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By Kelisa Wing
Four weeks ago, a Black man was lynched in 2020.
I remind myself of that fact each day so that I do not forget what we saw, what happened—that we witnessed a man take his last breath. In the days following, we watched people take to the streets, in the midst of a pandemic, willing to risk their health to fight against systemic and systematic racism.
Gianna Floyd, George Floyd’s daughter, perched on former NBA player Stephen Jackson’s shoulders, boldly declared, “Daddy changed the world!”
The gravity of those words is reverberating through policies, practices, and interactions across this country, and specifically, our relationship with law enforcement in our education systems.
As I stood next to strangers while protesting in my hometown several weeks ago, I demanded that the Toledo Superintendent dissolve the school system’s contract with the police. This insidious police presence was a staple of my middle school experience and has shaped my advocacy today in calling for the dismantling of the school-to-prison pipeline.
The school-to-prison pipeline describes a system in which students are referred to law enforcement rather than the office for behavior. Black and Latino students are three times more likely to be suspended for their behavior than a White student for the same offense. As of last year, 18% of Black boys and 10% of Black girls received out of school suspensions compared to White boys who are suspended 5% and White girls 2% of the time. When students are suspended, they are more likely to have interaction with law enforcement and, if they are expelled, they are more likely to enter into prison in their lifetime.
As educators, we watched as the current administration stripped away advancements we made with dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline—eroding all of the progress in pushing education leaders away from exclusionary practices and toward restorative practices. We felt a sense of hopelessness, watching as the school-to-prison pipeline was—and is— ignored as a pervasive issue.
But in February, a few weeks before the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I boldly declared that our students needed counselors and not cops in our schools. I highlighted the liberties that law enforcement officers have taken in our schools and the abuses they’ve engaged in when interacting with our students.
One case that underscored this was a case involving an 11-year-old boy, only 70 lbs., who was forcefully slammed to the ground by a police officer. In a study conducted from 2014-2016, it was found that there were 141 complaints of excessive use of force by police officers in schools.
SCHOOLS ARE BEGINNING TO SEVER TIES WITH POLICE
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis Police Officers, we are beginning to see positive change in schools across the nation.
Since George Floyd’s murder:
- Portland Public Schools have severed ties with armed school resource officers in schools.
- Minneapolis Public Schools have dissolved their contract with the police department.
- A petition is circulating to remove police from Chicago Public Schools and move immediately to #PoliceFreeSchools.
- A vote is scheduled for July in Phoenix on removing police from schools.
- The Los Angeles School Board will vote to determine if police will be phased out of their schools and funds redirected.
- Denver has ended their contract with the police department.
- School districts in Delaware want to terminate their contracts with police departments and replace police officers with counselors.
- In Milwaukee, the school board has decided to end their contract with the police department to patrol events and grounds of the schools.
- In Prince George’s County, the Board of Education moved to end their contract with the police department. A vote has been tabled until September.
- And many other school districts are looking to cancel their contracts as well.
If your school district is not looking to see how they can reduce or eliminate police presence and replace police officers with school counselors or other support staff who can assist students, then please encourage them to do so. We must dismantle disparate systems and move from disciplinary systems to systems that encourage restoration. Continue pushing and encouraging schools to provide students with pathways to success and not a pipeline to prison.
I never believed that I would see it in my lifetime, but Gianna was right, George Floyd is changing the world—we owe it to her and to him to continue to make change together!
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Kelisa Wing is the author of “Weeds & Seeds: How To Stay Positive in the Midst of Life’s Storms” and “Promises and Possibilities: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline” (both available on Amazon). She also is a 2017 State Teacher of the year, speaker, teacher and activist for discipline reform.