Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Another Dubious Distinction for Missouri: No. 1 in Suspensions

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Editorial: Another Dubious Distinction for Missouri: No. 1 in Suspensions

Article excerpt

Until 2012, Missouri had the dubious distinction of having the largest crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing disparity in the country. The disparity had long been targeted by civil rights activists because crack defendants, most of them African-American, faced 75 times longer sentences for possessing the same amount of cocaine as the mostly white, wealthier defendants caught with powdered coke.

The law was changed by the Missouri Legislature at the urging of then-Reps. Tishaura Jones (currently the treasurer in the city of St. Louis), and Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.

Now Missouri has another worst-in-the-nation ranking that speaks to racial disparities: Its black children are more likely to be suspended from elementary school than in any other state in the nation, according to a report issued last month by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA.

First in suspensions. First in prison sentences.

Missouri is Exhibit A in what civil rights activists call the school-to-prison pipeline for young African-Americans. Nationally, and particularly in Missouri, it works like this:

Black students are more likely to be suspended when they are young for minor offenses that wouldn't lead to suspension for white students. One suspension leads to another, which often ends up with a student on the street getting in trouble. In the St. Louis region, those young black students on the street are at much higher risk for getting pulled over by police for simply walking down the street, as the Department of Justice report on Ferguson told us in one explicit story after another.

In Missouri, the disparities start young and continue all the way to prison. It's a travesty that explains as much as any other factor and there are many, poverty being the biggest one why too many black men who are nonviolent offenders crowd state prisons.

The UCLA study found that in Missouri, 14.3 percent of black students in elementary school were suspended at least once in the 2011-12 school year compared to 1.8 percent of white children. The 12.5 percent disparity is twice the national average.

The problem was even worse in the St. Louis Public Schools, which suspended 29 percent of its elementary school students during the year of the study, and in the unaccredited school districts of Normandy and Riverview Gardens, each of which suspended about 21 percent of its elementary students. …

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