The viral video of a South Carolina police officer brutally arresting a black female student is horrifying for the over-the-top use of force it shows, especially in a school setting. But it also exposes another troubling aspect of US schools: Black students are much more likely to face discipline than their white peers — and that disparity is even larger when comparing black girls and white girls.
The data, taken from a report from the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies, shows that black boys still face the highest rates of school discipline. But the report argues that "these data reveal that in some cases, race may be a more significant factor for females than it is for males." And a racial disparity persists, federal investigations have found, even when black and white students engage in identical behavior.
The disparity, the research suggests, is a result of zero-tolerance policies that many US schools — particularly those in minority, poor neighborhoods — took on as lawmakers pushed tough-on-crime policies. This shift created what critics call a "school-to-prison pipeline" that effectively pushes students out of schools and into the criminal justice system.
The pipeline was in clear view in the Spring Valley High School video: The student allegedly disrupted the class. The teacher and administrators reportedly tried to get her to leave the class. When that failed, they called in the police. Even if the situation hadn't ended in a brutal assault, the outcome would still have been incredibly harsh for the girl: She would have likely been arrested, charged for disrupting the school, and pushed toward the juvenile justice system.
What's worse, the harsh discipline seems to be more common in predominantly black schools. One study published in Sociology of Education analyzed a data set of more than 60,000 schools in more than 6,000 districts. It found schools with relatively larger minority and poor populations are more likely to implement criminalized disciplinary policies — such as suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests — and less likely to medicalize students by, for instance, connecting them to psychological or behavioral care.
Or, as study author David Ramey told the Daily Beast's Abby Haglage, "White kids tend to get viewed as having ADHD, or having some sort of behavioral problem. Black kids are viewed as being unruly and unwilling to learn."