Policing Our Schools: When Discipline Goes Wrong

There is a war going on in our schools and our children are collecting the types of battle scars that we spend our lives hoping to shield them from.  Our classrooms have become boot-camps, spaces to keep offenders before prison, and if these claims seem exaggerated to you, you may want to count the uniformed officers walking the corridors of your local campuses from elementary schools to high schools- supposedly promoting safety- but not actually.

Between talks (and action) surrounding indefinite detention and the swift militarization and occupation of our communities, we have to recognize that our schools have not been left unscathed.  What used to be tiny infractions that warranted a “time out” or a visit to the principal’s office have quickly become reasons for police to use tactics meant to apprehend criminals that threaten them or us.  Somehow, we have begun to criminalize and brutalize those we once upheld as our only hope for a greater tomorrow.  We are not instilling discipline in our children, we are, instead, teaching them beastly aggression and to fear for their lives while interacting with those sworn to serve and protect.

Few greater examples are as pertinent as to why we need immediate change in our policies of policing children than when reviewing the case of a Birmingham, Alabama teen pepper sprayed by police as a result  of a slight altercation on her campus.  Gloria Stearns, when pushed by a male student, turned to confront her attacker and was met with an arm grab and a shot of pepper spray in her eyes, nose and mouth.  Her mother, LaTonya, stood by in horror and disbelief as her child was violently attacked unable to help- despite her screams for intervention.  It is a parent’s worst nightmare and it is shameful. After the incident with campus police LaTonya was met with the challenge of nursing her injured child back to mental and physical health, due to welts (which turned to black scabs) on her face,coupled with confusion, embarrassment and understandable anxiety and depression.

What is even more alarming, according to Southern Poverty Law Center, is that more than 200 students in Alabama schools have been reprimanded using pepper spray.  And even more disturbing is the fact that city officials, including Brmingham’s mayor and chief of police are more than aware of how police are abusing power in this way- yet nothing has been done at this point to ensure that children are protected.

LaTonya wants her daughter Gloria to be the last child in Birmingham to suffer through the pain and embarrassment of being handled so harshly and callously by law enforcement.  She, along with others, is asking to sit with the mayor and others involved in policy making to stop pepper spray use in schools.  We owe it to our children and ourselves to ensure that they are comfortable and secure in their learning environments.  How else are they to accomplish the academic goals we put forth? 

Sign LaTonya’s petition to tell Birmingham officials that we will not stand aside while our children are assaulted and criminalized now.

Josie Pickens is a writer, activist and social commentator who blogs at www.jonubian.com. Follow her musings on twitter at @jonubian