Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected
Kimberlé Crenshaw (editor) 2015
Black women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population. Black Girls Matters summarizes the research linking Zero Tolerance schools with the growing percentage of black girls and women in the criminal justice system. It fills a big gap in a narrative that mainly focuses on the effect on black males of the “school to prison pipeline.”
While Zero Tolerance policies and high rates of school suspension and expulsion greatly increase the risk of incarceration. as Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow, the mass incarceration of black males is more directly linked to discriminatory treatment by the police and courts. The crowing percentage of black females in the criminal justice system relates more directly to Zero Tolerance school policies that subject them to high rates of violence, arrest, suspension and expulsion.
The report starts with six extremely alarming examples:
1. The 12 year old girl who faced expulsion and criminal charges in 2014 after writing the world “hi” on the locker room wall of her Georgia middle school.
2. The Detroit honors student suspended for her entire senior year in 2014 for inadvertently bringing a pocket knife to a football game.
3. The 16 year old girl arrested in 2013 when her science experiment caused a small explosion.
4. The 12 year old threatened with expulsion from a private school in 2013 unless she changed her “natural” hair style.
5. The 6 year old arrested in Florida in 2007 for having a tantrum in school.
6. The 16 year old arrested in California in 2007 for dropping cake on the floor and failing to clean it up to a school administrator’s satisfaction.
In their research, the authors found that Zero tolerance schools provide extremely chaotic environments that are neither safe nor conducing to learning. A heavy law enforcement and security presence (ie metal detectors) make girls much likely to attend school. Researchers also found that black girls get much less attention from teachers, due to the expectation that they’re more socially mature and self-reliant than boys. Despite lip service given to zero Tolerance, these schools fail to protect girls from bullying and sexual harassment – then punish them for defending themselves.
School age black girls tend are often likely to have a history of sexual and physical abuse. In the absence of school counseling services, they can often act out in response to personal trauma. In addition, black and Latino girls are more likely than boys to be burdened with family caretaking responsibilities.
The tendency to separate and stigmatize girls who are pregnant or parenting in ways that decrease their motivation to stay in school.
The report also makes the following recommendations:
• State and federal government need to include girls (as well as boys) in their outcome research and programmatic interventions.
• School administrators need to help black girls feel safer at school without relying on harsh discipline that negatively impacts their motivation, achievement and attendance.
• Schools need to genuinely enforce zero tolerance of bullying and sexual harassment.
• Schools need to end policies that funnel girls into the juvenile justice system (such as arresting six year olds for tantrums).
• Schools need to expand programs that support girls who are pregnant, parenting or otherwise assuming significant family responsibilities.
Below the 2009 documentary The War on Kids, provides more background on Zero Tolerance schools: