Unequal punishment for students of color

Students, parents, educators and advocates came together with City Council members at One Police Plaza.

The Dignity in Schools Campaign – New York is demanding better school safety policies following the release of student arrest and summons data.

The campaign which comprises a coalition of students, parents, educators, and advocates, came together with City Council members at One Police Plaza on Feb. 22 to release the data.

The data – obtained by Dignity in Schools-New York members and elected officials for the first time since the school year began – shows what students, parents and advocates have argued for years: the NYPD’s jurisdiction over school safety has resulted in unequal punishment for students of color and unnecessarily harsh punishment for students citywide.

Of the nearly 300 school arrests, a shocking 93.5 percent of students were either Black or Latino—many arrested for minor offenses.

“When I was a student in high school, every day I was harassed by the School Safety Agents [SSAs] and NYPD officers, me and my friends were threatened, frisked, and discriminated against, to the point where many of us never made it past high school,” said Nilesh Viswashrao, an 18-year-old youth leader of Desis Rising Up and Moving. “One particular incident was when I walked into a fight outside of my school and NYPD officers and SSAs came to break it up, and even though I had nothing to do with it, I was handcuffed to a fence and searched by the officers and then questioned. After which I was given a $50 fine and a court summons to attend,” explained Nilesh. “I am one of too many youth of color with this kind of school experience, and I’m here to say, stop the school to prison pipeline now!”

The press conference highlighted the stories of students such as Nilesh who are being pushed out of their schools due to harmful safety policies.

“What does it mean to have an arrest on your record at a young age?” said Esperanza Vazquez, a parent leader with New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee in the Bronx. “For a young person, having a record can affect the rest of his or her life. One arrest can deny you access to a higher education, to future employment and to many other opportunities that most of us take for granted. Suspensions too, are pushing our youth out of schools and into the streets, into the criminal justice system, into low-wage jobs, therefore continuing the cycle of poverty.”

City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who also spoke at the press conference, said, “these numbers are shocking, over the last 55 days there were five arrests per day of NYC students, and nine summonses were given to students every day. These numbers and figures are out of line with the mission of the DOE, which is to educate and protect students, not prepare them for the school to prison pipeline.” Council Member Dromm also called on the City Council to hold an oversight hearing regarding the arrest data.

Despite these disturbing numbers, in New York City, there are examples of schools using positive alternatives. Nadia Ouedraogo, a student and peer mediator at the Morris High School Campus in the Bronx, and a leader of Urban Youth Collaborative, said, “Arrests and suspensions should not be the first option. I stand here today as an example of how other programs like peer mediation work. And there are many more students like me. Cops do not belong in schools. Students are not criminals and should not be treated as such.”

Though the data released yesterday does not describe the facts of the incidents, when viewed against the backdrop of the many accounts of student arrests for offenses like writing on a desk, cursing, and pushing or shoving, all indicators point to police personnel becoming involved in disciplinary infractions that should be handled by educators.

Dignity in Schools Campaign members argue that offenses such as talking back, using profanity, disorderly conduct, loitering, possession of a cell phone, minor vandalism and altercations which do not seriously threaten public safety should be considered school discipline issues and handled by school personnel.

The Student Safety Act, which was enacted last year, requires the NYPD to submit quarterly reports to the City Council on arrests, summonses and other police-student interactions in the schools. This is the second data filing since the law went into effect. It is the first to encompass months in which school was in full session.

The Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York is a coalition of students, parents, educators, civil rights, students’ rights and community organizations, including: Advocates for Children of New York, Center for Community Alternatives, Children’s Defense Fund-New York, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Future of Tomorrow, Make the Road New York, Mass Transit Street Theater, NESRI, New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Pumphouse Projects, Sistas and Brothas United, Teachers Unite, The Sikh Coalition, Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Youth on the Move, and Youth Represent.

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