Author Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” exposed how discrimination against black men (and women) led to shameful racial disparity in our criminal justice system. But, it is not just the adults that are swept up in the rush to incarcerate a record numbers or people of color. Black children are also victims of modern day Jim Crow.
In a piece for PrisonMovement’s Weblog, Morris Dees, the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, comments on the fact that Jim Crow is alive and well in schools. Dees remarks that with the sixtieth anniversary of Brown v. Board approaching we owe it to African-American children to continue to fight to make sure that their education is not interrupted by criminalizing them just for violating schools rules. Dees writes:
“Here’s the bottom line: African-American children are three times more likely to be suspended and expelled from school than their white peers.
Of course, this comes as no surprise. We’ve been fighting the “school-to-prison pipeline” for years, bringing case after case to reform “zero tolerance” policies that amount to a war on our nation’s children.
Outrageously, many children pushed out of school are sent into juvenile lockups for trivial offenses. Too often, they’re traumatized, brutalized, isolated, and neglected in these facilities.
The message we send to them is that no one cares.
And for what? In a great number of cases, they’ve done nothing but violate school rules.
In one of our cases, a student in Mobile County, Alabama, was suspended for 50 days because his shirt was untucked. In another, a 14-year-old in Meridian, Mississippi, spent several days locked up because he had too many pockets on his pants.
We need to do better for our children – and for our country’s future.
We must keep children in the classroom and stop criminalizing typical adolescent behavior. We must work harder to create safe, nurturing learning environments. And, yes, we must recognize and combat the insidious role of racial bias in school discipline.
On May 17, our nation will mark the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board, the landmark Supreme Court decision that outlawed school segregation.
There’s much to celebrate.
But, as this data shows, even after six decades, traces of Jim Crow segregation continue to linger. And it’s devastating to African-American communities, who see their children’s futures cast aside as they are earmarked for dropout and incarceration.
We can do better. For all of our children’s sake, we must.”
Dees’ concern is justified. A New York Times article dated March 21, 2014 reveals that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (DEOCR) found that African-American children are three times more likely to be expelled from school than white students. Even when they are in school, DEOCR found that some schools in predominantly African-American and Latino communities do not have advanced classes such as algebra II and chemistry, and the percentage of teachers who do not meet state-set teaching requirements is alarmingly high.
Perhaps what is most disturbing is that African-American preschoolers make up almost half of pre-school suspensions, even though they only make up 18 percent of preschool classes. Jim Crow is now going after toddlers.