By Kamilah A. Pickett

In June 1944, 11 years before the brutal murder of Emmett Till and the images of his broken body would jolt the nation, another 14-year-old Black boy George Junius Stinney Jr was murdered under equally horrific circumstances. The mob who attacked George

George Stinney

Image Source The Charleston Chronicle

Junius Stinney Jr. was state sanctioned; after a forced confession, a two-hour trial and a 10-minute jury deliberation, the state of South Carolina condemned George Stinney Jr. to death by electrocution for allegedly killing two young white girls. George Stinney Jr became the youngest person in modern times to be put to a state-sanctioned death. The story of Stinney’s murder has haunted me since I first learned of it as an undergraduate student. At the time, my own brother was not much older than George Stinney Jr had been. I looked at the last pictures of George, a mugshot of a child in prison clothes too large for his frail frame, with vacant, confused and terrified eyes, and it gutted me. It still does.

It took 70 years for South Carolina to vacate Stinney’s conviction, largely based on violations of his Constitutional rights. In those 70 years, a myriad of protections have been implemented to purportedly protect juveniles, poor people, and other marginalized peoples from being railroaded by an American justice system that favors wealth and whiteness. The bail bond system and the proliferation of money bail challenges the veracity of our current justice system, as does the school-to-prison pipeline.

Although we may no longer be a nation that imposes the death penalty on 14-year-old children, we are certainly still a nation that devalues Black childhood. And, we are a nation that begins criminalizing Black and Brown bodies at the moment of their first introduction to institution – schools.

Although we may no longer be a nation that imposes the death penalty on 14-year-old children, we are certainly still a nation that devalues Black childhood. And, we are a nation that begins criminalizing Black and Brown bodies at the moment of their first introduction to institution – schools.

As students across the United States begin a new school year, the believers_bail_out-logoBelievers Bail Out (BBO), a community-led effort to bail out Muslims in pretrial incarceration as a form of zakat, wanted to advance a conversation about one of the ways mass incarceration affects our children and what we can do to advocate for them and protect them.

“As Muslims, when we see something wrong, we are required to remedy the situation,” says Education Co-Chair Hazel Gomez. “Either we change it with our hands, speak out against it or hate it with our heart.” On September 11, 2018, with technical assistance from MPower Change, BBO broadcasted the “Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline” webinar. We assembled a panel of policy advocates and activists to define the problem, discuss the contributing factors and offer strategies for pushing back. Gomez’s prayer is, “that with this webinar and speaking out against the injustices of the school-to-prison pipeline, it will lead to the sort of engagement where we can truly disrupt and dismantle the systems in place meant to criminalize our youth.”

Andrea Ortez of the Partnership for Resilience in Chicago moderated the webinar that featured Beatriz Beckford, Campaign Director at MomsRising, and Dr. Shantel Meek, Founding Director of the Children’s Equity Project.  Ms. Ortez began by defining the school-to-prison pipeline as, “the intentional, systemic and structural practice within schools that perpetuates notions that students, based on their socioeconomic, racial or religious identity, can be viewed as criminals and practices towards them can operate out of those notions. It is introducing into our schools a system of incarceration that mirrors what happens in our communities.

Ms. Ortez began by defining the school-to-prison pipeline as, “the intentional, systemic and structural practice within schools that perpetuates notions that students, based on their socioeconomic, racial or religious identity, can be viewed as criminals and practices towards them can operate out of those notions. It is introducing into our schools a system of incarceration that mirrors what happens in our communities. At the core it is a devaluing our young people and their potential. 

“In terms of contributing factors,” Dr. Meek continued, “ we should start by talking about what it’s not. There is a prevailing theory that income and socioeconomic status is the engine behind it, but that erases the racial component. Income doesn’t explain disparities in discipline. The race and ethnicity of kids is the determining factor. Systemic racism exists in all our systems and implicit biases exist in individuals. It should be no surprise that the education system, like every other system, is plagued as well.”

Dr. Meek highlighted findings from a recent report by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality noting that Black girls, compared with white girls of the same age (between 5 and 14 years), were perceived to need less nurturing and protection, be more independent and know more about adult topics. The findings of the study suggest that the perception of Black girls as less innocent may contribute to the disproportionate rates of punitive treatment in the education and juvenile justice systems for Black girls.

keisha-montfleury-672620-unsplash

Image Source Keisha Montfleury @makeishan

The report also highlighted that Black boys are often perceived as less innocent and more adult than their white male peers. As a result, Black boys are more likely to be given greater culpability for their actions, which increases their risk of contact with the juvenile justice system.

Ms. Beckford noted that Latinx students, LGBTQ students, Muslim students and students with disabilities also face increased discrimination in schools, often at the hands of administrators. “We need more counselors, not cops in our schools,” said Ms. Beckford. “With the increased criminalization of our youth, there is a regular police presence which leads to more arrests for nonviolent behavior that could have otherwise been handled by school personnel.” She urged parents to share their stories with each other and advised that mobilization against harmful school policies can begin with one parent who feels empowered.

The level of engagement during the webinar, with parent after parent sharing stories and asking for help, let us know how pertinent this topic is. “As the panelists shared facts and research, we had a live storytelling session happening simultaneously. It was powerful! We need to share our experiences with one another. That’s how we start to organize,” Gomez reflected.

BBO is committed to a movement toward abolition and as Education Co-Chairs Hazel and I are committed to increasing conversations in Muslim communities that reflect this goal. You can view the full webinar.

 

To continue learning and advocating with the BBO, follow us on Facebook and sign up for our mailing list.

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Kamilah pickett

Kamilah A. Pickett is the Education Co-Chair for the Believers Bail Out and Politics Editor for Sapelo Square. Ms Pickett holds a Master of Public Health degree from Morehouse School of Medicine and a juris doctor from Georgetown University Law Center. She has been a passionate advocate operating at the intersections of health and justice for more than a decade.

Posted by nisaislam

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