Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Black teen lives matter

By now, we've all seen or heard about the footage of a school resource officer abusing a Black child.
In the end, abuse is about control and about the abuser's fear that he or she is not, in fact, superior to the victim.  And there is no one authority figures single out for abuse more than Black young people.

“Oh, if their parents taught them to respect authority, this never would have happened,” the internet counters.  So white teenage rebels are iconic and normal and developmentally appropriate, but Black ones are dangerous and need to learn who's boss?  So kids who would get a detention if they were white deserve to get arrested instead?  Forced to put up bail before they can go home and do their homework just because they mouthed off or failed to hand over a phone?

How about maybe if that cop's parents had taught him some respect for other people's human rights, he wouldn't be beating the shit out of a little girl over nothing?  How about maybe if the officer’s training had taught him how to de-escalate conflict and avoid using force, he wouldn’t have attacked a child over an insult to his authority?  How about maybe if people in authority in this school cared more about their students than about saving face, that class would have learned something that day other than don't trust the cops or the school?

I taught inner city high school.  You know what I found to be true?  Kids respect the adults who show them respect.  They know which teachers know their subjects and show up prepared.  They know which administrators care about the students.  They know which teachers love them even after they get into trouble.  They also know which adults are racist or just marking time.  Kids aren't stupid.

I will confess that one time I called the office and asked the resource officer to escort a student out who refused to take my referral and go. I realized as soon as I did it that I had probably handled the situation poorly.  Thankfully, nothing terrible happened, because our school wasn't cool with adults assaulting students, and our officer treated our kids like people.  I didn't like sending students out of my room, because I knew they weren't learning squat sitting in the office.  When they disrupted the learning of the rest of the class, and I couldn't manage to avoid sending them out, I knew it was sometimes as much my failure to better manage the situation as it was a failure on the part of the students.

Should students behave respectfully and cooperatively?  Of course.  Do students sometime need to be removed for endangering others or preventing the class from learning?  Sometimes.  Is it appropriate to criminalize ordinary adolescent mistakes?  No.  Is it appropriate to respond violently when it isn't absolutely necessary?  No.

Why do Black girls get suspended at 6 times the rate of white girls?  It isn't because they're 6 times more disrespectful or 6 times more disruptive.  Teenagers are often a pain in the ass.  They're asserting their independence and make foolish decisions on the regular.  They are not adults.  This is accepted as a fact by almost everyone, as long as the teen in question is white.  Why is being a child and making mistakes of adolescence permitted for white kids and a crime for Black and brown ones?

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