On November 8, 2021, East High School once again used the police as a weapon against Black children.
Like many young people do at that age, several students at East engaged in a physical altercation. However, instead of using their age, wisdom and positions of authority to help ease tension between students, the school staff and police exacerbated a bad situation. The police responded to a schoolyard fight by escalating the violence with pepper spray and other forms of physical assault.
While we are made to believe that community safety is impossible without the police, incidents such as the one at East High School demonstrate that police are actually a major disrupting force in Black and other communities. Equally as important, the actions of the police did not prevent harm, but instead contributed to the pain and trauma that those Black students will have to carry with them in their classrooms and community. Like the slave patrols that preceded them, the police serve as overseers to control Black communities and displace Black students into prisons, poverty and other forms of systemic violence.
In spite of their harmful behavior, the police continue to shift blame away from themselves, and the system they protect, and onto young Black people. This is evident in the fact that the new police chief, Shon Barnes, argues that Black students should be punished for being teenagers that got into a fight, but disgraced officer Matt Kenny should not be punished for murdering Tony Robinson and, therefore, should maintain his position in MPD.
It appears that those accused of sexually assaulting students at East are given more dignity and respect than Black children who are struggling in an antiblack school. This is to be expected though. We live in a world that punishes Black youth for simply existing. It is also to be expected that the same school that hosted the funeral of Tony Robinson who was killed by officer Matt Kenny decided to use Kenny’s colleagues and allow them to do more violence to Black young people. In Madison, institutions are skilled in using the language of social justice, while really working to ensure the impossibility of justice.
It is clear to us as a district that has over $400,000,000 continues to use the excuse that they do not know what else to do besides use police violence. Black folks have been laying out alternatives to policing in schools for decades. What the schools and police won’t say is that they believe Black youth are only to be controlled through extreme forms of violence because the world is told to fear us. We are things to be protected from in their eyes. Black youth don’t get to be youth or students at all because the automatic reaction to their bodies and existence is disgust. This is why police officers need to remain removed completely. We have worked with our communities and young people to create proposals that demonstrate what a police free school could look like. These proposals went ignored.
We understand that young people get into altercations. However, for the reasons named above, it is framed as insidious and unacceptable when Black youth are in said altercations. We then can predict that the police and teachers will always respond with harm and blame when it comes to Black youth. Putting police back in schools will not solve anything. We have seen PR stunts like this by MPD made to further criminalize Black youth and communities while uplifting a violent occupying force called the police.
Black young people are surviving the impacts of the Covid pandemic and the global uprising following the murders of George Floyld and Breonna Taylor. On top of surviving antiblack racism, and capitalism, over the last two years, we have witnessed the disproportionate rates of Covid in the Black community and the impact of a global pandemic on Black youth. Schools and communities are responsible for investing in their wellness and leadership, but schools are playing a major role in their suffering. Our schools do not see Black children as worthy of healing and transformation. This is evident when the primary response to young peoples’ needs is police violence.
We have to point out the role that teachers play as well in reinforcing antiblack violence. We need to think seriously about teacher accountability which is oftentimes absent when the student is Black. Teachers can hold themselves accountable by signing the Black Sanctuary Pledge and making space for community-led transformative justice processes outside the scope of the police and outdated and antiblack school procedures.
It is our duty to ensure that Black youth have power over the ways in which accountability and safety flows in our communities. They deserve dignity and support in times of accountability through community- led programs and services. Solutions to ending conflicts between students begin with love, community, a strong political analysis, and proven approaches which are all nonexistent in schooling and policing. Again, the solution to harm in our schools begins with adult education and accountability for harming children. The solution is to invest in the leadership, wellness, and creativity of Black youth and youth of color. The solution is transformative justice instead of racist and sexist discipline and punishment. The solution is for most impacted youth, parents, and trusted adults to have control over their schools. We have been working with parents, teachers, and community members who believe in a better world that does not include police violence in response to young people. If you want to get down with Freedom, Inc. and believe in building with young people instead of against young people, sign our Black Sanctuary Pledge; bit.ly/blacksanctuarymmsd. You can also read our Community Control Over School Safety and Accountability policy at bit.ly/ccovermmsd.
This opinion piece reflects the views of its author and not necessarily those of Madison365 or its staff, board of directors or funders.