Schools are becoming tunnels into prisons

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

School has always been portrayed as this safe space for children. A nurturing environment in which the children of our future can freely learn without other worldly dilemmas. School is supposed to be a haven.

But, that’s not the case for Black students. 

For many Black children and children of color in general, school can potentially become a gateway to prison. 

The American Civil Liberties Union defines the school-to-prison pipeline as “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” For decades, the biased and racially targeted justice system has exploited the disciplinary tactics in school to attack children of color.

Being a Black child, especially a poor Black child, comes with a mountain of grief. It means living your everyday life knowing there are people who hate you for nothing more than your mere skin color. Worse than that, it means existing under a government that historically and continuously discriminates and targets your entire community. It is constant fear.

In Rutherford County, Tennessee, a judge perpetuated the horrors of being a Black child in America. Eleven Black elementary school students were aggressively persecuted, charged and later incarcerated for witnessing a fight. The crime was later found to be a fake crime, according to WKRN. That’s right, the crime in question did not exist. In fact, there was no such law that even graced our legal books to hold against these children.

Judge Donna Scott Davenport instituted a piece of legislation that demanded all children charged with a crime be processed in a detention center. Furthermore, she created an entirely new law that did not exist anywhere else known as “criminal responsibility for conduct of another.”

This story seems shocking to most, but for a Black child in America — this is the reality. 

As a society, we’ve come to the conclusion that handcuffing and criminalizing children is out of bounds. We’ve agreed to treat children with compassion and warmness. Yet, it seems that that warmth does not extend to those children in Rutherford County, and Black children like them across the nation.

The criminalization of Black children starts at an early age. In Florida, police arrested a 6-year-old girl for allegedly assaulting her principal. In reality, she was just throwing a fit like many 6-year-olds do. Does it not feel odd to shove a child who still needs a booster seat –– into the back of a cop car?

We must also address this outrageous comfortability school officials have with calling the police on young children. Don’t get me wrong; children can be extremely exhausting to deal with. They are needy, loud and teetering the fence of always being dirty. However, if you feel like you can’t deal with a 6-year-old’s temper tantrum without police involvement, I recommend a new field of practice.

The aggressive disciplining of Black children in schools is a complete reiteration of this nation’s distaste for the Black community. Furthermore, this discriminatory disciplining encourages Black students to perpetuate their stereotypes of being unsuccessful and ending up in the prison system.

“Zero-tolerance” policies inflict heavy criminalization of children, turning basic disciplinary infractions into full-scale crimes. Under such a policy, the minor breaking of school rules can result in the withholding of education, interactions with law enforcement and even ending up in front of a judge. In a world where judges like Davenport exist, we cannot seriously believe these children are safe in school.

Black preschoolers are three times more likely to be suspended than their white classmates, according to a study published by the National Academy of Medicine. That number is disturbing. Why is it that when a white child throws a fit, we agree it comes with age; yet when a Black child throws one, harsh punishment follows? That courtesy of understanding and rationalizing with children must be extended to all kids, regardless of their race.

As a society, it is imperative that we protect our future generations from the disgraceful prejudice and discrimination our nation has been plauged with since the beginning of history. Children are innocent vessels that rot once we inject them with our negative beliefs and ideologies.

From law enforcement officers to now school officials, the school-to-prison pipeline has just become another blatant attempt of regression placed on the Black community by the same services meant to protect them. We cannot let such injustice slide. Especially not when it comes to our children.

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