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Schools ‘criminalize’ Black girls, jeopardizing their future success

NNPA NEWSWIRE — While the situation is under investigation, incidents of young girls of color being singled out for disciplinary actions are unfortunately common in schools across the U.S. New findings reveal a stunning and far-reaching impact on these teens and even pre-teens that can negatively affect them and impact their futures in an alarming way.

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A common practice with far-reaching impact

By Carol Ozemhoya, Our Weekly News Contributor

Recently, Our Weekly ran a story about a group of teen girls who were strip searched and chastised at a middle school on the East Coast. No apparent reason was given by the school’s administration, except that the girls – who were Black and Latino – were giggling and boisterous in a school hallway.

While the situation is under investigation, incidents of young girls of color being singled out for disciplinary actions are unfortunately common in schools across the U.S. New findings reveal a stunning and far-reaching impact on these teens and even pre-teens that can negatively affect them and impact their futures in an alarming way.

‘Adultification’ of Black girls

It’s being called “the criminalization of Black girls.” It’s also being referred to as the “adultification of Black girls.”

Does it stem from racism or prejudice? Or can it be attributed to research that suggests Black girls are perceived as maturing at a faster rate than their White counterparts (in general) and thus seem beyond their age. Another point to be made is that Black kids (girls and boys) tend to ask more questions of authority than White kids.

Suspensions of Black girls from schools are often driven by teacher bias and insufficient mental health resources, says a report from AmericanProgress.org published in 2017. They also occur when students break school rules that are inherently racially biased. For example, a charter school in Massachusetts suspended two Black sisters for wearing natural braided hairstyles, which violated the school dress code.

As recent as last week, a report was issued by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality that details stunning statistics and first-hand accounts of how American society and our education system are stacking the odds against young girls of color.

Beginning as early as pre-school

It starts early, says Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37). “It can actually start with pre-school,” she told Our Weekly. “Can you believe it?”

Rep. Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, says her and her colleagues are aware and working on legislation to combat the trend. “I am focusing here in Congress on prison reform from the perspective of African-American women and children. It’s not shocking what our numbers are when you see how the labeling starts at a young age.”

As early as age 5, Black girls are reportedly viewed by adults as more knowledgeable about sex and adult topics, less in need of nurture and support, and significantly older than White girls of the same age. The excessive discipline Black children experience for offenses such as disruptive behavior and tantrums makes them 10 times more likely to
face discipline, retention or even incarceration later in life, reports AmericanProgress.org.

Indeed, that study and Rep. Bass are not off the mark. The recent Georgetown study found that adults saw Black girls age 5-19 years as more “independent” and that they knew more about adult topics, such as sex. This biased outlook means that adults – such as educators – had the inclination to believe Black girls need less protection and support, and more discipline.

More children being held back

In addition, research from the Council of State Governments Justice Center concluded that Black girls are at greater risk of dropping out or being held back, which in turn leads to a three-fold increase in the chances of becoming entangled in the juvenile justice system, and later, in the adult system.

The disciplinary practices being employed in school damage social-emotional and behavioral development; strip away important educational experiences; interfere with the process of identifying and addressing underlying issues; and contribute to increased family stress and burden, says the AmericanProgress.org report.

Much of the Georgetown study involved focus groups. The researchers spoke to nine focus groups with a total of about 50 Black girls and women of varied ages and in diverse regions of the country, over a year from 2017 to 2018.

“Almost all the Black girls and women we talked to said they’d experienced ‘adultification’ bias as children,” reports study co-author Jamilia Blake in a statement released with the study results. “And they overwhelmingly agreed that it led teachers and other adults to treat them more harshly and hold them to higher standards than White girls.”

‘To society we’re not innocent’

Said one of the study participants: “To society we’re not innocent. And White girls are always innocent.”

Those in the study recounted experiences that reflected how adults saw them as older than they actually were and turned situations into traumatic experiences. For example, one participant revealed an encounter with a police officer – he did not believe she was only 15.

He handcuffed her and fingerprinted her, insisting she was older and should have been carrying identification.

Others discussed as having “an attitude” or being “threatening” in school. Too often the perceived “attitude” ends up with detention or even suspension. One participant said, “They always feel like you’re talking back, but you’re not. You’re just trying to defend, like get your side across.”

According to a report from the National Women’s Law Center using data from the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Black girls in school are five times more likely to be suspended than White girls. Experts believe that what played into the adultification of Black girls is the stereotypes that people often label Black women with, such as the “angry Black woman” or “jezebel.”

Myth of ‘early maturity’

Dr. Monique W. Morris has been studying the criminalization of Black girls for years and wrote a book on the subject called “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools” (2016), and she is also the founder and president of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute. She says that studies have not necessarily proven the perception that Black girls mature faster than other ethnic groups.

“Adults perceive that Black girls are older than they are… early onset of puberty for all girls is a nation trend… but it’s been in our school system for decades that educators perceive Black girls are more mature. The inclination is to be harsher, have less patience… we need to let Black girls be girls.”

She said the perception of Black girls by our education system goes beyond their minds – “Their bodies are being read in a way that is impacting them, intentionally or unintentionally.”

So, a young Black girl can get suspended for an infraction that comes from a perception of a teacher or an administrator or, currently with the presence of law enforcement on many school grounds, security personnel. This goes on her record and now she is also probably labeled as a “troublemaker.” She becomes frustrated. Her grades slip, and now the chances of her getting into a good college are fading. She ends up with a meaningless job that provides little hope for a bright future, and she may fall into trouble later on because of earlier frustrations in school. Many experts believe discriminatory patterns from school can and do lead to Black girls being funneled into the criminal justice system, and prison.

Parents, educators must work together

Morris tells Our Weekly that parents as well as the Black community need to step up and engage educators as well as Black girls.

“We need to have ways to monitor how our girls are being criminalized in our communities. Often times we talk about men and boys and don’t realize we need to address what’s happening to our girls,” Morris said.

The author and 2018 TED Women speaker says we need to develop “curriculum that responds to our young people and is inclusive to their experiences. We need advocacy to respond with programs and efforts to address their experiences and we need healing informed responses.”

Added Morris, “Parents need to advocate for schools to bring in discussion groups so the girls can have conversations about their experiences where they spend a lot of their time – in school. Communities need to think of ways to partner with girls… stand with
them when they tell their truths.”

Some of the next steps in school systems include:

  • Banning all suspension practices in pre-K and early grades.
  • Teaching conflict resolution to educators.
  • Trying alternative solutions to punishment, such as focusing on prevention, providing more support and bringing students together to solve problems on their own in small groups.
  • Hire more counselors rather than police officers.

Indicators and parental resources

Morris says that there are signs that parents can see that could indicate their girls are being “criminalized” at school. “If you get a series of calls from an educator or if your child doesn’t want to go to school, it’s time to look into it.”

She advises that parents “stay active and engage your child and the educators around her.”

But it’s not always the school’s or the teacher’s fault, Morris said. “Black girls who act out in school are usually dealing with something else going on in their life… usually with girls, it can be with sexual violence or domestic violence… and that’s not an easy conversation to have.”

But it’s clear that communication is key, not only with educators but also with parents and their children.

The National Women’s Law Center, offers the “Let Her Learn” tool kit at dignityinschools.org /resources. There is a section in Morris’ book “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools”, which offers resources and suggestions for parents of Black girls. The book is available on Amazon and has received rave reviews.

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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She Bought Freedom for Herself and Other Slaves Today a Park is Named in Her Honor

Alethia Browning Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised. 

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Alethia Browning Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

In her early years, Alethia Browning Tanner sold vegetables in a produce stall near President’s Square – now known as Lafayette Square – in what is now Northwest Washington, D.C.

According to the D.C. Genealogy Research, Resources, and Records, Tanner bought her freedom in 1810 and later purchased several relatives’ release.

She was the first woman on the Roll of Members of the Union Bethel AME Church (now Metropolitan AME Church on M Street), and Turner owned land and a store at 14th and H Streets, which she left to her nephews – one of whom later sold the property for $100,000.

Named in her honor, the Alethia Tanner Park is located at 227 Harry Thomas Way in Northeast DC.

The park sits near the corner of Harry Thomas Way and Q Street and is accessible by foot or bike via the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just north of the Florida Ave entrances.

“The first Council legislative meeting of Black History Month, the Council took a second and final vote on naming the new park for Alethia Tanner, an amazing woman who is more than worthy of this long-delayed recognition,” Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said in 2020 ahead of the park’s naming ceremony.

“[Her upbringing] itself would be a remarkable legacy, but Ms. Tanner was also active in founding and supporting many educational, religious, and civic institutions,” McDuffie remarked.

“She contributed funds to start the first school for free Black children in Washington, the Bell School. Feeling unwelcome at her predominately segregated church, she & other church members founded the Israel Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church fell on hard times and was sold at auction by creditors, she and her family stepped in and repurchased the church.”

Born in 1781 on a plantation owned by Tobias and Mary Belt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, historians noted that Tanner had two sisters, Sophia Bell and Laurena Cook.

“Upon the death of Mary Pratt (Tobias had predeceased his wife) in 1795, the plantation, known as Chelsea Plantation, was inherited by their daughter Rachel Belt Pratt,” historians wrote.

“Mary Belt’s will stipulated that Laurena be sent to live with a sibling of Rachel Pratt’s while Sophia and Alethia were to stay at the Chelsea Plantation.”

Tanner sold vegetables at the well-known market just north of the White House in Presidents Park. It is possible – and probable – she met Thomas Jefferson there as he was known to frequent the vegetable markets there along with other prominent early Washingtonians, according to historians at attacksadams.com. 

“There are also White House records suggesting she worked for Thomas Jefferson in some capacity, likely doing various housework tasks,” the researchers determined.

Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.

“Self-emancipation was not an option for all enslaved peoples, but both Alethia and her sister Sophia were able to accomplish this, almost entirely through selling vegetables at the market,” the researchers continued.

“Alethia Tanner moved to D.C. and became one of a significant and growing number of free Black people in the District. In 1800, 793 free Black people were living in D.C.

By 1810, there were 2,549, and by 1860, 11,131 free Black people lived in D.C., more than the number of enslaved peoples.”

Historians wrote that beginning at about 15 years after securing her manumission, Alethia Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

All in all, Tanner would have paid the Pratt family well over $5,000. All accomplished with proceeds from her own vegetable market business, they concluded.

“Alethia Tanner, it’s an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and perseverance,” D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter said at the park’s dedication.

“I just learned about this history through this, so it shows how when you name a park, you really educate people on the historical significance.”

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