Videos showing the abuse and mistreatment of young people of color by law enforcement are becoming far more commonplace than they should.
Watching the cell phone footage of Cpl. Eric Casebolt wrestling a young, petite, African-American high school girl to the ground in McKinney, Texas, left me feeling outraged.
I thought, if public authorities can’t show respect for kids of color on the streets, then what kind of message are we sending to our children and communities? How can we expect kids to do well in schools and classrooms when they are treated with a lack of dignity?
These are the challenging and difficult conversations that we should be having.
Although parents have high expectations for their kids, not all adults in our communities share these expectations. Many children of color are being told to go back to their section 8 housing and to get used to staying behind bars.
This belief gap—the gap between what our expectations for students are and what they are actually capable of—is the reason why communities of color are constantly advocating to be treated with basic decency and for better educational systems. For many, it’s become a fight, not a right.
The Kids Don’t Have a Chance
It’s no surprise then, that just south of McKinney, in Dallas County, only 13 percent of students complete high school ready for college. For African-American students, that figure is closer to 4 percent.
Every year, 5,000 students drop out of high school and fail to graduate.
The challenges start even before kids enter the classroom. Kids in Dallas County have few high-quality early childhood education programs in their communities. By fourth grade, only 1 in 3 students read at grade level. We fail them before they even have a chance and leave them with a very narrow view of their potential.
This is the reality children of color live with as they step into the real world, where they’re faced with injustice, guns pointed at them and authority figures who don’t believe that their lives matter.
Everything We Say Matters
Since the days of the incident, a principal at a predominantly African-American high school in Miami was released from his job because of comments he posted in support of the police officer on a news site. His comments, like many others on social media, turned a blind eye toward the injustices too many children of color experience in and out of the classroom.
The police officer has resigned from his post and his lawyer has publicly apologized and has admitted that he let his emotions get the best of him. An apology is a rare thing to see. It is a moment to reflect on what we all saw and felt during the incident and most important, think about how it impacts how children of color internalize society’s expectations of who they are and what they can accomplish.
As educators and policymakers, we can ignore these recent incidents and choose to go on with our lives, perhaps protecting those in power or ignoring the issue all together. Or we can redirect our attention to the root of the problem and affirm our children’s sense of worth.
I choose to work on the latter. All students’ lives matter.