This year marks 400 “documented” years since enslaved Africans were brought to American shores. Centuries later, and we are still grappling with the ramifications of slavery. While African descendants are free in theory, a host of policies continue to criminalize black and brown people. Sadly, that criminalization begins in grade school and feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. The school-to-prison pipeline is the patchwork of policies that proscribes children of color, punishing them more harshly and more frequently than their white counterparts. While many would question whether schools really criminalize students, that is exactly what school officials are doing when they respond to typical childhood misbehavior with harsh punishment or involve police in situations that could easily be handled with a discussion between teacher and child or administrator and parent.
Consider for example the recent case of the 11-year-old Florida boy who was arrested for failing to stand for the pledge of allegiance. He had a constitutional right to make his opinion known, but now faces criminal charges for doing so. This youthful student and his family must now deal with the trauma of being handcuffed, taken in police custody and put in juvenile detention. His relationship to police and the law will forever be tainted by this early life experience.
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