Students Rally Against Arrest Rates and Harmful Safety Practices that Target Youth of Color
On average more than five students were arrested every day during the last three months of 2011 – 93.5% of those arrested were Black and Latino.
By Andrea Bustard, Dignity in Schools Campaign - New York
(February 23, 2012) On February 22, 2012 the Dignity in Schools Campaign - New York, a coalition of students, parents, educators, and advocates, came together with City Council members at One Police Plaza to release student arrest and summons data and demand better school safety policies.
In February, the NYPD released its first-ever school year report to the City Council on arrests, summonses and other police-student interactions in the schools. This is the second data filing since the law went into effect and the first to include months in which the school was in full session.
Representatives from the Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ), New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, Teachers Unite, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and New York City Council spoke to voice their concerns over the unequal punishments and over-policing of schools in New York City. Over fifty coalition members including students, parents, educators, and advocates were present.
“Suspensions, expulsions, and arrests are not helping to educate our children. When our children are pushed out of school they are more likely to end up in prison instead of a university,” said Esperanza Vasquez, a parent leader with the New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee. City Council Member Daniel Dromm spoke at the press conference and said, “these numbers are shocking, over the last 55 days there were 5 arrests per day of NYC students, and 9 summonses were given to students every day. These numbers and figures are out of line with the mission of the DOE, which is to educate and protect students, not prepare them for the school to prison pipeline.” Council Member Dromm also called on the City Council to hold an oversight hearing regarding the arrest data. There are over 5,200 School Safety Officers and at least 200 armed police officers assigned to the public schools of New York City.
Nilesh Viswashrao, an 18-year-old youth leader of Desis Rising Up and Moving, spoke about an incident he experienced involved School Safety Agents. “One particular incident was when I walked into a fight outside of my school and NYPD officers and SSAs came to break it up, and even though I had nothing to do with it, I was handcuffed to a fence and searched by the officers and then questioned. After which I was given a $50 fine and a court summons to attend,” explained Nilesh. “I am one of too many youth of color with this kind of school experience, and I’m here to say, stop the school to prison pipeline NOW!”
City Council Member Robert Jackson stated in a press release “both the DOE and NYPD need to respond to the most recent data by implementing new policies that work towards creating a safe learning environment for our students as opposed to promoting a police state atmosphere.”
“When you look at the data, it would be cheaper and less time consuming to address these needs in positive and empowering fashions within the classroom setting” stated Sarah Arvey, an educator and member of Teachers Unite. Dignity in Schools Campaign – New York calls for a change in school discipline to implement and fund positive school-wide discipline policies in all schools by incorporating practices such as peer mediation.
Nadia Ouedraogo, a student and peer mediator at the Morris High School Campus in the Bronx, and a leader of Urban Youth Collaborative, said, “Arrests and suspensions should not be the first option. I stand here today as an example of how other programs like peer mediation work. And there are many more students like me. Cops do not belong in schools. Students are not criminals and should not be treated as such.”
The Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York is a coalition of students, parents, educators, civil rights, students’ rights and community organizations, including: Advocates for Children of New York, Center for Community Alternatives, Children’s Defense Fund-New York, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, Coalition for Gender Equity in Schools, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Future of Tomorrow, Make the Road New York, Mass Transit Street Theater, NESRI, New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), Pumphouse Projects, Sistas and Brothas United, Teachers Unite, The Sikh Coalition, Urban Youth Collaborative (UYC), Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Youth on the Move, and Youth Represent.