Awhile back, I heard a BBC report on “Why do US police keep killing unarmed black men?” and I was struck by the similar issues when we’re talking about cops, teachers and reform.
In both cases, we’re dealing with public employees who:
I mean, heck, given all this, what could possibly go wrong when people of color deal with their police or schools?
Anyhow, here are the BBC’s four main points on police violence followed by my comparison to what’s happening in education.
1) Ferguson and Baltimore are not isolated incidences.
On MappingPoliceViolence.org there’s a map with a red, glowing dot for each of the 304 fatal police shootings of black people in 2014. If you click on the link, it looks like much of the country is on fire. If you mapped out districts where children of color were failing en masse, you’d see the same thing.
2) Many police have an implicit bias against blacks, although in fairness, it’s not just cops, it’s our whole culture. Computer-simulated studies show people are far quicker to shoot an unarmed black men than unarmed white man. And study after study shows that schools are far more likely to suspend black boys than white boys as well as refer them to special education .
3) Police have created a “warrior” police culture which is willing to maim or kill innocent civilians rather than risk injury to a single officer.
This is both fascinating and harrowing. Seth Stoughton, a former cop-turned-University of South Carolina law professor, explained to the BBC how police culture has become even more extreme than the military when it comes to tolerating civilian casualties.
“”When the military is designing a mission, they have in mind the fact that they’re going to lose soldiers, “ Stoughton says. “The police profession has strongly repudiated that notion. No officer fatalities are acceptable.”
Instead, Stoughton says, police now see a high civilian death as an acceptable price to pay for police safety although I’d add the caveat….as long as those civilians are people of color. (Witness the different way police responded to the Baltimore protests vs. the white biker shoot-out in Waco.)
On the education front, we see a similar dynamic except since teaching is overwhelmingly female, the culture is more Besieged Martry than “warrior. ” But if you add up implicit bias + Besieged Martyr culture + powerful unions who make it nearly impossible to dismiss anyone for poor performance, you get school districts where high black failure rates are an acceptable price to pay to insure sure no teachers lose their jobs.
As with police shootings, the demise of children of color in the classroom has been going on for so long that most white people have basically normalized it. Yet if police were killing unarmed white suburban kids at the rate they kill urban black ones, we’d have demanded a wholesale re-working of policing in this country. Just as if white boys were failing at the same rate as black boys, we’d have already remade our schools to work better for them.
So we’re looking at similar issues although they tend to attract very different political allies. Politicans are mostly loathe to criticize either group. Republicans/conservatives will defend the police over teachers. Democrats/liberals are more prone to defend teachers over the police.
4) “We have to fix the wider social problems first.” The BBC’s last point came from Charles Ramsey, who heads both the Philadelphia Police Department and Obama’s new Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and said. “”We live in a society where everybody wants to point fingers, but we have a lot of deeply-rooted societal problems: poverty, education, poor housing stock. We’ve got to deal with the issue of extreme poverty.”
Yep. We hear the same thing about the equity gap in education. As a progressive ed reformer, I agree with Charles Ramsey: I think poverty and poor housing and the rest are all huge issues and we need to make serious public investments in these areas. However, I do take issue with that little word: “first”.
Because we need to fix poverty AND we need to change our police and education systems. We don’t have to choose. We don’t have to fix them in a chronological order. If Black Lives Matter, they matter in both the street and the classroom. So it would be nice if both Republicans and Democrats—and their various allies– would stop treating them as entirely separate issues. As a Democrat, I’m especially interested in Democrats getting this right.
—–Lynnell Mickelsen, May 29, 2015Posted on