NORTH CAROLINA NAACP STATE CONFERENCE, LOCAL BRANCHES JOIN COALITION OF COMMUNITY, LEGAL, AND NATIONAL GROUPS URGING DOJ TO DISMANTLE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE FUELED BY WAKE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM & POLICE DEPARTMENT
Raleigh – The North Carolina NAACP State Conference and local chapters today appealed to the United States Department of Justice, urging them to investigate several public entities in Wake County, North Carolina over the treatment of African-American youth and students with disabilities. The civil rights groups filed a complaint highlighting a troubling pattern of civil rights and due process violations involving the Wake County Sheriff’s Department, Apex Police Department, Cary Police Department, Fuquay-Varina Police Department, Garner Police Department, Holly Springs Police Department, Knightdale Police Department, Raleigh Police Department, Wake Forest Police Department, and Wake County Public School System.
“For years, youth of color have voiced concerns over harsh treatment, excessive disciplinary practices and rogue police officers in schools throughout Wake County,” said Rev. Dr. Portia Rochelle, President of the Raleigh-Apex Branch of the NAACP. “In many cases, school administrators and police officers met such pleas for help with callous indifference and resistance to change. As such, community organizations are stepping up our efforts to protect and preserve our children’s right to a quality education free from discrimination and punitive school disciplinary policies that disrupt instruction time and push children on paths to the criminal justice system.”
In addition to the North Carolina NAACP and its local branches, the complaint is brought by individual students supported by a broad-based coalition of youth, parent and community organizations including Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African American Children (CCCAAC), Education Justice Alliance (EJA), Justice Served NC, and NC Heroes Emerging Among Teens (NC HEAT).The complaint is supported by legal and national groups including Advocates for Children’s Services (ACS), North Carolina Justice Center, Duke Children’s Law Clinic, NCCU Juvenile Law Clinic, University of North Carolina Juvenile Justice Clinic, Center for Civil Rights Remedies of the Civil Rights Project of UCLA, UNC Center for Civil Rights, ACLU, ACLU of NC Legal Foundation, Advancement Project, and Dignity in Schools Campaign
“I’ve never felt the cops at our schools were there to keep kids like us safe,” said student leader Qasima Wideman, a member of Wake County youth organization NC HEAT. “I’ve seen several students arrested for minor offenses, and watched police bring K9’s into the class for unannounced and unwarranted searches. The adults around us should be working to keep us safe, not slamming our faces to the pavement or beating us with billy clubs,” she added.
The complaint letter urges the school district and law enforcement agencies to, among other essential changes:
- Adopt non-discriminatory policies and practices that define and limit the role of Student Resource Officers, including revising and reforming Memorandums of Understanding between the school system and Wake County police agencies
- Develop alternatives to school-based referrals to the criminal justice system
- Collect and publish annual data regarding all aspects of school policing
- Implement meaningful community and student involvement and oversight protocol
- Create a well-publicized complaint procedure to hold law enforcement officers accountable for misconduct related to school policing
“We all want safe, high quality schools that care about our children and give them every opportunity to succeed,” said Charles Upchurch, President of the Wendell-Wake County Branch of the NAACP. “Yet, in Wake County, giving police free-reign in our schools and the authority to discipline young children is closing the door of opportunity to countless youth with promising and bright futures.,”.
The harsh school disciplinary policies and the involvement of police in Wake County schools is especially harmful to Black and Brown youth. According to local and national data, Black and Brown students are punished more frequently and more harshly than White students for the same minor infractions. Research indicates African-American students are disproportionately referred to court for school-based misbehavior. Over the past five years, African-American students represent only 25 percent of the total Wake County Public School System student population, but have more than 74 percent of the school-based delinquency complaints.
“Police presence in our schools has gotten out of control,” said student leader Tavon Bridges. I have witnessed helicopters and dogs at our school for things as simple as a student walking out of class. My school has been raided for drugs and it feels like we’re always under attack by the people who are hired to protect us.”
These policies come with a price tag, and penalties so stiff, children bear the consequences years after the initial punishment was doled out. Punitive school disciplinary policies and the presence of police in schools can lead to high dropout rates, lower academic achievement, students not getting the help they need, and too many kids pushed onto a pathway to prison.
This issue is especially critical in North Carolina, one of only two states that still treats all 16- and 17- year olds as adults in every situation, stamping them with criminal records at a young age and cutting off their ability to get good jobs and to go to college. According to the data:
- Thousands of students under the age of 16 have been pushed out of school and into the juvenile justice system as a result of minor misbehavior in school.
- In 2011-2012 (the most recent year this data was made available), 90% of school-based citations filed against students under the age of 16 were based on allegations involving misdemeanor activity.
- In 2012-2013, 42% of all complaints in Wake County originated from the school system.
- Students over the age of 16 are sent directly into the adult criminal system for school-based misbehavior, yet NO agency (the WCPSS or law enforcement agencies) maintains data regarding how many students face criminal records as a result of minor misbehavior in school.
“All kids make mistakes,” said Attorney Jamie Phillips. “It’s part of growing up. We need to implement policies which help students learn from their mistakes. This will lead to safer classrooms that are better for learning.”