By Thena Robinson Mock
There is no way to make sense of an adult kicking the legs out from under a child-- a handcuffed child at that-- unless he isn’t viewed as a child at all. A few weeks ago, 13 year-old Keven Jean Baptiste was allegedly removed from a school bus in Boynton Beach, Fla. for supposedly defying a bus driver’s orders not to roll down a window. During a televised interview, Baptiste explained that a fellow student sprayed perfume on the bus. Baptiste, who suffers from asthma, was compelled to open a window. Video footage of the incident captures a jarring scene; police officers choking and kicking a handcuffed, defenseless black boy.
Keven's experience speaks to a broader pattern of the over-criminalization of youth of color and police brutality. For instance, in 2011, a 13 year-old Florida boy was arrested and charged with battery for throwing a lollipop on the school bus. Last year, a Florida honor student, Kiera Wilmot, was expelled and arrested for a science project gone wrong. Also in August of 2013, a Miami teenager, Israel Hernandez-Llach, was fatally shot in the chest with a Taser for painting graffiti.
A recent study from Dr. Phil Goff and the American Psychological Association showed that when compared to white youth, black boys are viewed as less innocent and older. The study also demonstrated that officers who had dehumanizing views of black children were more likely to have used force against them. These troubling perceptions were more likely to occur when applied to 13 year-olds, the same age as Jean Baptiste.
Structural racism and biased perceptions of black boys creates an environment that condones their mistreatment. Since opening our doors, Advancement Project has supported grassroots organizations on the ground that have worked tirelessly to end the criminalization of youth of color in their communities. We are active players in a powerful movement aimed at dismantling the policies and practices that fuel the schoolhouse to jailhouse track, a crisis that impacts black and Latino boys more than any other group.
We know that our work must go beyond policies and practices. It requires a radical transformation of hearts and minds. Jean Baptiste deserved better. He should have been treated as a human being, and most importantly, a child.
Thena Robinson Mock is Project Director for Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras. For more information visit http://www.safequalityschools.org.