Arming Teachers Threaten Black Students

By Rann Miller | AC JosepH Media Guest Blogger

Myeesha Jones is a passionate educator.

The mother of three is a teacher in the Camden City School District. Not only is she a math teacher, but she is chair of her school’s math department. She’s serious about her vocation, her role as an African American teacher and she care deeply about her students. So it is no wonder when asked the question what it will mean for Black students if their teachers are armed, Jones responds with fear for their lives.

“I can already envision, every time some poor White woman claims to feel threatened, they will get away with murder. I can hear teachers making violent threats against black students with behavioral disabilities, only escalating the situation further. Imagine how many students will be killed because they were just having a bad day.”

Nationwide, a conversation is taking place about arming teachers in light of recent school shootings. However, Black students and parents are a marginalized voices in the conversation. So are the voices of Black educators. Many of those voices echo the reports from the Department of Education’s office of Civil Rights; that Black children are suspended, expelled and referred to law enforcement at the highest rates. Even in pre-school, Black children are suspended at higher rates.

As an African American parent, who is also an educator, I echo those fears. Thankfully in New Jersey, Governor Murphy believes that arming teachers is “illogical and dangerous.” Education commissioner Lamont Repollet, who is African American, concurred with the governor saying that then classroom is “a place for learning. It is no place for a weapon.”

Jones continued, “These school shootings were orchestrated by mostly White boys. Yet we see that Black boys and girls are disproportionately killed at the hands of law enforcement, just for simply being black.” According to Mother Jones, roughly 65 percent of mass school shootings were at that hands of White males; none at the hands of Black people. Unfortunately, that’s the elephant in the room continuously ignored by policymakers.

Current president of the Camden Educational Association Dr. Keith Benson agreed with Ms. Jones. “The arming of teachers, a profession still dominated by White people, is in essence deputizing them as an extension of law enforcement with the allowance to accurately determine threats and if need be, take a life. Consequently, more students of color’s safety will be put in far greater jeopardy, and it is only a matter of time before we learn of a Blacks student killed in their own school by a teacher; more than likely a White teacher.”

Considering how Black children are treated in schools, one might agree . A middle school student was tackled by a teacher and had braids ripped from her head because her perfume bothered that teacher. Another middle school student was told he’d be lynched if he didn’t get back to work. A high school student was told by a teacher that he (the teacher) would have a bullet put through the student’s head. Another high school student was threatened with being hanged by the class if he hit a White student. 

According to a 2015 study, schools with larger minority and poor populations are more likely to implement criminalized disciplinary policies—suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests—and less likely to connect students to psychological or behavioral care.

K-12 schools where at least half of the children are nonwhite, and high-poverty schools—meaning those where at least 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—are home to the highest percentages of campus law enforcement.

What would happened in these schools if teachers were armed?

Dr. Wayne Glasker, Rutgers University Camden professor of History and African American studies, is very concerned at the prospect of teachers carrying firearms. He cites recent research as his evidence against arming teachers.

“Research psychologists have shown that young black people are perceived, on average, as four years older than their actual chronological age. It means that black children are perceived as teens, and teens are perceived as adults. The eight year old is perceived as a twelve year old and judged and treated accordingly.”

A 2014 American Psychological Association study revealed that young Black males are more likely to be mistaken as older, perceived as guilty, and face police violence if accused of a crime.

“Too often we hear the toxic words ‘they behave like animals.’ So long as stigma, stereotypes and implicit bias remain, arming teachers will be a flawed response to school violence,” Glasker warned.

Benson agreed. “As the student population attending public school is increasingly non-White, what is happening is that teachers, predominantly White, are empowered with legal authority over both the education of non-White students, but also over their lives as well.”

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, more than 80% of teachers are white. Black students, who represent just 16 percent of student enrollment, represent 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 31 percent of students subjected to a school-related arrest.

In light of the various warnings from the likes of Black students from Stoneman-Douglas, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has chosen to eliminate Obama Administration discipline guidelines; guidelines credited for a reduction in the disproportionate discipline of Blacks students. Critics of the Obama era guidelines argue that Black children are predisposed to exhibiting bad behavior.

Such rhetoric is racist and contributes to the disproportionate disciplining of Black students. According to the Government Accountability Office, racial difference still accounts for a significant percentage of disparate treatment in school discipline even after accounting for factors such as prior disciplinary history or socioeconomic status.

Disheartened at the prospect of armed teachers, Jones said, “We all know what it will mean for black students when teachers are armed. It is infuriating. It is not surprising. The same disregard law enforcement and regular civilians have when it comes to the lives of Black people will now infiltrate our schools. It has honestly already existed in our schools, but now the mis-education will be deadly.”

Bio: Rann Miller directs the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally funded after-school program located in southern New Jersey. He spent years teaching in charter schools in Camden, New Jersey. He is the creator, writer, and editor of the Official Urban Education Mixtape Blog. Follow him on Twitter: @UrbanEdDJ.  

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