Kenneth’s case — of escalating minor disciplinary problems into criminal activity. Kenneth’s case, and many others like it, raises the question: do the police create more problems in city schools than they solve?

It’s a question of national, not just local, consequence. In 2009, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 68 percent of American students reported the presence of security guards or police officers, or both, in their schools, as compared with 54 percent in 1999. Questions about excessive police force and possible rights violations have risen along with increased police presence in the country’s schools — so much so that Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois will hold hearings this week on how to end “the school-to-prison pipeline.”

In New York City, the Police Department has a special unit to protect students in public schools. With some 5,000 agents, the School Safety Division is larger than all but a handful of the country’s big-city police departments: there are nearly twice as many safety officers in city schools as guidance counselors and nearly four times as many safety officers as social workers.

Not surprisingly, black and Latino children are disproportionately affected by this police presence. More than 90 percent of arrests by police school safety personnel during the 2011-12 school year involved black and Latino students. Nearly one in five involved a child aged 12 to 14.

These demographics are generally consistent with national patterns. The United States Department of Education reports that more than 70 percent of students arrested at school during the 2009-10 school year were black or Latino.

Aggressive policing has traditionally been coupled with zero-tolerance discipline policies that authorize suspension for a variety of infractions. New York City’s Department of Education reports that more than 50 percent of the 69,643 students suspended during the 2011-12 school year were black — though blacks make up just 28 percent of enrollment. And special needs students, who constitute 12 percent of those enrolled in city schools, represented more than 30 percent of suspensions. (Commendably, the city has recently loosened its suspension policy.)

Largely unregulated, the police presence undermines the authority of school officials: New York City public school officials have essentially no authority over on-site police officers.

Students who enter the juvenile justice system are less likely to graduate than their peers and may be denied employment opportunities and services like public housing because of their criminal records. This spectacle — of children with squandered chances — ought to provide extra incentive to address school discipline problems.

Several schools have found ways to keep students safe without handcuffs or nightsticks. The Julia Richman Education Complex on Manhattan’s East Side is a good example. The school was so full of violence in the 1980s and ’90s (when the school had one of the lowest graduation rates in the city) that administrators maintained a lockup cage for students who were thought to be out of control. Then, in 1995, new school leaders removed the cage and significantly reduced the number of security officers in the school. The few guards who remained were made active collaborators with the school’s leaders, regularly convening to discuss ways to help troubled students. Today, the school has almost no violent crime, suspensions are rare, and it boasts a high graduation rate.

The school system in Clayton County, Georgia, had similar success when it imposed strict limits on police authority in 2004. Under the new rules, officers are prohibited from arresting students for most misdemeanor offenses at school unless the student has previously been charged with two misdemeanor violations. If a student chronically commits misdemeanors — consistently gets in schoolhouse fights, for example — the student is entitled to counseling, which is designed to address underlying problems such as trouble at home. Since these rules were implemented, juvenile court referrals and serious weapon charges have each decreased by roughly 70 percent, while the countywide graduation rate has jumped by 24 percent.

The success enjoyed at the Julia Richman Education Complex and in Clayton County suggests it is possible to keep students safe and to limit police involvement so as to avoid the issues — and damage — that often accompanies police officers in public schools. Officers assigned to schools must be comprehensively trained to work in educational environments and be fully accountable to school administrators. At the very least, we should create clear, Clayton County-type limits on police conduct in schools.

Students like Kenneth face many obstacles during their school years. The adults paid to protect them shouldn’t be one of these problems.

luminescnece 10th-Dec-2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
We can either force our police to behave ethically the way that the police force isn't going to make them, by demanding it as the people... or we can just give up the ghost and admit that the police in those schools are NOT there to protect the students that don't conform to a specific type.

Edited at 2012-12-10 04:19 pm (UTC)
a_phoenixdragon 10th-Dec-2012 04:24 pm (UTC)
a_phoenixdragon 10th-Dec-2012 04:23 pm (UTC)
Students like Kenneth face many obstacles during their school years. The adults paid to protect them shouldn’t be one of these problems.

This. Unfortunately, it does not surprise me. Police officers have become...rather aggressive in the last decade. Especially when dealing with children. I am happy to hear some schools are implementing a more rigid conduct code and training. I would love for police to be seen as someone to go to when in trouble, someone who is your friend in uniform - rather than a bully and someone to fear. I would like to see this happen in my lifetime. But I'm afraid it might not.

I'm not saying there aren't real, actual issues that police have to deal with (or that their job hasn't gotten harder). The few that make the papers like this make all officers look bad. But it seems (in my mind) Serve and Protect has become more Bully and Harass.

Children (in many ways) have not changed. The world and how it deals with them has. Teens (especially) have more than enough problems and pressures. I heartily agree with the end of the article - the adults who protect them should not be yet another problem or obstacle to contend with. Too many good kids end up in the system.

luminescnece 10th-Dec-2012 05:02 pm (UTC)
People used to react like crazy to the victorian notion that children had to act like adults and work like adults and learn like adults.

What are we doing now?
We overload them in school as 'training for their future as adults', can't have too much structured time apparently. Extra curricular things which were once fun are 'ways to get into college'

We subject them to inequality in a globalized world and tell them they are equal when they can see with their fucking eyes they are not.

We sexualize them.

I hope the future looks on us with pity, but that would be assuming things will get better.
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
kitanabychoice 10th-Dec-2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
This article doesn't surprise me in the least. We had metal detectors and security/police in our schools since middle school for me and I always thought it didn't make us students any more willing to respect authority when we were being treated like criminals from the start. Every day we had to wait in long lines to get into the school because our bags needed to be searched and we had to go through the metal detectors. Most doors were locked, even though that's against fire code.

I remember distinctly a time where one kid, who was kind of a rebel, did something to piss off one of the security guards and the security guard put him into a sleeper hold. I didn't know what to think about that, but the security guard almost had a riot on his hands when the guy's pregnant girlfriend tried to plead with him to let him go and the security guard punched her in the stomach to get her to shut up. :|
poetic_pixie_13 10th-Dec-2012 07:37 pm (UTC)
when the guy's pregnant girlfriend tried to plead with him to let him go and the security guard punched her in the stomach to get her to shut up. :|

What the actual flying fuck is this fucking bullshit?

I hope that motherfucker was at least fired. I'm not even going to get my hopes up that he was charged. Jesus fuck.
ceilidh 10th-Dec-2012 05:24 pm (UTC)
this doesn't surprise me at ALL.

One thing I honestly think would help behavior and reduce the need for so much "security" is drastically smaller schools at the middle and high school level (most pushes for small schools happen at the elementary level, which is good, but needs to be taken further). When you jam thousands of kids into overcrowded buildings and make them feel like product in a warehouse, they act out. Smaller schools mean the kids know each other better and the teachers know the students better. Students do better academically and socially when they feel like someone gives a damn about them. But smaller schools require more buildings (I'm not talking about the tendency in NYC and other cities to put two or more "schools" in one building) and more teachers which requires more money, and GOD FORBID.
anolinde 10th-Dec-2012 06:03 pm (UTC)
Seconding this. Going from high school to college was really disheartening in a lot of ways because I knew/recognized the majority of people at my high school, but at college I could walk back and forth across campus without recognizing a single person. It's a lot harder to make friends here, and in turn to feel like you belong.
lantean_breeze 10th-Dec-2012 06:00 pm (UTC)
This is enraging. That boy should have never been arrested, let alone ADVISED to plead guilty after his rights were violated. That child's record should be expunged and the police officer should be fired at the least. I hope the NY ACLU wins BIG with that lawsuit.
angelofdeath275 10th-Dec-2012 06:05 pm (UTC)
the police are as racist as ever

myrrhmade 10th-Dec-2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
When the fuck is our society going to start holding these motherfuckers accountable.
lantean_breeze 10th-Dec-2012 07:13 pm (UTC)
Yeah, really.
poetic_pixie_13 10th-Dec-2012 07:06 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, kids of colour (many of whom are poor) know where they fall in the social hierarchy early on. It's very comforting.
lantean_breeze 10th-Dec-2012 07:16 pm (UTC)
It sounds like you're racist as ever too. "It's very comforting." Hmm. Well, what comforts me is the fact that there will ALWAYS be someone there to challenge this fake "hierarchy," and when it is challenged enough, it will fall.
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
tabaqui 10th-Dec-2012 07:23 pm (UTC)
This is complete and utter bullshite. For fuck's sake.
sobota 10th-Dec-2012 08:23 pm (UTC)
There are two public safety officers at my school, where I'm the long term sub for a teacher who was PUSHED DOWN A FLIGHT OF STAIRS by some students (he had other health complications, but that was a big thing right there). There are fights daily; I'm threatened at least twice a week. There have been two instances of students bringing guns to school There is a culture of violence at this school; I worry about coming everyday. I know my officers by name, and they're people of colour too. I don't defend cops by any means, but I feel safe with them. They know the students, and know their backgrounds. I wouldn't feel safe in this school without a cop, or at least these two. If either one of them did what these cops do, then I would feel differently, and I do. /csb /anecdata

Also, I'm in GA, but not in Clayton.

Edited at 2012-12-10 08:24 pm (UTC)
lantean_breeze 10th-Dec-2012 08:53 pm (UTC)
"They know the students, and know their backgrounds."

And I truly believe that this makes a big difference. Getting to know the children and understand them helps to prevent some of the violence that the ones at risk are prone to. The kids that threw the teacher down the flight of stair should pay for what they've done in an appropriate way, and I hope more can be done to better the environment at your school.
endlos_schleife 10th-Dec-2012 08:36 pm (UTC)
As someone who didn't grow up in this country and only came here three years ago I still have so many issues understanding who the everlasting fuck would seriously arrest an elementary school child or the high-schooler mentioned in this article. It is just so alien to me, that you need this level of security, or think that you need this level of security, especially since the presence of cops doesn't fight the root of the problem and if anything just worsens the symptom.
lantean_breeze 10th-Dec-2012 08:56 pm (UTC)
YES. I agree with you wholeheartedly, and I am as baffled as you are by this kind of illogical action by supposedly "intelligent" police officers.
wrestlingdog 10th-Dec-2012 08:53 pm (UTC)
I feel like I say this far too often in this comm, but I so desperately wish I was more surprised.
zinnia_rose 10th-Dec-2012 09:41 pm (UTC)
Protip: if you can't handle a teenager making a joke about you without resorting to violence, the police force isn't the career for you.
bestdaywelived 10th-Dec-2012 11:38 pm (UTC)
I would disagree with you there - most of the guys I know who became cops are serious douchebags, so I think it comes with the terrotiry.
yeats 10th-Dec-2012 09:48 pm (UTC)
i'm glad this article talked about the specific race-based issues surrounding the policing of schoolchildren, even if most of the commenters haven't. de facto segregation in nyc public schools is a huge issue, and not one that the mayor seems to give a shit about.
ceilidh 10th-Dec-2012 10:17 pm (UTC)
I wish I could find the article(s) but I read some time ago about school restructuring in NYC where officials would take a building with a "failing" school, and make two schools in one building, like a charter school and a regular school, and the charter school would get to use the library and other facilities more than the "regular" school, and the "regular" school was mostly black/Hispanic children who would end up with no library, no gym, no computer lab!
This page was loaded May 23rd 2018, 3:00 pm GMT.