Sunday, September 13, 2020

All Deliberate Speed


If you were surprised this week that Student Member of the Board Zach Koung made a motion to remove School Resource Officers from the Howard County Public Schools, you have not been paying attention. 

There has been steady and increasingly frequent feedback against having police in schools, from:

Current Students
Former students
Community Members
Board of Education candidates and elected members 

There are locally generated reports and state studies on discipline disparities in our schools by race. 

Koung himself raised these issues as a candidate for Student Member of the Board. The students who voted for him knew where he stood. 

Let me be blunt here. Having police presence in our schools is wrong. Putting police into schools was never sound practice from the start, because the history of policing in the United States is profoundly anti-Black. 

White parents may think of a police officer as a protector or role model. They may have warm and fuzzy memories about “Officer Friendly”.

But Black and Brown community members have seldom been assured of this kind of respect from the police. Study after study bears this out. One need only read the news or scan social media to see how grievously policing has harmed and is harming those who are not protected by whiteness. Placing that culture into schools causes distress for students whose families, friends, and neighbors have suffered disrespect, harassment, even violence, from people who wear the same uniform. 

From this summer’s petition on racism to the Board of Education:

My first major concern was the presence of a police officer in the school who usually followed Black students around and made many of my peers feel targeted and under surveillance in a place that’s supposed to be a learning environment. - - Iftekar Husain, HCPSS graduate.

In addition, statistics show that having police in schools has resulted in the growing trend of criminalizing behaviors of Black and Brown students which, in white students, are considered typical student misbehaviors.  Overall, school policing does not make schools safer and it makes the educational experience for Black and Brown students substantially less safe.

It was bad policy. It has been found to be both ineffective and harmful.

But Howard County wants more time. These things take time, right?

Let’s talk about time. 

1952  The Supreme Court hears arguments in Brown v. Board of Education.

Early 1950s  Kingdon and Mary Gould saw a need for an independent, non-sectarian school in Howard County.

1954 In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education overturns Plessy and declares that separate schools are "inherently unequal."

1954 The Goulds, along with Mr. and Mrs. John T. Mason Jr., Judge James Macgill, Mr. Albert Gallatin Warfield, and Mr. and Mrs. William Shippen, opened Glenelg Country School in Howard County on September 23.

Update: I’ve been challenged on the following paragraph, which I wrote in good faith, based on information I had. If I’m not able to confirm it satisfactorily I will retract. - - jam

Will you look at that. A group of highly motivated Howard County citizens got an all-white segregation academy* up and going in just a few years. Speedy.

Update, 3/31/22: I have not been able to find verifiable documentation for the above claim. Until such time as I can find and share such proof, I must officially retract it and apologize for including it without more in-depth vetting. - - jam

1955 In Brown II, the Supreme Court orders the lower federal courts to require desegregation "with all deliberate speed."

1965 Howard County School are fully integrated.

Yes, you read that right. Full integration of schools as required by law took eleven years.

Segregation was always wrong. It reinforced racist ideas and shortchanged generations of Americans  from the quality of education that should have been theirs by right. School segregation walked hand in hand with other strictures imposed on Black Americans to uphold institutional white supremacy. 

To review: School segregation was bad policy. It did nothing to promote education and was actually harmful.

But Howard County wanted more time. And those in power took their time, to the detriment of every student whose education was compromised, every young person who was less prepared for higher education or a decent paying job. And all of that meant fewer possibilities, lower salaries, less access to health care, reduced life expectancy. This was not a victimless crime. 

White Howard County was in no hurry to do the right thing because the pain of segregation was not borne by them or their children. And so they moved “with all deliberate speed” for eleven whole years before meeting the requirements of the law.

There’s no wisdom in that. There’s nothing reasonable, or balanced, or admirable about that. People who had it in their power to do good did their utmost to perpetuate harm to school children, for as long as they possibly could.

Refusing to take action on something because you yourself have not experienced the harm in it is precisely where we are today. It reminds me very much of a cartoon by Nathan Pyle:

I’m not surprised that Koung raised the motion to remove SRO’s from schools. Anyone who has been paying attention could have seen this coming. I’m also not surprised that it failed. Howard County’s reputation on ‘taking its time’ on issues concerning race is well-established. But it needs to be raised again. And again. 

School policing actively diminishes the futures of Black and Brown students. Gaslighting community members who bring this issue to the Board is not a victimless crime. 

Moving “with all deliberate speed” is not enough. 

* Information on Brown v. Board taken from the Teaching Tolerance website.
**Glenelg Country School has long since evolved from its racist beginnings, but its origins are widely known. 

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