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“American Pathologies”: A Texas Law Would Let Teachers Shoot Students Who “Threaten” School Property. Guess Which Students Would Suffer Most?

Proposed legislation in Texas would allow teachers to use force, including deadly force, against students threatening the lives of others. If that unsettles you, consider the bill’s next provision: Teachers could also use deadly force to stop students from threatening school property. The bill, nicknamed the “Teacher’s Protection Act”, would create “a defense to prosecution for and civil liability of an educator who uses force or deadly force to protect the educator’s person, students of the school, or property of the school, and suspension of a student who assaults an employee of a school.” Proposed by Rep. Dan Flynn, the bill is unlikely to become lawbut it indicates a twisted pathology in the way we think of schools and students.

The bill is the logical conclusion of a diverse set of American pathologies, including the tendency to classify the protection of property as tantamount to the protection of life, and the use of zero tolerance policies in schools to make them precursors to prison, especially for black students. This law expresses both disturbing habits in two distinct ways.

First, by extending protected lethal force from the defense of life to the defense of school property, the law permits deadly violence in schools as a reaction to rather typical disciplinary problems. Imagine, for instance, a case of trespassing (students coming onto school property after hours) or theft of school property. In ordinary circumstances infractions like these would be regulation bad behavior, but if schools are given their own version of castle doctrine, it is unclear if these behaviors would still be viewed as ordinary rule-breaking, or something worthy of a lethal reaction.

Second, the law would rely on teachers’ judgment to distinguish between situations requiring lethal force and situations not requiring lethal force. In such situations, teachers own unconscious biases could influence their decisions in ways that disproportionately affect minority students. It’s already clear, for instance, that when it comes to doling out discipline, teachers are not colorblind. A 2014 report produced by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil rights found evidence that black children as young as preschool aged are suspended at much higher rates than their white peers. As they move up in the school system, the report found, black students are expelled and suspended at a rate three times higher than their white peers. Moreover, while black students comprise only 16 percent of total school enrollment, they make up 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement, and 31 percent of students arrested for school-related reasons. In all grades and forms of discipline (expulsion, suspension, etc.) boys make up a greater proportion of the punished than girls.

All of this amounts to a much harsher disciplinary picture for black boys than any other students, suggesting that, if teachers were to be given leeway to use lethal force for widely expanded reasonssuch as the defense of lunch tables and chalk boardsit’s likely black boys would wind up disproportionately on the losing end. Far from protecting teachers, this law would only place a population already vulnerable to harsh disciplinary measures inside school walls at further risk. Texas doesn’t exactly have a history of forward thinking when it comes to matters of human rights, but in a time when the lives of black boys seem to be ended with startling impunity by authority figures, this bill seems especially ill-considered, and especially cruel.

 

By: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, The New Republic, January 30, 3015

January 31, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Gun Violence, Texas | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Breaking The Cycle Of School Shootings”: Too Many Shootings, Too Many Moments Of Silence

When the detective arrived at my home, he had a folder in his hand. “We just have some paperwork to take care of first,” he said. After I signed his forms, he gave me a box with the clothes my mother was wearing when she was murdered. It had been almost a year, but I needed to touch them, to know how many times she was shot, to see where she had been hurt.

My mom, Dawn Hochsprung, was the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Recently, I told a woman that my mother had passed away just over a year ago. I was trying to be polite, but I instantly felt disgusted with myself for using the term “passed away.” My mother was shot to death through no fault of her own. That is not “passing away.” She was killed, gunned down in what I would normally have called her haven — her school.

There have been at least 39 school shootings since the massacre in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012. Already this year there have been 10 school shootings, including one Thursday at Eastern Florida State College . Sadly, Americans seem to be getting used to seeing our nation’s youth, parents and educators gather outside schools, waiting to hear if their loved ones are safe.

This past December, the holiday season felt wrong. There was an empty place at our table, and traditions didn’t seem to matter anymore. My daughter was not yet 6 months old when my mother was killed. I tuck her into bed each night with a stuffed doll that was the first and only Christmas gift she’ll ever get from her grandmother. The doll is a nightly reminder that my daughter will never know my mother.

During my mother’s wake, my 10-year-old son burst into tears and asked me why, of all the schools in America, this had to happen at Grandma’s school. I didn’t know how to tell him the truth: that this could happen anywhere, that such shootings might continue to happen.

Immediately after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, discussion of safer gun laws consumed the nation. At the time, I thought it was too soon — 26 innocent people had just been slaughtered at the school, and we were mourning.

I realize now that I was wrong: It wasn’t too soon — it was already too late.

It was too late for my family and for all the families of Sandy Hook. It was too late for the families of the victims of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, Tucson, Aurora and Oak Creek .

Early last year it felt like the tragedy in Newtown was an eye-opener to the problem of gun violence in our country. But since Newtown, more than 12,000 Americans have been killed by gun violence. Last April, a majority of senators voted for a bipartisan bill to expand background checks and keep guns out of the wrong hands — but a minority caved to the gun lobby and was able to block passage.

I thought Congress’s failure to pass gun-safety legislation would shatter my hopes. But it did the opposite: I and others who make up the 90 percent of Americans who support comprehensive background checks aren’t going away. We’re here to share our stories and fight for our future.

As the daughter of a shooting victim, I hope no one else ever has to suffer through my experience. As a mother, I am horrified by the thought that this senseless violence could happen again anywhere, at any moment. There have been too many shootings and too many moments of silence. There is a national movement of Americans, from mayors to moms, raising our voices. We demand action — closing the private-sale loophole — from our leaders, and we will win the fight against gun violence.

 

By: Christina Lafferty Hassinger, Opinions, The Washington Post, January 30, 2014

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Can’t Arrest Our Way To Safer Schools”: The Need For Proactive Work And Commitment By The Adults

Hard cases make bad laws. Policymakers’ overly punitive and police-centric response to high profile school shootings demonstrate this fact. But if you have doubts, ask the six-year-old child who was handcuffed to a chair as punishment after he got into a scuffle with another boy in the school cafeteria. If he doesn’t convince you, perhaps the scores of schoolchildren who police assaulted with pepper spray (while at school) will. Or talk to one of the 3.3 million public schoolchildren who are suspended from school each year, often as a consequence for minor rule breaking, such as talking back to teachers or fistfights.

Police presence in schools exploded in the post-Columbine era when well-intentioned policy makers wanted to take decisive action to ensure the safety of our schoolchildren and to protect them from school shootings. As an unintended consequence of this policy shift, countless schoolchildren have been targeted by school-based police officers (also known as school resource officers) and subjected to police brutality in their public school.

Some children escaped physical abuse, but may have seen their life chances evaporate when arrested at school for offenses like excessive flatulence or wearing the wrong color uniform.

Of course, not all school resource officers are out to arrest or brutalize students. A study by the University of Chicago found that those school resource officers who put down the pepper spray and handcuffs, and instead built relationships with students that allowed them to proactively identify and diffuse potentially violent situations, were far more effective at keeping the peace than those officers who always arrested students after an alleged incident.

We all want to prevent violence in our schools.  And thankfully, in the year since the Sandy Hook Shooting, the second worst school shooting in the history of the United States, more school districts shied away from Columbine-era solutions. Schools districts across the country are recognizing that they cannot  arrest their way to safer schools. Not only that, but schools are beginning to recognize that reforming overly-punitive and police centric school discipline policies will help improve academic achievement and reform the racial disparities that still exist in our public schools.

In response to allegations that African-American schoolchildren were unfairly targeted for harsh punishment, the Memphis Police and the Memphis City Schools entered into an agreement that ensures children are not arrested for minor offenses that occur on school grounds, but are instead subject to sanctions that will not interrupt their education, like community services or restitution. During the first year of this agreement, 1,000 fewer children have been imprisoned in Memphis and the city’s crime rates have significantly decreased.

Broward County Florida recently adopted a similar model in an effort to reduce the number of children arrested at school, improve its dropout rate and eliminate the achievement gap that leaves many black male children behind.

For years, families in Meridian Mississippi decried the discipline system in the public schools there for discriminating against African-American children by pushing them out of school for behavior that was overlooked when committed by white students. Finally, this year, the U.S. Department of Justice found that  Meridian Public Schools, subjected black students to “harsher consequences, including longer suspensions, than white students for comparable misbehavior, even where the students were at the same school, were of similar ages, and had similar disciplinary histories.” The school district agreed to a remedy that practically eliminates the role of law enforcement in school discipline.

Despite the positive trend of reducing the traditional “lock ’em up” police presence in schools, the federal government recently made $45 million available for new school resource officer positions around the country. If past is prologue, this influx of officers policing our public schoolchildren will result in another wave of abuse and countless children put out of school and arrested for minor misbehavior. This is not the fault of the officers. They are placed into our schools with the tools to police — not to resolve conflict or to interact with children.

But what is perhaps most disturbing is that the increased police presence won’t just cause harm to some students — there’s no evidence that it will keep any students safer. A recent report by the civil rights organization the Advancement Project notes that most school based attacks are not halted by school resource officers — but instead end with the intervention of school administrators, educators or students.

The Advancement Project report further documents that safe schools don’t result from merely posting a police officer in the halls. Instead, a truly safe school must create support networks, foster peer relationship building, provide ready access to counseling services and facilitate parental involvement. These are the kind of schools that create positive, affirming environments and use restorative justice and conflict resolution to resolve disputes that will inevitably occur.

In schools that have this sort of environment, administrators and yes, law enforcement, are able to use their relationships to anticipate and diffuse potential acts of violence. Demonstrating each day the value and worth of each student and creating a school-based, community-built on a culture of trust and mutual support — these are the most effective weapons we have to protect students from violence in our schools.

No school should add another police officer to its ranks without first adopting Advancement Project’s recommendations, taking action to evaluate its environment and reforming the ways it falls short of creating a school climate that truly facilitates student safety.

Moving forward, the U.S. Department of Justice should only provide school resource officer funding to those school districts that have taken the proactive steps to both create a culture of safety and to ensure that school resource officers receive appropriate training. Organizations like Strategies for Youth train “public safety officers in the science of child and youth development and mental health, and supports communities partnering to promote strong police/youth relationships.”

These are not the kind of reforms that are sound-bite worthy. They are the kind of reforms that will require a tremendous amount of work and commitment on behalf of the adults that work in our nation’s school districts. But they are the only kind of reforms that will produce safer schools.

Merely adding cops to schools with toxic safety climates will only create more danger for our schoolchildren. And that outcome must be avoided at all costs.

 

By: Shelia A. Bedi, U. S. News and World Report, December 14, 2013

December 15, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Baffling, Ignorant And Irresponsible”: Sen Jim Inhofe, Gun Debate Has Nothing To Do With Newtown Families

I’ve long marveled at Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and his, shall we say, unique perspective on the world around him, but even by Inhofe standards, today’s argument about the gun debate was a doozy.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Tuesday that the gun control debate doesn’t have anything to do with the families of the Newtown, Conn., shooting victims, and that the only reason those families think it does is because President Barack Obama told them it did. […]

“See, I think it’s so unfair of the administration to hurt these families, to make them think this has something to do with them when, in fact, it doesn’t,” Inhofe said.

By “these families,” Inhofe was referring to 11 family members of victims killed during the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Inhofe believes, and is willing to argue publicly to reporters, that efforts to prevent gun violence have nothing “to do with them.”

As the Huffington Post report added, when someone suggested the families of Newtown victims actually believe the gun debate pertains to them, Inhofe responded, “Well, that’s because they’ve been told that by the president.”

Hmm. So in the mind of the senior senator from Oklahoma, those whose loved ones were killed in a brutal school shooting are detached from the debate over gun violence. And these folks would realize this truth were it not for the rascally president convincing them otherwise.

Inhofe, incidentally, is one of the 15 Republican senators who has vowed to block any effort to debate any legislation that changes any gun law in any way.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April9, 2013

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Gun Lobby Goons At It Again”: The NRA’s Disarming Plan To Arm Schools

The gun-lobby goons were at it again.

The National Rifle Association’s security guards gained notoriety earlier this year when, escorting NRA officials to a hearing, they were upbraided by Capitol authorities for pushing cameramen. The thugs were back Tuesday when the NRA rolled out its “National School Shield” — the gun lobbyists’ plan to get armed guards in public schools — and this time they were packing heat.

About 20 of them — roughly one for every three reporters — fanned out through the National Press Club, some in uniforms with gun holsters exposed, others with earpieces and bulges under their suit jackets.

In a spectacle that officials at the National Press Club said they had never seen before, the NRA gunmen directed some photographers not to take pictures, ordered reporters out of the lobby when NRA officials passed and inspected reporters’ briefcases before granting them access to the news conference.

The antics gave new meaning to the notion of disarming your critics.

By journalistic custom and D.C. law, of course, reporters don’t carry guns to news conferences — and certainly not when the person at the lectern is the NRA’s Asa Hutchinson, an unremarkable former congressman and Bush administration official whom most reporters couldn’t pick out of a lineup. But the NRA wasn’t going to leave any doubt about its superior firepower.

Thus has it gone so far in the gun debate in Washington. The legislation is about to be taken up in Congress, but by most accounts the NRA has already won. Plans for limiting assault weapons and ammunition clips are history, and the prospects for meaningful background checks are bleak. Now, The Post’s Philip Rucker and Ed O’Keefe report, the NRA is proposing language to gut the last meaningful gun-control proposal, making gun trafficking a federal crime. Apparently, the gun lobby thinks even criminals deserve Second Amendment protection.

If the NRA has its way, as it usually does, states will soon be weakening their gun laws to allow more guns in schools. The top two recommendations Hutchinson announced Tuesday involved firearms in the schoolhouse. The first: “training programs” for “designated armed school personnel.” The second: “adoption of model legislation by individual states to allow for armed school personnel.”

Hutchinson claimed that his task force, which came up with these ideas, had “full independence” from the NRA. By coincidence, the proposals closely matched those announced by the NRA before it formed and funded the task force. The task force did scale back plans to protect schools with armed volunteer vigilantes, opting instead for arming paid guards and school staff — at least one in every school. States and school districts “are prepared” to pay for it, Hutchinson declared.

The task force garnished the more-guns recommendations with some good ideas, such as better fencing, doors and security monitoring for schools, and more mental-health intervention. But much of that is in the overall Senate legislation that the NRA is trying to kill.

To close his case, Hutchinson introduced a secret weapon, “special guest” Mark Mattioli, the father of one of the Newtown, Conn., victims. Mattioli told reporters that there had been “nine school shootings since Newtown” but that Newtown was “off the bell curve, if you will, with respect to the impact.”

Perhaps that’s because the Newtown killer had a military-style gun with a 30-round magazine?

Hutchinson, queried by a reporter from Connecticut, said that limiting assault weapons is “totally inadequate” because it “doesn’t stop violence in the schools.” Likewise, he told CBS News’s Nancy Cordes, limiting magazine clips won’t work as well as his plan to “give the schools more tools” — i.e., guns. And he told CNN’s Jim Acosta that background checks weren’t related to his focus of school safety.

Fox News’s Chad Pergram mentioned the gun-control legislation. “Do you see any common ground?” he asked.

“This will be the common ground,” Hutchinson said of his proposals.

If so, American schoolchildren may grow accustomed to the sort of scene Hutchinson caused Tuesday, protected by more armed guards than a Third World dictator.

Hutchinson, pressed by reporters about the armed goons, said: “You go into a mall, there is security. And so there is security here at the National Press Club.”

A reporter asked Hutchinson what he was afraid of.

“There’s nothing I’m afraid of. I’m very wide open,” Hutchinson replied, separated from his unarmed questioners by an eight-foot buffer zone, a lectern, a raised podium, a red-velvet rope and a score of gun-toting men. “There’s nothing I’m nervous about.”

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 2, 2013

April 4, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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