Editor's Comment: Insecurity at Black Schools: When Metal Detectors Do More Harm Than Good

Article excerpt

"We need moms and dads helping raise kids . . . gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone. . . ." Governor Romney said this in response to a woman who asked about limiting the availability of assault weapons during the second 2012 presidential debate.

In a rare moment of agreement, President Obama responded, "We agree on the importance of parents and the importance of schools, because I do believe that if our young people have opportunity, then they're less likely to engage in these kinds of violent acts."

It was curious how a question about limiting assault weapons inspired moral invectives on single parent households. In the 1980s violent crime and single parent households among Black youth both sharply increased, leaving reasonable suspicions that Black youth were reacting to a more fragile family structure with violence. However, the relationship between the two ceased to exist in the late 1990s, as violent crime among Black youth plummeted, while the percent of Black children living in single parent households continued to rise. Today, the rate of violence among Black youth is less than it was before 1980, when more than half of Black children were being raised in two parent households. The percent of Black children being raised in single parent households is at a historic high (see Figure).

The myth that Black youth violence is rising in tandem with Black single parent households has deeper implications than the semantics of a presidential debate.

LAW AND DISORDER IN SCHOOLS FOR BLACK CHILDREN

In an article that I wrote for The Root, I noted that police made 2,546 school-based arrests (75 percent Black) between September 2011 and February 2012 in Chicago (Toldson, 2012). More recently, The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a law suit against Meridian, Mississippi because of their insidious civil violations of Black schoolchildren. In Meridian, schoolchildren are handcuffed, arrested and detained for days for "minor school rule infractions," and without due process (United States of America v. City of Meridian; County of Lauderdale; State of Mississippi; Mississippi Department of Human Services; and Mississippi Division of Youth Services, 2012). Meridian was one of many districts that the DOJ cited for creating a "school-to-prison" pipeline for Black students.

Nationwide, predominately Black, inner-city schools place a higher premium on security than suburban and rural schools. In 2009, I was on a panel with Ron Huberman who was at the time the Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools. He spoke candidly about differences in the way that predominately White and predominately Black schools deal with fighting. He said at predominately White schools, a fight typically results in both students being separated and isolated with an adult, ultimately resulting in a formal mediation process. Contrarily, fighting at predominately Black schools often result in both students being arrested by school police officers. It is worth noting that Mr. Huberman is a former police officer.

As I point out in my second Breaking Barriers report, nationwide, 26% of Black students report passing through metal detectors when entering school compared with 5.4% of White students (Toldson, 2011). At the same time, Black students are significantly more likely to feel unsafe at their school, and less likely to perceive empathy and respect from their teachers. Many Black students are stuck in educational systems that operate more like a correctional facility, and less like an institution of learning. The idea that Black kids need to get a "boot in the butt," before receiving a book in the hand, is responsible for many gross injustices committed against Black students in their quest for a quality education.

Unfortunately, many in the Black community passively accept the idea that Black children, particularly Black males, are more prone to violence and require tougher safety measures to ensure that criminal elements from their neighborhoods do not corrupt the school environment. …