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Police As Violent “Principals”: A Lesson in Failure

No Comments 27 October 2015

DeputyThe presence of police officers in public schools has been a contested matter for many years. In 2013, after the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, The New York Times published an article written by Erick Eckholm[1] questioning the efficaciousness of having armed police in schools. In the wake of the video showing Spring Valley High School resource officer Ben Fields pulling a teenage girl from her chair and tossing her across the room we must now revisit and question the purpose and impact of this program.

According to a White House blog written by Director Gil Kerlikowske: “School resource officers, or SROs, are members of the law enforcement community who teach, counsel, and protect the school community. When SROs are integrated into a school system, the benefits go beyond reduced violence in schools. The officers often build relationships with students while serving as a resource to students, teachers, and administrators to help solve problems.”[2] While NASRO and White House officials applaud the benefits of the program, it is not without problems particularly given its criminalizing impact upon poor students and students of color.[3]

Although early SRO programs had as their primary goal the building of relationships and therefore more teaching and counseling activity between students and police, the growth of the program came on the heels of campus violence from 1993-1999.[4] These days, the reduction of crime and campus security is ostensibly the role of SROs. Eckholm, looking at the data collected from a report by civil rights groups warned against “a surge in criminal charges against children for misbehavior that many believe is better handled in the principal’s office.” The report, entitled “Police in Schools are Not the Answer to the Newtown Shooting,” was written after the Newton shootings in response to proposals to increase the presence of armed SROs in schools and to allow the arming of teachers.[5] The report provides evidence of the rise in school arrests of children of color (p.9.).

Moreover, schools that over-police, “often creates a hostile environment that breeds distrust”(p.10) leaving us to question whether they are participants in what is now being called the school-to-prison pipeline. Zero tolerance policies where the slightest infractions result in punishment are part and parcel of this criminalization process that begins as early as kindergarten. Rather than increasing the training of educators and yes, family members to deal with misbehaving children schools have resorted to increased policing staffing and equipping their schools with SROs and metal detection devices. What training do SROs receive? According to the NASRO: “The Basic School Resource Officer Course is a forty-hour (40) block of instruction designed for any law enforcement officer with two years or less experience working in an educational environment and school administrators.”[6]

Should the American public accept the presence of armed officers in their school systems with such paltry training? Is the responsibility of disciplining children being shifted from educators (esp. principals) to police an effective strategy? And why the hell must Black bodies bear the brunt of poor policing strategies not only in our communities but in the very places where our children spend large percentages of their time?

We are aghast after viewing the video taken in the classroom at Spring Valley High School, and we should be. But there are more stories that have not been video recorded which students have reported such as the interview of a Philadelphia student contained in the post-Newton Shooting report:

“When security guards searched me in school for my cell phone the usual routine is for them to pat me on my chest and rub their hand down my cleavage. Then they make us lift and shake our bras out. Also, they would run their hands down from our waist to our ankles. Next they turn us around and pat our back pockets. At the very end they use the wand to search us thoroughly.”[7]

I cringed as I read those words. When I saw the video of the teenage girl being violently arrested, I was stunned and angry. It is not a difficult thing for me to connect the militarized police presence that I witnessed in Ferguson with the mistreatment of our children at the hands of armed police happening far too often in our schools. I am not of the mind that we can without question and accountability trust police to promote safety in our schools anymore than it has been proven police can be given carte blanche in our communities. Though we may determine her behavior to warrant some level of punishment there is nothing in that video that leads any sane person to believe that punishment should include being tossed about the room in front of her peers. Last time I checked, the role of SROs does not include discipline, but this is exactly what is happening on an alarmingly increasing rate. Discipline has shifted to: 1) arrests and violent “legal” takedowns of children whose bodies are still growing or 2) “alternative” schools where our children are cordoned off, effectively imprisoned on school grounds.

Finally, you do not teach children to obey or to respect “authority figures” (and I’m not suggesting either was the motivation in this case) by violent assault. It is a sign of a sickening educational system that Black children are more often than not the brunt of such vile behavior. I can only believe this is the case because Black obedience is more desired in America than our education. We watched a police officer strangle a grown Black man for failing to comply now we’ve watch a police officer’s violent assault against a little girl for failing to comply. The common denominator: excessive police force against Black bodies. We cannot abide an educational system that does not cherish our children and allows miscreants in uniforms to patrol its classes. These are not grades being toyed with but our very lives. Schools cannot afford to flunk on the safety and wellbeing of our children.

[1] “With Police in Schools, More Children in Court” by Erick Eckholm, April 12, 2013. Accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/education/with-police-in-schools-more-children-in-court.html

[2] School Resource Officers, March 28, 2013 accessed at https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/03/28/school-resource-officers

[3] Matthew T. Theriot, “School Resource Officers and the Criminalization of Student Behavior,” in Journal of Criminal Justice 37 (2009) 280–287 Excerpt: “…students at schools with greater economic disadvantage had a higher number of total arrests as well as more arrests for assault, weapons possession, disorderly conduct, and other charges than schools with less poverty.”p.285

[4] NASRO (National Association of School Resource Officers) To Protect and Educate: The School Resource Officer and the Prevention of Violence in Schools, p. 9. Accessed at https://nasro.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/NASRO-To-Protect-and-Educate-nosecurity.pdf

[5] “Police in Schools are Not the Answer to the Newtown Shooting,” accessed at b.3cdn.net/advancement/df16da132af1903e5b_zlm6bkclv.pdf

[6] NASRO https://nasro.org/training/nasro-training-courses/

[7] “Police in Schools…”p.11.

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Transforming NOT Transformed

No Comments 27 June 2015

This has been an epic week for high court decisions. The Supreme Court upheld key provisions of Obamacare and it ruled in favor of same-sex marriage making it legal in all states across the nation. As an African American queer lesbian ordained clergy of the United Methodist Church it is the latter decision that plumbs my imagination regarding the days to come for my denomination.

Within moments of learning about the decision, United Methodist LGBTQ and affirming clergy posted pictures not only of themselves officiating same-sex marriages but also of they and their spouses. Social media lit up with their smiling faces showing the sheer joy of love unbridled. With the ruling now etched across the legal landscape of every state in America, their “outing” typified a people willing to defy the unjust rules of the denomination.But I did not feel such a level of joy.

On my Facebook page I posted this comment: “As a queer lesbian I truly celebrate this decision. I promise you I do. However, there is a part of me that wishes the SCOTUS would have withheld this announcement until Monday. It leaves me feeling so very torn. It makes me feel the burden of being Black and queer lesbian. I feel like my mourning has been stepped on and my ability to celebrate denied its fullness.Now you all say whatever the hell you want to say about this post but it is truly how I feel. And I hate that I feel guilty by the mixture of these emotions. Oppression is a motherfucker!! (Straight no chaser)”

Admittedly, whereas I felt I could not celebrate, several of my colleagues expressed the need to have a respite, a moment of celebration so as not to be overwhelmed by the horror of the murder of the 9 members, including the pastor, of Emanuel AME Church. Still, the very need still points to this truth: Oppression really is a motherfucker which we must continuously seek to reveal and eradicate.

There was no more revealing reading for me than those from within the UMC. Reactions to SCOTUS ruling in the UMC included concerns about tensions between state and church law such as this excerpt from a UMC article: “I think it will have bearing, and I think it will put a lot of people in the middle,” said the Rev. Sky McCracken, a district superintendent in western Kentucky. He will be part of the Memphis Conference’s delegation to General Conference. “I think it will be difficult because people will have a hard time deciding between what the law of the land says and what the doctrine of the church is.”

This is why knowing our history as a denomination is so important. This is not the first time delegates and leaders of our church have had a major clash between secular laws and those recorded in our Book of Discipline.

Rev. PENNELL COOMBE, of Philadelphia at the 1860 General Conference of the Methodist Church: “He called attention to the fact that the question before them was not as to the morality of Slaveholding. On that question there was no difference of opinion in the Methodist Church. The question at issue, therefore, was, whether the Discipline should be changed, as it at present exists, so as to forbid the holding as well as the buying and selling of slaves. …Do the majority intend to say that the Church should place herself in a position of defiance to the State, and require our members to do what the laws will not permit to be done? If so, do they expect the State to protect the Church in that position? After the 4th of June next the law of Maryland wilt absolutely prohibit emancipation. It is nearly so now. What will you do with your new rule then?”

The result was that the chapter regarding slavery was only advisory and “the following passage was stricken from the Discipline, in order that the book might be made to conform in all its parts to the new chapter: “Provided, nevertheless, no slaveholder shall be eligible to the office of an Elder or Deacon, when the laws will admit of emancipation and permit the liberated slave to enjoy freedom.”

Thus the denomination bowed itself to state law permitting its clergy to continue slaveholding.

When it comes to honoring the lives of Black people, the United Methodist Church then and now has been shrewd, flatulent, and even despicable. Our Council of Bishops has had nothing to say about the Voting Rights Act being gutted and took nearly a year to issue a pastoral letter regarding racism though two of its Black colleagues had been in the forefront on the matter (Bishop Warner addressed the subject at their meeting in Berlin and Bishop Gregory V. Palmer called for the Council to issue a pastoral letter).

Law of the land, yes. But miles to go within the United Methodist Church. A thought I simply could not bear yesterday.

Yesterday I needed to sit with the sorrow and worshipful celebration of Rev. Pinckney’s funeral. It was not a perfect liturgy – so much more I desired and will not speak of in this blog – but it gave me room to grieve, to weep, to rock back and forth and to raise my hands in praise. It allowed me to feel my wholeness as a Black woman, as a minister of the gospel, as a scholar, as a vocalist, as a mother, as an activist and as a queer lesbian. Death has that way of reminding us of the work of our mortal bodies and not just our temporalities. Homegoing celebrations remind us of the significance of being bodies in communities. The eulogy speaks to the living, encouraging us and is – when done well – an exhortation that prompts us to carry on the good work of our loved ones now gone to glory. I received that from President Obama’s well-crafted and delivered eulogy. I needed to be reminded again of the power of grace.

No truer words were spoken by President Obama than these: “But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.” Having felt the burden of being the brunt of so many “isms” I needed to be reminded of the enormity of God’s gift of grace and to be comforted as I realized that my labor to eradicate all oppression than stands in opposition to God’s grace given to all humanity, that the work that I am doing is not in vain.

Nine people died while they were in church studying about God and God’s amazing works of grace. That was where my heart and attention rested. All of it. All of raw emotions to that encounter alone. Nothing else would do. Let alone a celebration that I must still fight to bring to fruition amidst a community – LGBTQ – that is still too plagued by racists.

So today we may marry. That’s cool. Really it is. And today I will celebrate this phenomenal turn of events. But as a Black woman I simply must temper my celebratory mood with the cautious perspective of one who knows well the ongoing struggle both in the church and the LGBTQ community to end racism.

Pops collar and sPOTUS at AMEips merlot.

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Today We Woke Up and the Living Nightmare Was Repeated

1 Comment 18 June 2015

On Wednesday night, the traditional night of Bible Study in many Black churches across the country, a terrorist entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and sat for an hour among those gathered to study the text so sacred among Blacks in America. During that time, he likely heard prayer, likely heard testimonies of praise, heard scriptures, heard the sounds of human beings reflecting on how Christians ought live out their faith even in the midst of trials and suffering. During that time, he watched the ministry of a pastor who loved God and loved all people, a pastor who believed being a politician was an integral part of responding to the call God placed on his life. The terrorist also watched Black men, women and children, he saw them breathe, saw them nod their heads affirming what was being taught, saw the children likely playing near their parents. But none of this moved this killer to abort his mission of hatred. Dylann Roof aimed his gun and even as worshippers pleaded with him for their lives said, “You rape our women & you’ve taken over our country. You have to go.”

“Our.” With that one word, this terrorist spoke not only his thoughts but the thoughts of those who raised him on this venomous pabulum and the many white supremacists living in America.

I could write a book discussing white supremacy and its longstanding activity across the globe. I’m leaving that for some white scholar who is really concerned with understanding why some white people continue to hate Black people. As we say in the Black church, “That is not my ministry.”

My ministry today and my concern is about the emotional state of Black people across the country. Black people have more religious adherents than any other group of people in the country. According to the last Pew Research study 87% of us claim some religious group and even if we are unaffiliated, most Blacks identify as religiously faithful in our prayers and spiritual practices. When they could have literally been killed for doing so, slaves gathered without the white slave owners’ permission at what is now called the “invisible institution” to worship God. Our fore parents had to sneak away to the southern brush harbors to pray. When we were allowed to worship it was only with authorization. At the white church, we sat in the segregated area called “nigger gallery.” This is where the trustees desired Richard Allen and Absalom Jones go as they were kneeling in prayer at St. George Methodist Church in Philadelphia. Richard Allen is the founder of the AME Church. Absalom Jones founded the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas and was the first African American ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church.

I write this because I know Black people are thinking of this religious history as we hear the incendiary language that flowed from this terrorist’s lips. I also write knowing that some are wondering where in America are we safe to walk or to worship. The Black Church has been the fabric of our communities. We may critique it but it is of us and we will not stand by and fold our hands as terrorists seek to destroy us as we gather there to worship.

Unfortunately, I fear that in the weeks to come no lone white man or woman will enter many of our Black Churches without coming under immediate suspicion. I do not like it but it seems a realistic probability.

To fear for your life while worshipping in the church is also part of Black history. This is not the first time a white terrorist has killed Black people as they sat in their churches. There is a reason we sing, “We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” It is because we as Black people have long known that #BlackLivesMatter. When the majority of white people across America accept this, live this, without negative rejoinder then and only then may we be able to live just one day in this country without experiencing brutality against our bodies and spirits. Until then, please don’t ask us to give an account for our allegiance to this country or our desire for justice. That account must be given by a people who do not know the sting of pain and grief at waking up knowing members of your race have been murdered because of their race, while attending church.

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