A new video shows a Baltimore school resource officer slapping and kicking a young man during a profanity-laced tirade at Reach Partnership School.
In the video, reported by local news station WJZ, the officer slaps the young man three times as he curses, then kicks him while shouting, "Get the fuck out of here!" The young man, who is black, does not fight back at any point in the video.
It is not clear what led to the incident or what ultimately happened to the victim. It's also unconfirmed by the school whether the young man is a student, but the person who recorded the video told WJZ that the victim does go to the school.
The officer in the video and another officer have been reassigned from the school until an investigation is finished. The head of the Baltimore school police force was also placed on administrative leave.
The school told WJZ that it maintains officers due to the sheer size of the building, not concerns over violence. According to US News and World Report, Reach Partnership is a public middle/high school that serves mostly black, economically disadvantaged students.
The video is shocking, especially following a similar instance last year in which a South Carolina school resource officer picked up a student and threw her across a classroom after she refused to cooperate with an arrest.
But more than these two incidents, these kinds of videos show what happens when schools have police officers on their premises. Very often, it seems like the school begins to rely on the officers for discipline — and that can lead not only to excessive force in response to misbehavior, but also racial disparities.
The school-to-prison pipeline, explained
When lawmakers began calling for and enacting tough-on-crime policies in the 1970s through '90s, some of the concepts trickled down to schools, which began outsourcing discipline to police through school resource officers and referrals to the juvenile justice system.
The result has been a school-to-prison pipeline that acts as many kids' first exposure to the criminal justice system — and it can lead to more interactions with the justice system later on, because the lost school time and bad marks on their records can make it much more difficult to get ahead.
Many Americans saw the problems with the system firsthand in a viral video of a brutal encounter between a school resource officer and a black student at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina. That video showed the officer, Ben Fields, tossing the student across the room and arresting her after she allegedly caused a disturbance in class — in what many people saw as an extreme overreaction.
But there's also a lot of research and data that shows black kids are much more likely to be affected by schools' punitive disciplinary policies:
- Even after controlling for poverty, a report from the Justice Policy Institute found schools with school resource officers have nearly five times the rate of arrests for disorderly conduct as schools without school resource officers, even though the prevalence of school resource officers in schools has little relationship to reported crime rates.
- A 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 racial 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 with psychological or behavioral care.
- Boys with imprisoned fathers are much less likely to possess the behavioral skills needed to succeed in school by the age of 5, a study published in Sociological Science found. Black children, who are more likely to have imprisoned fathers, are therefore more likely to be set on a bad course before they start kindergarten.
- Black students with disabilities are almost three times as likely to experience out-of-school suspension or expulsion as their white counterparts, and twice as likely to experience in-school suspension or expulsion, according to a report from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
- Although black boys face higher rates of school discipline than anyone else, a report from the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies found black girls are six times as likely to be suspended compared with white girls, while black boys are three times as likely to be suspended compared with white boys.
- Federal investigations have found that black students are punished more harshly than white students in schools even when black and white students engage in identical behavior.
So schools aren't just more likely to criminalize their students nowadays; they're more likely to criminalize their black students in particular.
It's these kinds of statistics that have led racial justice activists to call for the removal of cops in schools or, at the very least, reforms that protect students.
"What happened in Baltimore is not an isolated incident but part of a broader pattern of police violence against youth of color," Thena Robinson-Mock, director of the Advancement Project Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track Project, said in a statement. "The bottom line is adults in school buildings should build trust with students, not tear them down with verbal abuse, physical violence, intimidation and harsh disciplinary policies."