The mainstream press can always find ways of justifying egregious abuses of power by school administrators and police, especially when the victimized students are people of color. So it should be clear, as Bouie notes, that Ben Fields’s attack is far from an isolated incident:
It’s easy to treat all of this as isolated behavior from an overly aggressive police officer and a teacher who couldn’t manage his classroom without outside authority. But the fact is that this incident—where police force, normally reserved for criminal offenders, was used to discipline a student—is incredibly common.
Since 1995, juvenile incarceration has dropped by more than 40 percent. In the same time frame, however, out-of-school suspensions have increased 10 percent, doubling the total from 1970. As reporters Dara Lind and Libby Nelson explain for Vox, this stems from several trends.
In practice, however, zero-tolerance policies became grounds for suspending students over relatively minor offenses, like disrupting and skipping class, or shooting spit balls. And school resource officers became the first option instead of a last resort, as teachers and administrators increasingly used law enforcement to handle routine discipline. In public school districts around the country, arrests have increased with the presence of school resource officers, even as juvenile crime rates have decreased. Even adjusting for poverty—which tends to correlate with safety—the total arrest rate in schools with officers was almost three times the rate for schools without them. “About 92,000 students were arrested in school during the 2011–2012 school year,” notes Vox. “And most of those were low-level violations.”
As is often true, from the war on drugs to mass incarceration, the brunt of this punitive policy falls hardest on black and Latino Americans. From 1972 to 2010, the school suspension rate for whites in middle and high school climbed from 6 percent to 7.1 percent. For Latinos it climbed from 6.1 to 12 percent. For blacks it more than doubled from 11.8 percent to 24.3 percent.
In 2007, 70 percent of in-school arrests were of black and Latino students. Overall, according to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students, 16 percent versus 5 percent. This is true for all ages: “Black children,” notes the DOE, “represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment, but 48 percent of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension.” White students, by contrast, “represent 43 percent of preschool enrollment but 26 percent of preschool children receiving more than one out-of-school suspension.” Students of color with disabilities are also more likely to be restrained or suspended: Black students constitute 21 percent of all students with disabilities, but 44 percent of those subject to mechanical restraints.