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Are Schools Preparing Black Boys...For Prison?

Written by Starla Muhammad on 23 September 2011.

A Chicago mother recently filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Education alleging a Chicago Public School security guard handcuffed her young son while he was a student at George Washington Carver Primary School on the city’s far south side.  In the lawsuit, filed Aug. 29, LaShanda Smith says the guard handcuffed her son March 17, 2010 which resulted in “sustained injuries of a permanent, personal and pecuniary nature.”

According to media reports, Michael A. Carin, the attorney representing Smith says the youngster was among several six and seven year olds that were handcuffed by the guard for allegedly “talking in class”.  The students were also allegedly told they would never see their parents again and were going to prison.

In a another incident April 13 of this year in Queens, New York a seven-year-old special education student in first grade was handcuffed and taken by ambulance to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation after he reportedly became upset because he did not like the color of an Easter egg he decorated.  The school says the child was spitting, would not calm down and was “threatening”.

In New Orleans, Sebastian and Robin Weston were plaintiffs in a 2010 class action lawsuit alleging their then six-year-old son was handcuffed and shackled to a chair by an armed security guard after the boy argued with another student over a chair. “This must stop now.  Our children are not animals and should not be treated this way,” Weston said in a statement.

Are these incidents, in which young Black boys are treated like common criminals in America’s schools subconsciously, preparing them instead for life behind bars in the criminal justice system?

“The school system has been transformed into nothing more than a prison preparation industry,” says Umar Abdullah Johnson, president of National Movement to Save Black Boys.

“The job of the school district is to prep the children for prison just like a chef preps his food before he actually cooks it,” Johnson, a nationally certified psychologist, told The Final Call.

“Yes We Can: The 2010 Schott 50 State Report on Black Males in Public Education” states Black Male students are punished more severely for similar infractions than their White peers. “They are not given the same opportunities to participate in classes with enriched educational offerings.  They are more frequently inappropriately removed from the general education classroom due to misclassifications by the Special Education policies and practices of schools and districts,” says the report.

In Chicago Public Schools, Black boys make up less than 25 percent of the student population but made up 57 percent of expelled students in 2009 according to Catalyst Chicago an online news magazine that reports on urban education.  “In Chicago, Black Boys are 51 percent of those suspended at the elementary level,” noted Catalyst Chicago.

Johnson says a false image has been created that suggests Black boys are not interested in being educated, which is not true he argues.  The emotional and psychological effects on a six and seven -year-olds from unfair and out-of-control disciplinary action like handcuffing is setting them up for criminality he explains.

“The first thing that type of behavior does is it socializes the boy at a very young age into criminal consciousness.  He is nurtured by the school into an understanding that his role in society is that of a criminal,” says Johnson, a Pennsylvania certified school principle, lecturer and motivational coach.  These methods and practices of handcuffing young Black boys takes away the stigma, sting and fear of incarceration he adds.

Overly harsh disciplinary policies sets the tone for students to become bored and frustrated with school which leads to increased drop-out rates and in many cases leads to greater involvement in the criminal justice system say youth advocates.  Johnson agrees.

“When you put handcuffs on a six or seven year old there’s no need for that six or seven-year-old to fear incarceration when they’re 17 and 18-years-old,” he says.

Schools are the number one referral source to jail and juvenile hall for Black children and teens.  Therefore, Johnson urges parents to meet and establish a relationship with their child’s teacher. “Once you meet with a teacher, just the vibration from that teacher - be they Black or White - are going to let you know whether they’re there to get a paycheck or whether they’re there to teach your child.” •