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Henry A. Giroux | Terrorizing Students: The Criminalization of Children in the US Police State

Wednesday, 11 November 2015 00:00 By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed
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Terrorizing Students: The Criminalization of Children in the US Police State (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Violence has become the problem of the 21st century. This claim is indebted to W. E. B. Dubois' much quoted notion that "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of color line."[1] For Du Bois, racism was one of the most pressing problems of the time and could not be understood outside of the gross inequities of wealth, power, opportunity and access. What he did not anticipate was the degree to which the violent character of racism would come to define the 21st century on a national and global level. What he described as a ruthless ideology and attitude of racist hostility would later mutate in the new millennium into a raw display of police brutality and state terrorism, camouflaged under the guise of an alleged post-racial society.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here. 

As brutalism comes to shape every public encounter, democratic values and the ethical imagination wither under the weight of neoliberal capitalism and "post-racial" racism. Giving way to the poisonous logics of self-interest, privatization and the unfettered drive for wealth, US society reneges on the social contract and assumes the role of a punishing state. [2] Under the regime of a predatory neoliberalism, compassion and respect are viewed increasingly with contempt while the spectacle of violence titillates the multitudes and moves markets. A free-market mentality now drives and corrupts politics, destroys social protections, celebrates a hyper-competitiveness and deregulates economic activity. All human activities, practices and institutions are now subject to market principles. Public goods such as toll roads, libraries and schools are privatized as the very idea of the common good becomes an object of disdain. [3] Consequently, under such circumstances, governing principles such as equality, justice and fairness begin to disappear from the discourse of politics. As politics is emptied of any sense of social responsibility, the apostles of casino capitalism preach that allegedly amoral economic activity exacts no social costs, and in doing so, they accelerate the expanding wasteland of disposable goods and people. [4] One consequence is a vast and growing landscape of human suffering, amplified by a mass-mediated metaphysics of retribution and violence that more and more creeps into every commanding institution of US society, now serving myriad functions such as sport, spectacle, entertainment, and punishment.

The neoliberal machinery of social death increasingly extends its reach across US society, dissolving the bonds of sociality and undermining social obligations. One outcome is the proliferation of neglect, exploitation and suffering among diverse populations, including poor and uneducated middle-aged whites, who are dying prematurely and unnecessarily in an epidemic of substance abuse, suicide and poor health. [5] Neoliberalism's unbridled social Darwinism, elimination of social provisions and culture of cruelty forces people out of Medicaid, pushes millions into poverty and eliminates social protections. [6] Alain Badiou rightly calls those who run our current political system a "regime of gangsters." [7] These so-called gangsters produce a unique form of social violence. According to Badiou, they:

Privatize everything. Abolish help for the weak, the solitary, the sick and the unemployed. Abolish all aid for everyone except the banks. Don't look after the poor; let the elderly die. Reduce the wages of the poor, but reduce the taxes on the rich. Make everyone work until they are ninety. Only teach mathematics to traders, reading to big property-owners and history to on-duty ideologues. And the execution of these commands will in fact ruin the lives of millions of people. [8]

 

Increasingly, institutions such as schools, prisons, detention centers, and our major economic, cultural and social institutions are being organized around the production of violence. Rather than promote democratic values and a respect for others or embrace civic values, they often function largely to humiliate, punish and demonize any vestige of social responsibility. Violence permeates and drives foreign policy, dominates popular culture and increasingly is used to criminalize a wide range of social behaviors, especially among Black people. [9]

The punishment "creep" that has moved from prisons to other public spheres now has a firm grip on both schools and the daily rituals of everyday life.

Violence functions as a brutalizing practice used by the state to squelch dissent, incarcerate poor people and people of color, terrorize immigrants, wage a war on minority youth and menace individuals and groups considered disposable or a threat. Not only does such violence destroy the conditions and institutions necessary to develop a democratic polity, it also accelerates abusive forms of punitiveness and control that extend from the prisons to other institutions, such as schools. In this instance, violence becomes the ultimate force propagating what might be called punishment creep. The punishment "creep" that has moved from prisons to other public spheres now has a firm grip on both schools and the daily rituals of everyday life. Margaret Kimberley captures one instance of the racist underside of punishment creep. She writes: "Black people are punished for driving, for walking down the street, for having children, for putting their children in school, for acting the way children act, and even for having children who are killed by other people. We are punished, in short, because we still exist." [10]

Violence in the United States has always been defined partly by a poisonous mix of chauvinism, exceptionalism and terrorism that runs through a history marked by genocidal assaults against Native Americans, the brutality of slavery and a persistent racism that extends from the horror of lynchings and chain gangs to current patterns of mass incarceration, which subject many Black youth to the shameful dynamics of the school-to-prison-pipeline and unprecedented levels of police abuse. Violence is the premier signature of what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls "The Dreamers," those individuals and groups who have "signed on, either actively or passively, to complicity in everything from police shootings to real estate redline, which crowds blacks into substandard housing in dangerous neighborhoods ... The Dream is about the totality of white supremacy in American history and its cumulative weight on African-Americans, and how one attempts to live with that." [11] In part, violence - whether produced by the state, corporations or racist individuals - is difficult to abstract from an expression of white supremacy, which functions as an index for demanding "the full privileges of the state." [12]

Police violence against Black people has become highly visible and thrust into the national spotlight as a result of individuals recording acts of police abuse with their cell phones and other new technologies. In the last few years, there has been what seems like a torrent of video footage showing unarmed Black people being assaulted by the police. For instance, there is the shocking video of Walter Scott being shot in the back after fleeing from his car; Eric Garner dying as a result of being put in a chokehold by a white policeman who accused him of illegally selling cigarettes; the tragic killing of Freddie Gray, who, after making eye contact with a police officer, was put in a police van and purposely given a jarring ride that resulted in his death; and the unbearable shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice for playing with a pellet gun in the snow in a park. All of these deaths are morally indefensible and are symptomatic of the deep-seated racism and propensity for violence in many police forces in the United States.

Yet, as Jeah Lee observes, while such crimes have attracted national attention, the "use of force by cops in schools … has drawn far less attention [in spite of the fact that] over the past five years at least 28 students have been seriously injured, and in one case shot to death, by so-called school resource officers - sworn, uniformed police assigned to provide security on k-12 campuses." [13] Increasingly, as public schools hand over even routine disciplinary problems to the police, there is a proliferation of cops in schools. There are over 17,000 school resource officers in more than half of the schools in the United States. [14] In spite of the fact that violence in schools has dropped precipitously, school resource officers are the fastest-growing segment of law enforcement.

The Militarization of Schools

In part, the militarizing of schools and the accompanying surge of police officers are driven by the fear of school shootings, particularly in the aftermath of the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999 and the massacre that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2013, both of which have been accentuated by the ever present wave of paranoia that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11. [15] What advocates of putting police in the schools refuse to acknowledge is that the presence of the police in schools has done nothing to stop such mass shootings. While the fear of school shootings are overestimated, the fact remains that schools are still one of the safest places for children to be. Caught under the weight of a culture of fear and a rush to violence, many young people in schools are the most recent victims of a punishing state in a society that "remains in a state of permanent, endless war," a war that is waged through militarized policies at home and abroad. [16]

Following Stanley Aronowitz, I think it is fair to argue that with "the breakdown of the mission of public schools … today's authorities no longer offer hope" to this generation of young people. One consequence is that "under the doctrine of control they threaten punishment, which includes, although it is not necessarily associated with, incarceration." [17] Violence against young people in schools is a troubling index of the loss of faith in young people and the transformation of school from a source of social and economic mobility to despotic testing institutions for most youth, and repressive holding centers, primarily for youth of color. [18]

The transformation of disciplinary problems into criminal violations has often resulted in absurd, if not tragic results.

What has become clear is that cops in schools have not made schools safer. Erik Eckholm, reporting for The New York Times, stated that judges, youth advocates, parents and other concerned citizens "are raising alarm about what they have seen in the schools where officers are already stationed: a surge in criminal charges against children for misbehavior that many believe is better handled in the principal's office." [19] In Texas, police officers have written "more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year" and many of these students "face hundreds of dollars in fines, community service, and in some cases, a lasting record that could affect applications for jobs or the military." [20] The transformation of disciplinary problems into criminal violations has often resulted in absurd if not tragic results. For instance, in 2009, in Richardson, Texas "A 14-year old boy with Asperger's syndrome was given a $364 police citation for using an expletive in his classroom." [21] It gets even more ludicrous. A 12-year-old student in Stuart, Florida, was arrested in November 2008, for "disrupting a school function." The 'disruption' was that the student had "passed gas." [22]

Similarly, a number of civil rights groups have reported that the presence of police in schools often "means more suspensions, which disproportionately affect minority students," according to an article in USA Today. [23] Many of the young people who end up in court are poor Black and Brown students, along with students with disabilities. As reported in The New York Times, "police-driven policies have not made schools more secure. But they do make children more likely to drop out and become entangled with the justice system. And they disproportionately affect minority and disabled children, who are more likely to be singled out for the harshest forms of discipline." [24] In one instance, an 8-year-old and 9-year-old in a public school in Kenton County, Kentucky, both with severe disabilities that made it difficult for them to follow classroom instructions, were handcuffed by a deputy sheriff for misbehaving. One child was writhing and crying in pain because of the handcuffs placed around his biceps since his wrists were too small. [25] Such acts are more than shameful, they also are symptomatic of a society that is waging war on many of its children.

What must be recognized is that schools in general have become combat zones where it is routine for many students to be subjected to metal detectors, surveillance cameras, uniformed security guards, weapons searches, and in some cases, SWAT team raids and police dogs sniffing for drugs. [26] Under such circumstances, the purpose of schooling appears to be to contain and punish young people - especially those marginalized by race, class and disabilities - rather than educate them. For the many disadvantaged students being funnelled into the "school-to-prison pipeline," schools ensure that their futures look grim indeed, as their educational experiences acclimatize them to forms of carceral treatment. [27]

There is more at work here than a flight from responsibility on the part of educators, parents and politicians who support and maintain policies that fuel this expanding edifice of law enforcement against the young and disenfranchised. Underlying the repeated decisions to turn away from helping young people is the growing sentiment that youth, particularly youth of color, constitute a threat to adults, and the only effective way to deal with them is to subject them to mind-crushing punishment. Students being miseducated, criminalized and arrested through a form of penal pedagogy in prison-type schools provides a grave reminder of the degree to which the ethos of containment and punishment now creeps into spheres of everyday life that were largely immune in the past from this type of state and institutional violence. How else to explain, as Judith Browne Dianis observes that,

Across the country, young people are being arrested for behavior that used to be solved through a trip to the principal's office or the intervention of a counselor. In Florida, a 14-year-old was arrested and charged for throwing a pencil at another student and spent 21 days in jail. In New York, a 12-year-old was arrested for doodling, 'I love Abby and Faith on her desk.' In Chicago, 25 children, some as young as 11, were arrested for engaging in a food fight. [28]

How many more images of young schoolchildren in handcuffs do we have to witness before it becomes clear that the educational system is broken?

 

Schools are no longer reliable spaces of joy, critical teaching and support. Too many are now institutions of containment and control that produce pedagogies of conformity and kill the imagination by teaching to the test. Within such schools, the lesson that young people are learning about themselves is that they can't engage in critical thinking, be trusted, rely on the informed judgments of teachers and administrators and that their behavior is constantly subject to procedures that amount to both an assault on their dignity and a violation of their civil liberties. Schools have become institutions in which creativity is viewed as a threat, harsh discipline a virtue and punishment the reward for not conforming to what amounts to the dictates of a police state. How many more images of young schoolchildren in handcuffs do we have to witness before it becomes clear that the educational system is broken, reduced largely to a punishing factory defined by a culture of fear and an utter distrust of young people?

The School to Prison Pipeline

According to the Advancement Project, schools have become increasingly intolerant of young people, imposing draconian zero tolerance policies on them by furthering a culture steeped in criminalizing often minor, if not trivial, student behaviors. [29] What is truly alarming is not only the ways in which young people are being ushered into the criminal legal system and treated less as students than as criminals, but the harsh violence to which they are often subjected by school resource officers. In a report published in Mother Jones, Jonathan Hardin, a Louisville Metro Police officer, in 2014 "was fired after his alleged use of force in two incidents at Olmsted Academy North middle school: He was accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting the cafeteria line, and a week later of putting another 13-year-old student in a chokehold, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury." [30]

In a second incident that year, "Cesar Suquet, then a 16-year-old high school student in Houston, was being escorted by an officer out of the principal's office after a discussion about Suquet's confiscated cell phone. Following a verbal exchange, police officer Michael Y'Barbo struck Suquet at least 18 times with a police baton, injuring him on his head, neck and elsewhere." [31] Y'Barbo claimed that beating a student with a police baton was "reasonable and necessary" and "remains on regular assignment including patrol." [32] There are have also been incidents where students have been shot, suffered brain injuries or have been psychologically traumatized. Jaeah Lee cites a young Black high school student in Detroit who, after a troubling interaction with a school police officer, speaks for many young people about the dread and anxiety that many students experience when police occupy their schools. He states that ""Many young people today have fear of the police in their communities and schools." [33]

If one important measure of a democracy is how a society treats its children, especially young children who are Black, Brown or suffer from disabilities, there can be little doubt that US society is failing. As the United States increasingly models its schools after prisons, students are no longer viewed as a social investment in the future. A deadly mixture of racism and violence in the 21st century has become increasingly evident in the attacks being waged against young people in American schools. If students in general are now viewed as a potential threat, Black students are regarded increasingly as criminals. One result is that schools increasingly have come to resemble war zones; spaces marked by distrust, fear and demonization. With more police in the schools than ever before, security has become more important than providing children with a critical education and supportive learning environment. As authority in many of the schools is often handed over to the police and security forces who are now asked to deal with all alleged disciplinary problems, however broadly defined, the power and autonomy of teachers and school administrators are weakened at the expense of the safety of the students. This loss of authority is clear in New York City where school administrators have no control over security forces who report directly to local police departments.

In most cases, the disciplinary problems that take place in schools involve trivial infractions, such as violating a dress code, scribbling on a desk or holding a 2-inch toy gun. The assault on children in public schools suggests that children of color cannot view schools as supportive spaces where they can be given a quality education. Instead, schools have become sites of control, testing and punishment all too eager to produce pedagogies of repression, and more than willing to erect, once again, what has been called the school-to-prison pipeline, especially for youth of color. Roxane Gay is right in observing that,

Black children are not allowed to be children. They are not allowed to be safe, not at home, not at pool parties, not driving or sitting in cars listening to music, not walking down the street, not in school. For black children, for black people, to exist is to be endangered. Our bodies receive no sanctity or safe harbor. [34]

 

Police Brutality in the Classroom

It is inconceivable that in an alleged democracy poor youth of color at all grade levels in the public schools are subjected to shameful criminal practices, such as being handcuffed and carted off to jail for minor incidents - and that such draconian practices could take place in a society that views itself as a democracy. Stripped of their public mission as institutions that nurture young people to become informed, critically engaged citizens, schools have become punishing factories all too willing to turn disciplinary authority over to the police and to usher students into the harsh bureaucracy of the criminal legal system. [35] Rather than assume responsibility for students, too many schools have abdicated on their authority and are more than willing to turn discipline problems, however trivial, over to the police. The results have been devastating for youth of color. As the Advancement Project points out:

Across the United States many public schools have turned into feeder schools for the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Youths are finding themselves increasingly at risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline through push-outs (systematic exclusion through suspensions, expulsions, discouragement, and high-stakes testing). Yet, an even more direct schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track is transferring a growing number of youths to the penal system. In the name of school safety, schools have implemented unforgiving, overly harsh zero tolerance discipline practices that turn kids into criminals for acts that rarely constitute a crime when committed by an adult. No one is safe from zero tolerance - age, grade, past behavior, and disabilities are often irrelevant. And, although students of all races and genders are victims of this track, it is especially reserved for children of color - and males in particular. Schools have teamed up with law enforcement to make this happen by imposing a "double dose" of punishment: suspension or expulsion and a trip to the juvenile justice system. [36]

 

One recent example of a particularly disturbing incident of police brutality was captured in a series of videos recorded at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina. Prior to the incident being filmed, a young Black student named Shakara took out her cell phone in class. The teacher asked her for it, and when she refused to hand it over, she was asked to leave the class. The teacher called the vice principal. Rather than attempt to defuse the situation, the vice principal called for a school resource officer. At this point, Officer Ben Fields enters the classroom. One of Shakira's classmates, Niya Kenney, immediately asked her classmates to begin filming because, as she put it, "I told them to get the cameras out, because we know his reputation - well, I know his reputation." [37]

In what follows, one of the videos records the following: Officer Ben Fields approaches the young woman, appears to give her no time to stand up and proceeds to grab her left arm while placing his right arm around her neck; he then lifts her desk, pulls her out of her seat, slams her to the ground and drags her across the floor before handcuffing her. The video is difficult to watch, given the extreme and disproportionate violence used against this young Black woman. She was arrested, as was Kenny, who both filmed the incident and loudly protested the treatment of Shakara. Fields was fired soon afterwards, but incredulously, both students are being charged with "disturbing schools, a crime punishable by up to ninety days in jail or a thousand dollar fine." [38]

After the incident went viral, information emerged indicating that Fields had a previous reputation for being aggressive with students, and he was viewed as a threat by many students who nicknamed him "Officer Slam." Moreover, he had a previous record of violently assaulting people. [39] The question that should be asked as a result of this shocking act of police violence against a young Black student is not how Fields got a job in a school working with children, but what kind of society believes that police should be in schools in the first place. Whatever happened to teacher and administrator responsibility? Sadly, it was a school administrator who called in the police at Spring Valley High School because the student would not turn over her phone. Even worse, when Sheriff Leon Lott announced his decision to fire Fields, he pointed out that the classroom teacher and administrator supported the actions of the police officer and made it clear that "they also had no problems with the physical part." [40] Both the teacher and administrator should be fired. This incident was in all probability a simple disciplinary problem that should have been handled by responsible educators. Students should not be treated like criminals. It is one thing not to assume responsibility for students, but another to subject them to brutal assaults by the police.

Lawlessness runs deep in US society and has been normalized. Brutal attacks on defenseless children rarely get the attention they deserve, and when they do, the corporate media refuse to acknowledge that the United States has become a suicidal society willing even to sacrifice its own children to an expanding punishing state that protects the interests of the corporate and financial elite. [41] How else to explain the shameless defense of such a brutal assault against a young Black girl by pundits such as CNN'S Harry Houck and Don Lemon, who implied that such violence was warranted because Shakara did not respect the officer, as if the beating of a Black child by a police officer, who happens also to be a body-builder who can lift 300 pounds, justifies such actions? This is a familiar script in which Black people are often told that whatever violence they were subject to was legitimate because they acted out of place, did not follow rules that in reality oppress them or simply refused to fall in line.

Grassroots Resistance

The other side of this racist script finds expression in those who argue that any critique of the police endangers public safety. In this dangerous discourse, the police are the victims, a line of argument recently voiced in different ways by both President Obama and by James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The most vociferous and strident voices opposing any critique of police violence come from police unions. As William Boardman observes, "Two of the biggest police unions in the country are now on record in opposition to free speech. They are on record against constitutionally protected free speech that opposes the epidemic of police violence across America (more than 900 killed by police so far in 2015)." [42]

This was particularly visible when film director Quentin Tarantino gave a talk criticizing police violence in New York as part of Rise Up October, three days of protest against police terror. While addressing a number of families whose members were victims of police brutality, Tarantino stated that, "I'm here to say I'm on the side of the murdered." [43] The backlash from major police unions was quick and severe, as the unions began calling for a nationwide boycott of his films. This repressive discourse not only refuses to recognize the growing visibility of police violence; it also shores up one of the foundations of the authoritarian state, suggesting that the violence propagated by the police should not be subject to public scrutiny. As an editorial in The New York Times pointed out, this "formulation implies that for the police to do their jobs, they need to have free rein to be abusive. It also implies that the public would be safer if Americans with cellphones never started circulating videos of officers battering suspects in the first place … This trend is straight out of Orwell." [44]

Instead of putting police in schools, money should be spent on more guidance teachers, social workers, teachers, community intervention workers and other professionals.

Educators, young people, parents and others concerned about violence in schools need to organize and demand that the police be removed from school. Not only is their presence a waste of taxpayers' money and an interference with children's education, they also pose a threat to student safety. [45] Instead of putting police in schools, money should be spent on more guidance teachers, social workers, teachers, community intervention workers and other professionals who are trained to provide a secure and supportive environment for young people. It is particularly crucial to support those social services, classroom practices and policies that work to keep students in schools. Everything possible should be done to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and the underlying forces that produce it. At the same time, more profound change must take place on a national level, since the violence waged by the police is symptomatic of a society now ruled by a financial elite who trade in cruelty, punishment and despair. US society is broken, and the violence to which it appears addicted will continue until the current configurations of power, politics, inequality and injustice are eliminated.

The increasing visibility of police brutality in schools and in the streets speaks to a larger issue regarding the withering of democracy in the United States and the growing lawlessness that prevails in a society in which violence is one of the few resources left to use to address social problems. The US is paying a horrible price for turning governance at all levels over to people for whom violence serves as the default register for addressing important social issues. As the movement for Black Lives has made clear, the Spring Valley High School case and others are part of a larger trend that has turned schools across the country into detention centers and educators into hapless bystanders as classroom management is ceded to the police. What we see in this incident (and in many others that have escaped national attention because they are not caught on cell phones) are the rudiments of a growing police state. Violence is now a normalized and celebrated ideal for how the United States defines itself - an ideal that views democracy as an excess or, even worse, a pathology. This is something Americans must acknowledge, interrogate and resist if they don't want to live under a system of total terror and escalating violence.

 

References:

1. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: New American Library, Inc, 1903), p. 19.

2. I have taken up this theme in The Violence of Organized Forgetting (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2014).

3. Wendy Brown, "Neoliberalized Knowledge," History of the Present: a Journal of Critical History, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Summer 2011), pp. 118-119.

4. Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of the Spectacle (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2015).

5. Gina Kolata, "Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds," The New York Times (November 3, 2015).

6. For a brilliant analysis of the merging of neoliberal politics and policies and the liberal press coverage of the rising death rates among poor middle-class whites, see Karen Garcia, "The Culling of the American Herd (Update)," Sardonicky (November 3, 2015).

7. Alain Badiou, The Rebirth of History (London: Verso, 2012), 12.

8. Ibid., 13.

9. Jody Sokolower, "Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview With Michelle Alexander," Truthout, (June 4, 2013).

10. Margaret Kimberley, "Jail for Sending Their Kid to School? How America Treats Black Women and Children Like Criminals" AlterNet, (May 9, 2012).

11. Mary Ann Gwinn, "Author Ta-Nehisi Coates: 'In this country, white is receiving the full privileges of the state,'" The Seattle Times(October 14, 2015). Of course,these are different Dreamers than the undocumented youth who have been rallying under this name.

12. Ibid.

13. Jeah Lee, "Chokeholds, Brain Injuries, Beatings: When School Cops Go Bad," Mother Jones (July 14, 2015).

14. Amy Goodman, "When School Cops Go Bad: South Carolina Incident Highlights Growing Police Presence in Classrooms," Democracy Now!, (October 27, 2015).

15. Jessica Glenza, "'Good guys' with guns: how police officers became fixtures in US schools," The Guardian (October 28, 2015).

16. Glenn Greenwald, "Arrest of 14-Year-Old Student for Making a Clock: the Fruits of Sustained Fearmongering and Anti-Muslim Animus," The Intercept (September 16, 2015).

17. Stanley Aronowitz, Against Schooling: For an Education that Matters (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008), 48.

18. Advancement Project, Test, Punish, and Push Out: How 'Zero Tolerance' and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth in the School-To-Prison Pipeline (Washington, D.C.: Advancement Project, March 2010).

19. Erik Eckholm, "With Police in Schools, More Children in Court," The New York Times, (April 12, 2013).

20. Ibid., Eckholm, "With Police in Schools, More Children in Court."

21. Ibid., Advancement Project, Test, Punish, and Push Out: How 'Zero Tolerance' and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth in the School-To-Prison Pipeline.

22. Ibid., Advancement Project, 2010.

23. Greg Toppo, "Civil rights groups: Cops in schools don't make students safer," USA Today, (October 28, 2015).

24. Editorial, "Schoolkids in Handcuffs," The New York Times (November 4, 2015).

25. Editorial, "Schoolkids in Handcuffs," The New York Times (November 4, 2015).

26. One truly absurd example of this kind of militarism can be found at John Vibes, "SWAT Team Shows Up To Elementary School to Promote Police State USA," Free Thought Project (March 8, 2015).

27. See Mark P. Fancher, Reclaiming Michigan's Throwaway Kids: Students Trapped in the School-to Prison Pipeline (Michigan: ACLU, 2011); and Advancement Project, Test, Punish, and Push Out: How 'Zero Tolerance' and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth in the School-To-Prison Pipeline (Washington, D.C.: Advancement Project, March 2010).

28. Judith Browne Dianis, E. "Interrupting The School-To-Prison Pipeline," America's Wire (June 14, 2013).

29. Advancement Project in partnership with Padres and Jovenes Unidos, Southwest Youth Collaborative, Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, (New York:Children & Family Justice Center of Northwestern University School of Law, March 24, 2005), pp. 5-58.

30. Ibid., Lee, "Chokeholds, Brain Injuries, Beatings: When School Cops Go Bad."

31. Ibid., Lee, "Chokeholds, Brain Injuries, Beatings: When School Cops Go Bad."

32. Ibid., "Chokeholds, Brain Injuries, Beatings: When School Cops Go Bad."

33. Ibid., Lee, "Chokeholds, Brain Injuries, Beatings: When School Cops Go Bad."

34. Roxane Gay, "Where Are Black Children Safe?," New York Times, (October 27, 2015).

35. See: William Ayers, Rick Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, eds. Zero Tolerance: Resisting the Drive for Punishment in Our Schools: A Handbook for Parents, Students, Educators, and Citizens (New York: The New Press, 2001); Henry A. Giroux, Youth in a Suspect Society (New York: Palgrave, 2009); Judith Kafka, The History of "Zero Tolerance" in American Public Schooling (New York: Palgrave, 2013).

36. Advancement Project in partnership with Padres and Jovenes Unidos, Southwest Youth Collaborative, Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, (New York: Children & Family Justice Center of Northwestern University School of Law, March 24, 2005), p. 11.

37. Cited in Amy Davidson, "What Niya Kenny Saw," The New Yorker (October 30, 2015).

38. Rashad, Arisha, Scott, Lyla and the rest of the ColorofCange Team, " Editorial," Color of Change (October 27, 2015). Email correspondence.

39. E.Andrew Emett, "Same Cop Who Attacked School Girl Also Caught Assaulting Army Vet in Similar Takedown," Free Thought Project.com, (October 27, 2015); see also Ibid., Goodman, "When School Cops Go Bad: South Carolina Incident Highlights Growing Police Presence in Classrooms."

40. Ibid., Amy Davidson, "What Niya Kenny Saw."

41. Sonali Kolhatkar, "Police Are the Greatest Threat Facing Black Kids in Schools," Truthdig, (October 27, 2015).

42. William Boardman, "Police Unions Sustain Police Violence Epidemic,"Reader Supported News (October 31, 2015).

43. Nigel M. Smith, "Quentin Tarantino: film maverick and police critic delights in controversy," The Guardian (November 6, 2015).

44. Editorial, "Political Lies About Police Brutality," The New York Times, (October 27, 2015).

45. See, for instance, Amanda Petteruti, "Education Under Arrest: The Case against Police in Schools," Just Policy Institute (2011). 

 

A much shorter version of this article appeared in Counterpunch.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Henry A. Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently is the McMaster University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest and The Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. He also is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University. His most recent books include The Violence of Organized Forgetting (City Lights, 2014), Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2015) and  coauthored with Brad Evans, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (City Lights, 2015). Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. His website is www.henryagiroux.com.


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Henry A. Giroux | Terrorizing Students: The Criminalization of Children in the US Police State

Wednesday, 11 November 2015 00:00 By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | Op-Ed
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Terrorizing Students: The Criminalization of Children in the US Police State (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Violence has become the problem of the 21st century. This claim is indebted to W. E. B. Dubois' much quoted notion that "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of color line."[1] For Du Bois, racism was one of the most pressing problems of the time and could not be understood outside of the gross inequities of wealth, power, opportunity and access. What he did not anticipate was the degree to which the violent character of racism would come to define the 21st century on a national and global level. What he described as a ruthless ideology and attitude of racist hostility would later mutate in the new millennium into a raw display of police brutality and state terrorism, camouflaged under the guise of an alleged post-racial society.

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here. 

As brutalism comes to shape every public encounter, democratic values and the ethical imagination wither under the weight of neoliberal capitalism and "post-racial" racism. Giving way to the poisonous logics of self-interest, privatization and the unfettered drive for wealth, US society reneges on the social contract and assumes the role of a punishing state. [2] Under the regime of a predatory neoliberalism, compassion and respect are viewed increasingly with contempt while the spectacle of violence titillates the multitudes and moves markets. A free-market mentality now drives and corrupts politics, destroys social protections, celebrates a hyper-competitiveness and deregulates economic activity. All human activities, practices and institutions are now subject to market principles. Public goods such as toll roads, libraries and schools are privatized as the very idea of the common good becomes an object of disdain. [3] Consequently, under such circumstances, governing principles such as equality, justice and fairness begin to disappear from the discourse of politics. As politics is emptied of any sense of social responsibility, the apostles of casino capitalism preach that allegedly amoral economic activity exacts no social costs, and in doing so, they accelerate the expanding wasteland of disposable goods and people. [4] One consequence is a vast and growing landscape of human suffering, amplified by a mass-mediated metaphysics of retribution and violence that more and more creeps into every commanding institution of US society, now serving myriad functions such as sport, spectacle, entertainment, and punishment.

The neoliberal machinery of social death increasingly extends its reach across US society, dissolving the bonds of sociality and undermining social obligations. One outcome is the proliferation of neglect, exploitation and suffering among diverse populations, including poor and uneducated middle-aged whites, who are dying prematurely and unnecessarily in an epidemic of substance abuse, suicide and poor health. [5] Neoliberalism's unbridled social Darwinism, elimination of social provisions and culture of cruelty forces people out of Medicaid, pushes millions into poverty and eliminates social protections. [6] Alain Badiou rightly calls those who run our current political system a "regime of gangsters." [7] These so-called gangsters produce a unique form of social violence. According to Badiou, they:

Privatize everything. Abolish help for the weak, the solitary, the sick and the unemployed. Abolish all aid for everyone except the banks. Don't look after the poor; let the elderly die. Reduce the wages of the poor, but reduce the taxes on the rich. Make everyone work until they are ninety. Only teach mathematics to traders, reading to big property-owners and history to on-duty ideologues. And the execution of these commands will in fact ruin the lives of millions of people. [8]

 

Increasingly, institutions such as schools, prisons, detention centers, and our major economic, cultural and social institutions are being organized around the production of violence. Rather than promote democratic values and a respect for others or embrace civic values, they often function largely to humiliate, punish and demonize any vestige of social responsibility. Violence permeates and drives foreign policy, dominates popular culture and increasingly is used to criminalize a wide range of social behaviors, especially among Black people. [9]

The punishment "creep" that has moved from prisons to other public spheres now has a firm grip on both schools and the daily rituals of everyday life.

Violence functions as a brutalizing practice used by the state to squelch dissent, incarcerate poor people and people of color, terrorize immigrants, wage a war on minority youth and menace individuals and groups considered disposable or a threat. Not only does such violence destroy the conditions and institutions necessary to develop a democratic polity, it also accelerates abusive forms of punitiveness and control that extend from the prisons to other institutions, such as schools. In this instance, violence becomes the ultimate force propagating what might be called punishment creep. The punishment "creep" that has moved from prisons to other public spheres now has a firm grip on both schools and the daily rituals of everyday life. Margaret Kimberley captures one instance of the racist underside of punishment creep. She writes: "Black people are punished for driving, for walking down the street, for having children, for putting their children in school, for acting the way children act, and even for having children who are killed by other people. We are punished, in short, because we still exist." [10]

Violence in the United States has always been defined partly by a poisonous mix of chauvinism, exceptionalism and terrorism that runs through a history marked by genocidal assaults against Native Americans, the brutality of slavery and a persistent racism that extends from the horror of lynchings and chain gangs to current patterns of mass incarceration, which subject many Black youth to the shameful dynamics of the school-to-prison-pipeline and unprecedented levels of police abuse. Violence is the premier signature of what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls "The Dreamers," those individuals and groups who have "signed on, either actively or passively, to complicity in everything from police shootings to real estate redline, which crowds blacks into substandard housing in dangerous neighborhoods ... The Dream is about the totality of white supremacy in American history and its cumulative weight on African-Americans, and how one attempts to live with that." [11] In part, violence - whether produced by the state, corporations or racist individuals - is difficult to abstract from an expression of white supremacy, which functions as an index for demanding "the full privileges of the state." [12]

Police violence against Black people has become highly visible and thrust into the national spotlight as a result of individuals recording acts of police abuse with their cell phones and other new technologies. In the last few years, there has been what seems like a torrent of video footage showing unarmed Black people being assaulted by the police. For instance, there is the shocking video of Walter Scott being shot in the back after fleeing from his car; Eric Garner dying as a result of being put in a chokehold by a white policeman who accused him of illegally selling cigarettes; the tragic killing of Freddie Gray, who, after making eye contact with a police officer, was put in a police van and purposely given a jarring ride that resulted in his death; and the unbearable shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice for playing with a pellet gun in the snow in a park. All of these deaths are morally indefensible and are symptomatic of the deep-seated racism and propensity for violence in many police forces in the United States.

Yet, as Jeah Lee observes, while such crimes have attracted national attention, the "use of force by cops in schools … has drawn far less attention [in spite of the fact that] over the past five years at least 28 students have been seriously injured, and in one case shot to death, by so-called school resource officers - sworn, uniformed police assigned to provide security on k-12 campuses." [13] Increasingly, as public schools hand over even routine disciplinary problems to the police, there is a proliferation of cops in schools. There are over 17,000 school resource officers in more than half of the schools in the United States. [14] In spite of the fact that violence in schools has dropped precipitously, school resource officers are the fastest-growing segment of law enforcement.

The Militarization of Schools

In part, the militarizing of schools and the accompanying surge of police officers are driven by the fear of school shootings, particularly in the aftermath of the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999 and the massacre that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2013, both of which have been accentuated by the ever present wave of paranoia that followed the terrorist attacks of 9/11. [15] What advocates of putting police in the schools refuse to acknowledge is that the presence of the police in schools has done nothing to stop such mass shootings. While the fear of school shootings are overestimated, the fact remains that schools are still one of the safest places for children to be. Caught under the weight of a culture of fear and a rush to violence, many young people in schools are the most recent victims of a punishing state in a society that "remains in a state of permanent, endless war," a war that is waged through militarized policies at home and abroad. [16]

Following Stanley Aronowitz, I think it is fair to argue that with "the breakdown of the mission of public schools … today's authorities no longer offer hope" to this generation of young people. One consequence is that "under the doctrine of control they threaten punishment, which includes, although it is not necessarily associated with, incarceration." [17] Violence against young people in schools is a troubling index of the loss of faith in young people and the transformation of school from a source of social and economic mobility to despotic testing institutions for most youth, and repressive holding centers, primarily for youth of color. [18]

The transformation of disciplinary problems into criminal violations has often resulted in absurd, if not tragic results.

What has become clear is that cops in schools have not made schools safer. Erik Eckholm, reporting for The New York Times, stated that judges, youth advocates, parents and other concerned citizens "are raising alarm about what they have seen in the schools where officers are already stationed: a surge in criminal charges against children for misbehavior that many believe is better handled in the principal's office." [19] In Texas, police officers have written "more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year" and many of these students "face hundreds of dollars in fines, community service, and in some cases, a lasting record that could affect applications for jobs or the military." [20] The transformation of disciplinary problems into criminal violations has often resulted in absurd if not tragic results. For instance, in 2009, in Richardson, Texas "A 14-year old boy with Asperger's syndrome was given a $364 police citation for using an expletive in his classroom." [21] It gets even more ludicrous. A 12-year-old student in Stuart, Florida, was arrested in November 2008, for "disrupting a school function." The 'disruption' was that the student had "passed gas." [22]

Similarly, a number of civil rights groups have reported that the presence of police in schools often "means more suspensions, which disproportionately affect minority students," according to an article in USA Today. [23] Many of the young people who end up in court are poor Black and Brown students, along with students with disabilities. As reported in The New York Times, "police-driven policies have not made schools more secure. But they do make children more likely to drop out and become entangled with the justice system. And they disproportionately affect minority and disabled children, who are more likely to be singled out for the harshest forms of discipline." [24] In one instance, an 8-year-old and 9-year-old in a public school in Kenton County, Kentucky, both with severe disabilities that made it difficult for them to follow classroom instructions, were handcuffed by a deputy sheriff for misbehaving. One child was writhing and crying in pain because of the handcuffs placed around his biceps since his wrists were too small. [25] Such acts are more than shameful, they also are symptomatic of a society that is waging war on many of its children.

What must be recognized is that schools in general have become combat zones where it is routine for many students to be subjected to metal detectors, surveillance cameras, uniformed security guards, weapons searches, and in some cases, SWAT team raids and police dogs sniffing for drugs. [26] Under such circumstances, the purpose of schooling appears to be to contain and punish young people - especially those marginalized by race, class and disabilities - rather than educate them. For the many disadvantaged students being funnelled into the "school-to-prison pipeline," schools ensure that their futures look grim indeed, as their educational experiences acclimatize them to forms of carceral treatment. [27]

There is more at work here than a flight from responsibility on the part of educators, parents and politicians who support and maintain policies that fuel this expanding edifice of law enforcement against the young and disenfranchised. Underlying the repeated decisions to turn away from helping young people is the growing sentiment that youth, particularly youth of color, constitute a threat to adults, and the only effective way to deal with them is to subject them to mind-crushing punishment. Students being miseducated, criminalized and arrested through a form of penal pedagogy in prison-type schools provides a grave reminder of the degree to which the ethos of containment and punishment now creeps into spheres of everyday life that were largely immune in the past from this type of state and institutional violence. How else to explain, as Judith Browne Dianis observes that,

Across the country, young people are being arrested for behavior that used to be solved through a trip to the principal's office or the intervention of a counselor. In Florida, a 14-year-old was arrested and charged for throwing a pencil at another student and spent 21 days in jail. In New York, a 12-year-old was arrested for doodling, 'I love Abby and Faith on her desk.' In Chicago, 25 children, some as young as 11, were arrested for engaging in a food fight. [28]

How many more images of young schoolchildren in handcuffs do we have to witness before it becomes clear that the educational system is broken?

 

Schools are no longer reliable spaces of joy, critical teaching and support. Too many are now institutions of containment and control that produce pedagogies of conformity and kill the imagination by teaching to the test. Within such schools, the lesson that young people are learning about themselves is that they can't engage in critical thinking, be trusted, rely on the informed judgments of teachers and administrators and that their behavior is constantly subject to procedures that amount to both an assault on their dignity and a violation of their civil liberties. Schools have become institutions in which creativity is viewed as a threat, harsh discipline a virtue and punishment the reward for not conforming to what amounts to the dictates of a police state. How many more images of young schoolchildren in handcuffs do we have to witness before it becomes clear that the educational system is broken, reduced largely to a punishing factory defined by a culture of fear and an utter distrust of young people?

The School to Prison Pipeline

According to the Advancement Project, schools have become increasingly intolerant of young people, imposing draconian zero tolerance policies on them by furthering a culture steeped in criminalizing often minor, if not trivial, student behaviors. [29] What is truly alarming is not only the ways in which young people are being ushered into the criminal legal system and treated less as students than as criminals, but the harsh violence to which they are often subjected by school resource officers. In a report published in Mother Jones, Jonathan Hardin, a Louisville Metro Police officer, in 2014 "was fired after his alleged use of force in two incidents at Olmsted Academy North middle school: He was accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting the cafeteria line, and a week later of putting another 13-year-old student in a chokehold, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury." [30]

In a second incident that year, "Cesar Suquet, then a 16-year-old high school student in Houston, was being escorted by an officer out of the principal's office after a discussion about Suquet's confiscated cell phone. Following a verbal exchange, police officer Michael Y'Barbo struck Suquet at least 18 times with a police baton, injuring him on his head, neck and elsewhere." [31] Y'Barbo claimed that beating a student with a police baton was "reasonable and necessary" and "remains on regular assignment including patrol." [32] There are have also been incidents where students have been shot, suffered brain injuries or have been psychologically traumatized. Jaeah Lee cites a young Black high school student in Detroit who, after a troubling interaction with a school police officer, speaks for many young people about the dread and anxiety that many students experience when police occupy their schools. He states that ""Many young people today have fear of the police in their communities and schools." [33]

If one important measure of a democracy is how a society treats its children, especially young children who are Black, Brown or suffer from disabilities, there can be little doubt that US society is failing. As the United States increasingly models its schools after prisons, students are no longer viewed as a social investment in the future. A deadly mixture of racism and violence in the 21st century has become increasingly evident in the attacks being waged against young people in American schools. If students in general are now viewed as a potential threat, Black students are regarded increasingly as criminals. One result is that schools increasingly have come to resemble war zones; spaces marked by distrust, fear and demonization. With more police in the schools than ever before, security has become more important than providing children with a critical education and supportive learning environment. As authority in many of the schools is often handed over to the police and security forces who are now asked to deal with all alleged disciplinary problems, however broadly defined, the power and autonomy of teachers and school administrators are weakened at the expense of the safety of the students. This loss of authority is clear in New York City where school administrators have no control over security forces who report directly to local police departments.

In most cases, the disciplinary problems that take place in schools involve trivial infractions, such as violating a dress code, scribbling on a desk or holding a 2-inch toy gun. The assault on children in public schools suggests that children of color cannot view schools as supportive spaces where they can be given a quality education. Instead, schools have become sites of control, testing and punishment all too eager to produce pedagogies of repression, and more than willing to erect, once again, what has been called the school-to-prison pipeline, especially for youth of color. Roxane Gay is right in observing that,

Black children are not allowed to be children. They are not allowed to be safe, not at home, not at pool parties, not driving or sitting in cars listening to music, not walking down the street, not in school. For black children, for black people, to exist is to be endangered. Our bodies receive no sanctity or safe harbor. [34]

 

Police Brutality in the Classroom

It is inconceivable that in an alleged democracy poor youth of color at all grade levels in the public schools are subjected to shameful criminal practices, such as being handcuffed and carted off to jail for minor incidents - and that such draconian practices could take place in a society that views itself as a democracy. Stripped of their public mission as institutions that nurture young people to become informed, critically engaged citizens, schools have become punishing factories all too willing to turn disciplinary authority over to the police and to usher students into the harsh bureaucracy of the criminal legal system. [35] Rather than assume responsibility for students, too many schools have abdicated on their authority and are more than willing to turn discipline problems, however trivial, over to the police. The results have been devastating for youth of color. As the Advancement Project points out:

Across the United States many public schools have turned into feeder schools for the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Youths are finding themselves increasingly at risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline through push-outs (systematic exclusion through suspensions, expulsions, discouragement, and high-stakes testing). Yet, an even more direct schoolhouse-to-jailhouse track is transferring a growing number of youths to the penal system. In the name of school safety, schools have implemented unforgiving, overly harsh zero tolerance discipline practices that turn kids into criminals for acts that rarely constitute a crime when committed by an adult. No one is safe from zero tolerance - age, grade, past behavior, and disabilities are often irrelevant. And, although students of all races and genders are victims of this track, it is especially reserved for children of color - and males in particular. Schools have teamed up with law enforcement to make this happen by imposing a "double dose" of punishment: suspension or expulsion and a trip to the juvenile justice system. [36]

 

One recent example of a particularly disturbing incident of police brutality was captured in a series of videos recorded at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina. Prior to the incident being filmed, a young Black student named Shakara took out her cell phone in class. The teacher asked her for it, and when she refused to hand it over, she was asked to leave the class. The teacher called the vice principal. Rather than attempt to defuse the situation, the vice principal called for a school resource officer. At this point, Officer Ben Fields enters the classroom. One of Shakira's classmates, Niya Kenney, immediately asked her classmates to begin filming because, as she put it, "I told them to get the cameras out, because we know his reputation - well, I know his reputation." [37]

In what follows, one of the videos records the following: Officer Ben Fields approaches the young woman, appears to give her no time to stand up and proceeds to grab her left arm while placing his right arm around her neck; he then lifts her desk, pulls her out of her seat, slams her to the ground and drags her across the floor before handcuffing her. The video is difficult to watch, given the extreme and disproportionate violence used against this young Black woman. She was arrested, as was Kenny, who both filmed the incident and loudly protested the treatment of Shakara. Fields was fired soon afterwards, but incredulously, both students are being charged with "disturbing schools, a crime punishable by up to ninety days in jail or a thousand dollar fine." [38]

After the incident went viral, information emerged indicating that Fields had a previous reputation for being aggressive with students, and he was viewed as a threat by many students who nicknamed him "Officer Slam." Moreover, he had a previous record of violently assaulting people. [39] The question that should be asked as a result of this shocking act of police violence against a young Black student is not how Fields got a job in a school working with children, but what kind of society believes that police should be in schools in the first place. Whatever happened to teacher and administrator responsibility? Sadly, it was a school administrator who called in the police at Spring Valley High School because the student would not turn over her phone. Even worse, when Sheriff Leon Lott announced his decision to fire Fields, he pointed out that the classroom teacher and administrator supported the actions of the police officer and made it clear that "they also had no problems with the physical part." [40] Both the teacher and administrator should be fired. This incident was in all probability a simple disciplinary problem that should have been handled by responsible educators. Students should not be treated like criminals. It is one thing not to assume responsibility for students, but another to subject them to brutal assaults by the police.

Lawlessness runs deep in US society and has been normalized. Brutal attacks on defenseless children rarely get the attention they deserve, and when they do, the corporate media refuse to acknowledge that the United States has become a suicidal society willing even to sacrifice its own children to an expanding punishing state that protects the interests of the corporate and financial elite. [41] How else to explain the shameless defense of such a brutal assault against a young Black girl by pundits such as CNN'S Harry Houck and Don Lemon, who implied that such violence was warranted because Shakara did not respect the officer, as if the beating of a Black child by a police officer, who happens also to be a body-builder who can lift 300 pounds, justifies such actions? This is a familiar script in which Black people are often told that whatever violence they were subject to was legitimate because they acted out of place, did not follow rules that in reality oppress them or simply refused to fall in line.

Grassroots Resistance

The other side of this racist script finds expression in those who argue that any critique of the police endangers public safety. In this dangerous discourse, the police are the victims, a line of argument recently voiced in different ways by both President Obama and by James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The most vociferous and strident voices opposing any critique of police violence come from police unions. As William Boardman observes, "Two of the biggest police unions in the country are now on record in opposition to free speech. They are on record against constitutionally protected free speech that opposes the epidemic of police violence across America (more than 900 killed by police so far in 2015)." [42]

This was particularly visible when film director Quentin Tarantino gave a talk criticizing police violence in New York as part of Rise Up October, three days of protest against police terror. While addressing a number of families whose members were victims of police brutality, Tarantino stated that, "I'm here to say I'm on the side of the murdered." [43] The backlash from major police unions was quick and severe, as the unions began calling for a nationwide boycott of his films. This repressive discourse not only refuses to recognize the growing visibility of police violence; it also shores up one of the foundations of the authoritarian state, suggesting that the violence propagated by the police should not be subject to public scrutiny. As an editorial in The New York Times pointed out, this "formulation implies that for the police to do their jobs, they need to have free rein to be abusive. It also implies that the public would be safer if Americans with cellphones never started circulating videos of officers battering suspects in the first place … This trend is straight out of Orwell." [44]

Instead of putting police in schools, money should be spent on more guidance teachers, social workers, teachers, community intervention workers and other professionals.

Educators, young people, parents and others concerned about violence in schools need to organize and demand that the police be removed from school. Not only is their presence a waste of taxpayers' money and an interference with children's education, they also pose a threat to student safety. [45] Instead of putting police in schools, money should be spent on more guidance teachers, social workers, teachers, community intervention workers and other professionals who are trained to provide a secure and supportive environment for young people. It is particularly crucial to support those social services, classroom practices and policies that work to keep students in schools. Everything possible should be done to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and the underlying forces that produce it. At the same time, more profound change must take place on a national level, since the violence waged by the police is symptomatic of a society now ruled by a financial elite who trade in cruelty, punishment and despair. US society is broken, and the violence to which it appears addicted will continue until the current configurations of power, politics, inequality and injustice are eliminated.

The increasing visibility of police brutality in schools and in the streets speaks to a larger issue regarding the withering of democracy in the United States and the growing lawlessness that prevails in a society in which violence is one of the few resources left to use to address social problems. The US is paying a horrible price for turning governance at all levels over to people for whom violence serves as the default register for addressing important social issues. As the movement for Black Lives has made clear, the Spring Valley High School case and others are part of a larger trend that has turned schools across the country into detention centers and educators into hapless bystanders as classroom management is ceded to the police. What we see in this incident (and in many others that have escaped national attention because they are not caught on cell phones) are the rudiments of a growing police state. Violence is now a normalized and celebrated ideal for how the United States defines itself - an ideal that views democracy as an excess or, even worse, a pathology. This is something Americans must acknowledge, interrogate and resist if they don't want to live under a system of total terror and escalating violence.

 

References:

1. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: New American Library, Inc, 1903), p. 19.

2. I have taken up this theme in The Violence of Organized Forgetting (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2014).

3. Wendy Brown, "Neoliberalized Knowledge," History of the Present: a Journal of Critical History, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Summer 2011), pp. 118-119.

4. Brad Evans and Henry A. Giroux, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of the Spectacle (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2015).

5. Gina Kolata, "Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds," The New York Times (November 3, 2015).

6. For a brilliant analysis of the merging of neoliberal politics and policies and the liberal press coverage of the rising death rates among poor middle-class whites, see Karen Garcia, "The Culling of the American Herd (Update)," Sardonicky (November 3, 2015).

7. Alain Badiou, The Rebirth of History (London: Verso, 2012), 12.

8. Ibid., 13.

9. Jody Sokolower, "Schools and the New Jim Crow: An Interview With Michelle Alexander," Truthout, (June 4, 2013).

10. Margaret Kimberley, "Jail for Sending Their Kid to School? How America Treats Black Women and Children Like Criminals" AlterNet, (May 9, 2012).

11. Mary Ann Gwinn, "Author Ta-Nehisi Coates: 'In this country, white is receiving the full privileges of the state,'" The Seattle Times(October 14, 2015). Of course,these are different Dreamers than the undocumented youth who have been rallying under this name.

12. Ibid.

13. Jeah Lee, "Chokeholds, Brain Injuries, Beatings: When School Cops Go Bad," Mother Jones (July 14, 2015).

14. Amy Goodman, "When School Cops Go Bad: South Carolina Incident Highlights Growing Police Presence in Classrooms," Democracy Now!, (October 27, 2015).

15. Jessica Glenza, "'Good guys' with guns: how police officers became fixtures in US schools," The Guardian (October 28, 2015).

16. Glenn Greenwald, "Arrest of 14-Year-Old Student for Making a Clock: the Fruits of Sustained Fearmongering and Anti-Muslim Animus," The Intercept (September 16, 2015).

17. Stanley Aronowitz, Against Schooling: For an Education that Matters (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008), 48.

18. Advancement Project, Test, Punish, and Push Out: How 'Zero Tolerance' and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth in the School-To-Prison Pipeline (Washington, D.C.: Advancement Project, March 2010).

19. Erik Eckholm, "With Police in Schools, More Children in Court," The New York Times, (April 12, 2013).

20. Ibid., Eckholm, "With Police in Schools, More Children in Court."

21. Ibid., Advancement Project, Test, Punish, and Push Out: How 'Zero Tolerance' and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth in the School-To-Prison Pipeline.

22. Ibid., Advancement Project, 2010.

23. Greg Toppo, "Civil rights groups: Cops in schools don't make students safer," USA Today, (October 28, 2015).

24. Editorial, "Schoolkids in Handcuffs," The New York Times (November 4, 2015).

25. Editorial, "Schoolkids in Handcuffs," The New York Times (November 4, 2015).

26. One truly absurd example of this kind of militarism can be found at John Vibes, "SWAT Team Shows Up To Elementary School to Promote Police State USA," Free Thought Project (March 8, 2015).

27. See Mark P. Fancher, Reclaiming Michigan's Throwaway Kids: Students Trapped in the School-to Prison Pipeline (Michigan: ACLU, 2011); and Advancement Project, Test, Punish, and Push Out: How 'Zero Tolerance' and High-Stakes Testing Funnel Youth in the School-To-Prison Pipeline (Washington, D.C.: Advancement Project, March 2010).

28. Judith Browne Dianis, E. "Interrupting The School-To-Prison Pipeline," America's Wire (June 14, 2013).

29. Advancement Project in partnership with Padres and Jovenes Unidos, Southwest Youth Collaborative, Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, (New York:Children & Family Justice Center of Northwestern University School of Law, March 24, 2005), pp. 5-58.

30. Ibid., Lee, "Chokeholds, Brain Injuries, Beatings: When School Cops Go Bad."

31. Ibid., Lee, "Chokeholds, Brain Injuries, Beatings: When School Cops Go Bad."

32. Ibid., "Chokeholds, Brain Injuries, Beatings: When School Cops Go Bad."

33. Ibid., Lee, "Chokeholds, Brain Injuries, Beatings: When School Cops Go Bad."

34. Roxane Gay, "Where Are Black Children Safe?," New York Times, (October 27, 2015).

35. See: William Ayers, Rick Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, eds. Zero Tolerance: Resisting the Drive for Punishment in Our Schools: A Handbook for Parents, Students, Educators, and Citizens (New York: The New Press, 2001); Henry A. Giroux, Youth in a Suspect Society (New York: Palgrave, 2009); Judith Kafka, The History of "Zero Tolerance" in American Public Schooling (New York: Palgrave, 2013).

36. Advancement Project in partnership with Padres and Jovenes Unidos, Southwest Youth Collaborative, Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track, (New York: Children & Family Justice Center of Northwestern University School of Law, March 24, 2005), p. 11.

37. Cited in Amy Davidson, "What Niya Kenny Saw," The New Yorker (October 30, 2015).

38. Rashad, Arisha, Scott, Lyla and the rest of the ColorofCange Team, " Editorial," Color of Change (October 27, 2015). Email correspondence.

39. E.Andrew Emett, "Same Cop Who Attacked School Girl Also Caught Assaulting Army Vet in Similar Takedown," Free Thought Project.com, (October 27, 2015); see also Ibid., Goodman, "When School Cops Go Bad: South Carolina Incident Highlights Growing Police Presence in Classrooms."

40. Ibid., Amy Davidson, "What Niya Kenny Saw."

41. Sonali Kolhatkar, "Police Are the Greatest Threat Facing Black Kids in Schools," Truthdig, (October 27, 2015).

42. William Boardman, "Police Unions Sustain Police Violence Epidemic,"Reader Supported News (October 31, 2015).

43. Nigel M. Smith, "Quentin Tarantino: film maverick and police critic delights in controversy," The Guardian (November 6, 2015).

44. Editorial, "Political Lies About Police Brutality," The New York Times, (October 27, 2015).

45. See, for instance, Amanda Petteruti, "Education Under Arrest: The Case against Police in Schools," Just Policy Institute (2011). 

 

A much shorter version of this article appeared in Counterpunch.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Henry A. Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently is the McMaster University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest and The Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. He also is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University. His most recent books include The Violence of Organized Forgetting (City Lights, 2014), Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2015) and  coauthored with Brad Evans, Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (City Lights, 2015). Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. His website is www.henryagiroux.com.


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