by Professor Christopher Emdin, Columbia University
A few days ago, the New York State Civil Liberties Union released a report that raised attention to the racial disparities of NYC school arrests. In the first report of its kind, focusing on summer school months, the report mentions that the NYPD arrested and gave summonses to more than one student a day in the public school system. Over 90 percent of these students were students of color.
While this report raises major concerns about racism in NYC public schools, it calls our attention to an issue that is present in urban school districts across the country. In the days since the release of this report a story about a high school student who wasarrested for burping in class and another 5-year-old boy that was bound and arrested, have allowed us to see just how much schools have developed a culture of incarceration.
While the statistics and stories mentioned above are alarming, it is important to note that for every story that makes the headlines, and for every statistic that is revealed in reports, there are thousands of students who are being treated like criminals in their own schools every day. For many of these students, the schools they attend have become a place where the pipeline to prisonhas widened, and the pipeline to higher education has shrunk. Within schools, students are learning the procedures for having handcuffs placed on them, becoming accustomed to the voices of uniformed adults yelling at them, and seeing bars on their classroom windows. When this is happening, it is impossible for the students to be prepared for thinking critically, questioning inequity, and empowering themselves.