Monday Reading List: School Integration and Police Violence

Linda Brown died last week. She was best known for the Supreme Court case that both bears her name and remains synonymous with the idea of school desegregation in America. Elise Boddie and Dennis Parker wrote about that legacy, and why the project of integration remains incomplete, in The New York Times:

Integration has also fallen out of favor because many of its practices fail to adequately consider the needs of black communities. For example, scores of black teachers were fired in the wake of Brown v. Board because some white administrators refused to allow black people to teach white students. This segregated teachers, and it cut off a pathway to a good career and the middle class. In addition, poorly designed school-desegregation policies have scarred black students by focusing too narrowly on removing legal barriers to integration rather than creating inclusive school environments that value the abilities and dignity of all children. As a result, new discriminatory policies that cater to white parents, like tracking, as well as other policies that target black kids for punishment, have emerged in schools that are supposedly integrated.

I take some issue with the authors' characterization of the integration conversation, because while they argue that it commands "such little attention," I would argue that tons of policymakers and journalists are talking about this issue right now. The problem with the conversation is that the debate is still happening among the relative elite, while ignoring the interests of black and brown parents in underserved communities, who are the ostensible beneficiaries of such changes.

Here's Tanzi West Barbour from Wayfinder on the perils of that approach:

It never really dawned on me that a portion of my life is contained in a history book somewhere. I just never considered myself old enough to have been a part of integration. But I was. I am a member of the first class of Black students that integrated Atwood McDonald Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas in 1979 ... Black kids were not safe in these integrated schools. In fact, I remember the introduction of “safe houses” with the blue handprint logo decals in the windows of homes that you could go to if you felt like you were in danger or being threatened on your way home. I never stopped at one (my brother and I fought our battles), but I remember feeling relieved that they were there just in case we ever needed them.

West Barbour goes on to recount the various ways in which black students were treated as second class citizens in her integrated school. This problem persists today, wherein our most integrated schools often segregate students into separate classrooms, shining even greater light on the lack of equity.

These challenges are not arguments against integration, but rather a cautionary tale for policymakers who pursue such solutions today. School integration ultimately failed in this country for a number of reasons: the Supreme Court's softening on the issue by the 1980s, white flight, more explicit forms of racism from white communities, and the prioritization of other education policies in the years since integration peaked in the 1980s.

The reality, however, is that a significant reason for integration's failure is that, while we had a legal strategy to ensure that desegregation was executed at a technical level, that strategy lacked a concomitant political and community organizing strategy to ensure that black families and communities would be valued, loved, safe, and nurtured in integrated schools.

White communities completely and utterly failed to accomplish this, and we must learn from our shameful past.

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In other news, there was news Friday in the murder of Stephon Clark, who was killed in his grandmother's backyard by police officers in Sacramento, California. His family ordered an independent autopsy, which refuted the police department's account of the incident:

Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was fatally shot last week by Sacramento police officers, was struck eight times, mostly in his back, according to an independent autopsy released Friday, raising significant questions about the police account that he was a threat to officers when he was hit ... In its initial account, the Police Department said Mr. Clark had “advanced toward the officers” while holding what they believed to be a firearm. In body camera footage provided by the police, it is not clear which direction Mr. Clark is facing, and the family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said the independent autopsy contradicted the assertion by the police that he was a threat.
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It's hard to know where to start with all of this, but I want to be clear about something important here: the police have huge incentives to lie in these cases.

Because police have direct influence over the pace of investigation, evidence collection, and narrative creation in these cases, they are able to control information in such a way that paints the police in a more favorable light, a tendency that almost always involves criminalizing the victim. That's what happened with Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Laquan McDonald, and too many more innocent people to list.

In each case above, available video evidence directly contradicts the "official account" of the police. It is impossible to trust the police to investigate themselves, not to mention the prosecutors who work hand-in-glove with police departments and serve as enablers for racist, violent behavior.

While the police officer who killed Alton Sterling lost his job, but Ray Tensing, who killed Sam DuBose in Cincinnati in 2015, just received $350,000 in back pay and legal fees.

That's why, as Anne Branigin of The Root writes, the black students at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida want to change the conversation about gun violence:

At a press conference they organized, black students told reporters that they felt left out of the conversations on gun violence that have followed in the wake of the February shooting. And some safety measures that have been put in place at Stoneman Douglas High—namely, an increased police presence on campus—have left them feeling in more danger.  Among the students, the Miami Herald reports, was 17-year-old Kai Koerber, who told the crowd that he worried that increased law enforcement at a predominantly white school meant that he and other black students would be treated like “potential criminals.” “It’s bad enough we have to return with clear backpacks,” Koerber said. “Should we also return with our hands up?”

Food for thought to begin the week ...