Like with many people in the United States, and across the world, my heart was beating at a mile a minute as the judge in the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial read the verdict on all three counts:
After I heard the verdict, I was personally relieved. I know many others who feel relieved with the verdict as well, for it meant that George Floyd’s life mattered enough that the police officer who killed him went to prison.
However, in my own humble opinion (humble because I do not have to worry about police on a daily basis like my friends of color do), what we saw today was not justice for George Floyd. Justice would’ve been if George Floyd didn’t get killed at the hands of Derek Chauvin.
Instead, what we got was accountability. Namely, accountability for a chokehold that lasted nearly 10 minutes. Derek Chauvin, the person who killed George Floyd, was held accountable for that chokehold.
That accountability often does not happen. Look at Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Sean Bell, and many others. All of these individuals were killed by police officers, and yet the police officers who killed them didn’t go to jail. In all these cases, we got neither justice nor accountability.
The ultimate goal should be justice, period. Justice means that Blacks are treated the same by law enforcement as others–something that is far from being the case. Justice means that Blacks aren’t so disproportionately subject to everything from marijuana use to being shot at in spite of being unarmed. Justice means that my friends of color and my brother’s friends of color are given the same treatment by law enforcement that I receive. But justice goes beyond policing–it means the elimination of racial inequality in everything from our schools to our economic systems. Reaching this goal of justice will not be easy, and it may take a long time to achieve this goal (especially as long as too many people keep electing politicians who do everything in their power to keep us from marching towards justice), but that should be our goal.
However, we can hope that the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin Murder Trial will at least be a first step towards accountability. Namely, accountability in terms of how Blacks are policed. With accountability, we can get a step closer to making sure that Black lives truly matter.
Please note that I wrote this piece on the fly, so I apologize in advance for any mistakes I made here.
In short, it is “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” This trend, which some kids from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly vulnerable to (hence, this is an issue that often disproportionately affects kids of color and kids with mental health issues, to name two particular populations), involves isolating and punishing kids who cause trouble in school, in the process pushing them out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. In many such cases, various educational and counseling services might be most warranted, but instead students are often isolated and punished.
Some issues that lead to the school-to-prison pipeline include, but are not limited, to:
Zero-tolerance policies, which impose severe punishments upon students regardless of circumstances. Such policies are often punitive to the point that the punishment does not fit the crime. Such policies can push students out of the “school” part of the school-to-prison pipeline.
Police officers at schools, who are often responsible for policing the hallways at schools—a role usually reserved for teachers and school administrators. This can lead to something called school-based arrests—an issue that happens with some frequency. Worse yet, these arrests can happen on quite a few occasions for minor behaviors, issues that might not have resulted in arrest were it not for police officers at schools.
A lack of resources for many schools, which means that the extra educational support or counseling support that a troubled student might need is not available. Because of that lack of availability to such vital services (and generally the lack of ability some schools have in providing vital services), students can be at an increased risk for dropping out and for future legal involvement.
So how do we address this pipeline?
For one thing, I think we need to go back to a question I asked in my previous blog post on policing and schools with majority-minority populations: Should we really have police officers in schools? I know that “abolish the police” is a controversial idea, but if police in schools don’t protect the schools, don’t protect the students at the schools, and mostly serve as a major enabler in the school-to-prison pipeline, then I honestly think that law enforcement at schools is doing way more harm than good. One other thing I will add is that if there must be law enforcement in schools (and I’m not convinced personally that it is something we must have), I think it is a must that said law enforcement is competent in interacting with kids the age that they’re supposed to work with and protect.
For another thing, zero-tolerance policies need to be reevaluated. Not all actions should receive the same punishment. Creating an environment of restorative justice (repairing the harm caused by the crime, as well as giving the offender the opportunity to do better in the future) as opposed to punitive justice (punishing the offender severely, regardless of the severity of the crime) gives an opportunity for people to learn from their mistakes, not to mention that it creates an environment likely to decrease the chances of seeing the school-to-prison pipeline come to fruition.
Last, but not least, in cases where local municipalities are unable to provide the resources needed for schools to be well-resourced, I think that states and the federal government need to step in and make sure said schools and school districts are properly resourced. A significant piece of school funding relies on local property taxes, which means that if you live in an area where property values are depressed, then revenue from property taxes is depressed. This creates a ripple effect which leads to school funding in a district also being depressed. Depressed school funding, in turn, results in a lack of access to many resources for the students who need them the most.
The school-to-prison pipeline is shameful. Hopefully, in my lifetime, progress can be made to address this problem.
Ever since the storming of the United States Capitol Building on January 6th, there have been ongoing debates about how much security to have at the building, and how much to force members of the United States Congress to be subject to certain security regulations. Some of these debates and disagreements have even resulted in some members of Congress defying security regulations put into place…or at least attempting to do so.
My initial thought when reading about the actions of some of the aforementioned defiant individuals: “This shows how privileged they are—openly defying some of the very same security measures that many kids in schools across the United States have to experience and have no choice in experiencing.” But lately, as drastic as this sounds, my thoughts this issue have turned to other questions.
Why do we have things like police officers, metal detectors, and locked gates at our schools? And why do we need bodyguards in the same space where students learn math, social studies, and science?
I used to assume that it was because school shootings are unfortunately a risk in the United States, and that these measures were an attempt to keep such heinous tragedies from happening.
My assumption was wrong.
As it turns out, the biggest predictor of which schools receive such stringent security measures is not crime in the neighborhood or anything crime-related, but skin color. Evidence of this fact is how majority-minority schools are two to eighteen times as likely as schools with small nonwhite populations (under 20% nonwhite) to have metal detectors, school police and security guards, locked gates, and random sweeps. A blunt way to summarize the current scholarship on security measures at schools is that it’s disproportionately used to treat students of color like suspected criminals.
But if school security measures are used in such problematic and even racist ways, what are the implications? Where do we go from here?
On a practical level, it means that there needs to be an honest answering of two questions:
Should we even have security measures, such as bodyguards and metal detectors, at schools? Interestingly, it is not even a given that said measures even work at accomplishing the supposedly intended goal of keeping schools safe. If the measures don’t even accomplish the goals they are supposed to, they are a huge waste of time for the people involved in keeping things “safe,” as well as a waste of money.
If the answer to the previous question is yes, how can such security measures be better targeted so that we don’t continue to disproportionately treat students of color like suspected criminals?
On a political level, especially in relation to the increased security for members of the United States Congress in the wake of the attempted January 6, 2021 insurrection, I wish that the same energy dedicated to figuring out what level of security is appropriate for members of Congress were also dedicated to figuring out what level of security is appropriate for schools, and particularly schools that serve large populations of students of color. Security at the United States Capitol is important and should be deliberated, but so should the security of students going to school every day, and making sure that the way we implement security measures at schools is not based on the racial makeup of them. In the wake of mass school shooting tragedies in the last few decades ranging from Columbine to Sandy Hook, we know that the solution is not to completely ignore the issue of school security, but at the same time serious questions should be asked about the way school security is currently approached.
On the big-picture level, in terms of racial issues, the implication is that the issue of security measures in schools is yet another manifestation of racism in the way majority-minority populations are policed (something I’ve talked about in a previous blog post, by the way). While a fair bit of attention on racism and minority populations is focused on the shootings of unarmed people of color, some attention should also be dedicated to the policing of schools where most of their students are people of color.
From a young age, I was taught that as long as I didn’t look for trouble, I wouldn’t get in trouble with the police.
Thankfully, for me, that has been the case. I’ve never looked to cause any trouble, even with something relatively harmless like marijuana, and I haven’t gotten into trouble.
But because of institutional racism, which I defined in my introductory post in the institutional racism series as “racism that is practiced and sometimes even normalized by social, economic, governmental, and other institutions,” the story is often different for those who don’t look Caucasian.
For example, some of my brother’s elementary school friends who were people of color got into troubling situations with the police, even though they weren’t looking to cause trouble (yes, you read that correctly: elementary school). For example, these friends were often searched thoroughly by police under a practice in New York known as “stop-and-frisk,” even though there was zero evidence of their carrying weapons. On the other hand, you never heard similar tales from my brother’s and my white friends or from my Caucasian family. It was therefore no coincidence that the bias against people of color in stop-and-frisk was so severe that some people called it “walking while brown.”
These stories seemed to fit with the actual statistics on stop-and-frisk. For example, a May 2012 New York Times article cited by Forbes said that “85% of those stopped were black or Hispanic even though those groups make up about half of NYC’s population.” With a statistic like this, there is validity to the claim that someone is stopped for “walking while brown.”
Readers might be looking at these statistics and thinking, “Fine…you have stories and statistics, but where does the institutional racism come in?” To find the answer, it’s important to look at how stop-and-frisk was justified—it was justified by saying that people who are deemed a threat need to be stopped. Hence, by using stop-and-frisk disproportionately on people of color, an institution (the police) was sending the racist message that a disproportionate number of people of color were a threat.
In contrast, similar stories are never heard of from light-skinned people like me. You see a white person sleeping in the common room at college? The thought is that, “Oh…the person has studied a ton. No big deal.” You see two white people at a Starbucks waiting to meet with someone? You don’t think anything of it, probably. But people of color doing these things are viewed as a threat by many people, law enforcement or not.
As I said in the beginning of this piece, I was taught from a young age that I would not get into trouble if I didn’t seek trouble. As it turns out, though, I might not have gotten into trouble even if I had sought some trouble.
At the same time, I recognize that it is a different story for friends of mine who are people of color. It is a different story because of the startling disparities between the way whites are policed and the way people of color are policed. Indeed, institutional racism exists in the way that I, and others, are policed.
Update as of November 24, 2019: While this series on institutional racism ended long ago, the issues I addressed in this post have become relevant again due to the renewed scrutiny on Michael Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policy while he was Mayor of New York City. In case you were wondering, the stories and statistics I have of stop-and-frisk in this post are from Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure in New York. The current scrutiny over this tactic exists because he declared his candidacy for President of the United States today, just one week after he apologized for his use of the tactic while he was mayor.
I am hoping that this post serves as a reminder that, regardless of his apology and regardless of whether you believe in his apology, the institutional racism that led to Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk is still relevant.
As for readers who didn’t expect a post from me until after Thanksgiving, sorry about that. I figured that this post is too relevant not to re-publish right now.
While I was working on a post to conclude this series on institutional racism, I did a Google search of “institutional racism polls” (mostly to get a sense of seeing how many Americans believe in the existence of institutional racism). The first two results for this search showed commentator Ben Stein saying that there is no more institutional racism in America.
It’s ironic that the first two results for this search show Ben Stein denying the existence of institutional racism because, actually, I think that my series of posts on the subject shows the opposite. The series demonstrates that institutional racism exists, even in 2018.
This institutional racism exists in housing systems, school systems, policing institutions, and colleges. It exists in many other institutions that I did not mention in my blog series. It exists in so many places that someone could quite possibly run a whole blog on the subject of institutional racism.
So if you ever question the existence of institutional racism, or run into someone who questions or doubts the existence of institutional racism, I hope that people can look at the posts in my series and say: “Wait…institutional racism exists, in America, in the 21st century.” After all, it’s difficult to fix racism as a whole without realizing the existence of institutional racism.
Note: While this is my last post in my series on institutional racism, it’s possible (maybe likely) that I will still make some individual posts related to institutional racism.