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  • Writer's pictureBreaking Barriers

A Policy Meant to Help Black Students Could be Repealed After the Parkland Shooting

This is exactly why advocacy and youth voice matters so much!

Article from Teen Vogue Magazine by Lincoln Anthony Blades

After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on February 14 claimed 17 lives, it has become clear that the presiding administration, along with the entire Republican party, is committed to enacting “safety” measures that do everything but actually address America's gun problem. GOP legislatures across the nation have since opposed gun control bills, including a proposal in Florida to debate a motion to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines — a measure voted down just six days after the shooting. Votes against that measure included every Republican politician from Miami-Dade county, where the massacre occurred. Those House and Senate Republicans then approved legislation to arm teachers in classrooms.

In response to the February 14 mass shooting, President Donald Trump first blamed mental illness for this act of violence, though an estimate by a Duke University professor showed that even if we were to cure schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression overnight, violent crime in the U.S. (excluding death by suicide) would drop only 4%. The president then condemned violent video games, though studies have mostly debunked the link between real-life violence and video games. And as of March 12, his administration is reevaluating an Obama-era school initiative, “Rethink School Discipline,” which was aimed at protecting black and brown students from unfair punishment in classrooms.

The formal connection between the initiative and the Parkland massacre was conceived in a letter by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging their departments to consider whether the guidelines allowed the Parkland shooter to circumvent punishment, ultimately allowing him to carry out the mass shooting. A week after the open letter was published on Rubio’s website, the White House announced its plans to "Secure Our Schools," which includes enabling schools to partner with state and local law enforcement agents to administer firearms training. It also established the Federal Commission on School Safety, chaired by DeVos, which would be tasked with addressing press coverage of mass shootings, examining youth consumption of violent entertainment, and considering repealing the Obama administration policy, which was geared toward black students.

But America's mass shootings — on and off campus alike — are mostly committed by white men. In reversing this rule, the Trump administration is reverting to disproportionately punishing black boys and girls in school despite the fact that white male students overwhelmingly commit the majority of mass shootings. Targeting that initiative does absolutely nothing to address the mass violence caused at schools like Marjory Stoneman Douglas, but it does reverse any civil rights protections that marginalized communities had to protect them from ongoing prejudice.

Obama introduced the protocol as part of "My Brother's Keeper," an initiative established to help address the issues that disenfranchise young African-American men and boys and empower them with opportunities to traverse the racial-wealth gap. The importance of such an initiative was highlighted in a report by researchers from Stanford, Harvard, and the Census Bureau, which concluded that due to systemic obstacles, boys from wealthy black households earn less in adulthood than white boys from working-class households and that black men raised in the top 1% — millionaires — were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000. To confront the duality of the racial-wealth gap and the school-to-prison pipeline, the "Rethink School Discipline" guidelines were introduced as part of the My Brother's Keeper initiative to emphasize alternatives to suspensions and expulsions by highlighting data that revealed the excessive and lopsided punishment meted out to black students and the negative effects it had on them as adults.

So the question becomes how could a program aimed at assisting black youth, who statistically commit few mass school shootings, be highlighted for repeal as a method to ensure that schools are protected from the type of violence that shook Parkland?

Trump’s plan doesn’t address the fact that Americans can far too easily access efficient killing technology, but it disenfranchises black students while simultaneously refusing to address the threat of young angry white men. By ending the Obama-era guidelines, the Federal Commission on School Safety would reverse the progress the nation's schools have made in undoing the "hidden racism of school discipline", as Vox points out, which resulted in black public preschoolers being suspended at twice the rate of white and Latino public preschoolers and black K-12 students being three times more likely to be suspended than white students — despite studies showing that both white and black students are sent to the principal's office at the same rate and commit similar infractions.

The "Rethink School Discipline" guidelines weren't just aimed at protecting young black boys, but black girls as well, who are suspended more frequently than girls of any other race and more frequently than most boys (especially dark-skinned girls).

The key to stopping the violence recently witnessed in Parkland and the acts we've seen during the past two decades since Columbine is not relegislating policies that hurt communities of color or preventing access to games with violent elements or censoring music or movies. First we must address who the perpetrators of this mass violence are, and so we can collectively respond accordingly. Until we view them, many of whom are misogynistic and xenophobic, through an accurate lens, we will always be stuck in a loop in which we reflexively demonize the most vulnerable while intentionally disregarding the most dangerous.

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