We need to prioritize Black girls in the conversation about police in schools
Black girls deal with the school to prison pipeline in addition to other sexist tools of over-policing.
April is Black Women’s History Month. Throughout this month, Black Youth Project is celebrating Black women. This month is also National Minority Health Month, Autism Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month. We are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
This essay contains brief descriptions of police violence against Black girls.
Some of the Parkland students behind the March For Our Lives movement recently published their manifesto, which includes a list of points they believe will curb gun violence and effectively end school shootings. One of these points is a request for funding to increase the number of security and resource officers in schools.
The talking points of this movement do not address the fact that gun violence in the U.S. kills more Black citizens than anyone else, or that Black children face the highest rates of mortality from gun violence. Nor does it acknowledge how the domestic terrorists who commit mass shootings are disproportionately white and male, or how students of color, but especially Black students, are more vulnerable to abuse from school security and resource officers.
Increasing school security means further indoctrinating youth, especially youth of color, into a police state. Inviting more police into schools contributes to making students into docile citizens, acclimated to heavy surveillance, confinement, and threat of police violence in their everyday spaces.
This is something that many Black children already live with in their communities and schools, and by asking them to endure even more of this the March for Our Lives movement ultimately upholds white supremacy and state violence.
There have already been calls for gun violence discussions to include children like Trayvon Martin and move towards disarming the police, as there should be. But we must also make sure that whatever work we do specifically addresses the violence that Black girls experience when their schools are over-policed.
When pushing national policy toward disarming the police, Black girls too often get left out of the conversation. This was central to the powerful speech delivered by 11 year old Naomi Wadler at the March for Our Lives rally in DC last month:
“I am here to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news… For far too long, these names, these Black girls and women, have been just numbers. I’m here to say ‘Never Again’ for those girls, too.”
Naomi spoke of Courtlin Arrington, Hadiya Pendleton, and Taiyania Thompson—Black girls killed by gun violence from both police and a school shooting. In the midst of the March for Our Lives call for increased security in schools, it is important to remember the instances in which Black girls have been assaulted and mistreated by school resource officers.
We’ve routinely witnessed instances like Jasmine Darwin being violently thrown to the ground and given a concussion, or the unnamed Black girl who was body-slammed and dragged by Deputy Ben Fields in her South Carolina high school and sustained multiple injuries. Niya Kenny, the classmate who recorded the incident, was also arrested and charged with “disturbing schools” for speaking up.
Brittany Overstreet was falsely accused of carrying mace by her classmates and assaulted, knocked unconscious, and had her jaw broken by a school resource officer in 2015, after which she was charged with “resisting arrest.” That same year, Diamond Neal, at just 13, required ten stitches after she and her cousins were needlessly beaten and pepper sprayed by a school resource officer in their Baltimore school.
The stories are abundant, and these are just a few of the ones caught on video. This is one aspect of what the school to prison pipeline looks like—over-policing Black children and funneling them from the education system that underserves them into the prison system which enslaves them and directly contributes to social immobility. It also looks like disproportionately high suspension rates and intentional racial inequity in the education system.
Black girls deal with all of these things in addition to other sexist tools of over-policing, like gender discriminatory dress codes and regulations on natural Black hair that disproportionately affect them, framing Black hairstyles as a “violations” and “distractions.”
Let Her Learn is fighting to end the pushout of girls from schools due to unfair and sexist disciplinary practices, especially LGBTQIA+ girls of color. The organization reports that Black girls make up just 16% percent of girls enrolled in K-12 public schools, but are 45% percent of the girls suspended, 37% of the girls arrested, 28% percent of the girls referred to law enforcement, and 4 times more likely to be arrested than white girls for the same infractions.
The effects of the school to prison pipeline on Black girls is as significant as its effects on Black boys, but it is not talked about nearly enough in these moments. A key component of this pipeline is the abuse of power from school resource officers.
Naomi Wadler concluded her speech with a timeless quote from Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
We have a responsibility to Black girls like Naomi. She charges us with telling the stories that are not told often enough, loudly enough, boldly enough. Let’s tell and re-tell stories that center Black girls and situate them as more than just numbers, percentages, and statistics, moving towards a narrative in which their lives and their safety are not peripheral, but a clear and present priority.