The School to Prison Pipeline: Abuse, Trauma and the Criminalization of Black Girls

Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls

Directed by Jacoba Atlas (2019)

Film Review

In the US, it is quite common to see African American girls excluded from school for “insubordination.” The label tends to have a very different meaning for white and Black teachers. It is common for white teachers to misconstrue a Black girl’s distress over heavy family responsibility or bullying as a bad attitude.

  • In primary school, Black girls are six times more likely than white girls to receive one or more suspensions.
  • In high school, they are three times more likely than white girls to be suspended.
  • At all levels, they are three times more likely to be physically restrained.
  • In high school, they are twice as likely to receive corporal punishment.
  • In high school, they are three times more likely to be referred to law enforcement.
  • The suicide rate of Black students of either sex is twice that of white students.

Overall there is growing concern about all US teenagers being stripped of their First and Fourth amendment in public schools. The film refers to a 12-year-old Black girl being forcibly strip searched by her principal for “being too happy.”

The filmmakers interview an African American judge who reveals that sexual abuse and/or neglect is the common denominator for Black girls who end up in the criminal justice system. When they are pushed out of school for “attitude” problems, they are the drop-outs most likely to be assaulted and/or sex trafficked on the street. And despite being the victims of sex trafficking, the girls themselves are targeted for prosecution.

Much of the film was shot in a New York program where teachers receive specialized training in working with traumatized students and employ resource materials openly acknowledging the oppression experienced by African American girls and their families. In an environment free of surveillance, policing and a punitive attitude towards discipline, students learning to de-escalate their anger and openly express their vulnerability.

Public library patrons can view the full film free at Beamafilm.

 

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