By Joshua Saleem, AFSC St. Louis Peace Education Director
With the red light of the police officer’s taser aimed at his chest, Brian* had no choice but to sit down and listen. This would be a Valentine’s Day he’ll never forget.
I’ve heard about the School-to-Prison Pipeline before. The ACLU defines the pipeline as “the policies and practices that move our youth, especially youth of color, along a track out of the classroom and into the juvenile and criminal justice system.” I know the statistics as it relates to young African American men. How one in nine of us between the ages of 20-34 are incarcerated. That one in three of us will spend some time in prison during our lifetime.
It’s one thing to know these things in your head and another to see it unfold before your eyes. On Valentine’s Day of this year, I witnessed firsthand those policies and practices that put a young man back in the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
Brian had just been in a fight with another student. The fight was quickly broken up and his social worker tried to calm him down. She encouraged him to recall the example that he was setting for his younger brother and to think about how his actions in these next few minutes would impact his plans for the future.
When the second of two School Resource Officers (SROs) arrived, things escalated. It was like adding lighter fluid to a fire. Instead of being calmed down, Brian’s anger was refueled and he attempted to leave the room shoving me and the SROs who stood in his way. This went on for 20 to 30 minutes until the police arrived.
Three uniformed police officers entered the room, one of them with a taser aimed at Brian’s chest, a red dot on his school uniform indicating where those barbs would connect if he resisted. He didn’t.
Over the next 45 minutes multiple officers entered, exited, and re-entered the classroom that was turning into an interrogation room/ holding cell/courtroom. At one point there were six uniformed officers in the room. Two more arrived later from the Gang Unit because Brian expressed gang affiliation during the fight. In the end, the police issued him a ticket for public disturbance. He was also expelled from school.
Unfortunately, this story is not unique. According to the American Youth Policy Forum, every nine seconds in America a student drops out or is pushed out of school. By the time you’ve finished reading this paragraph, another young person has disconnected from a school somewhere in the U.S. The School-to-Prison Pipeline plays a huge factor in why this is happening.
In addition to providing youth alternatives to violence, AFSC St. Louis is working to provide schools alternatives to punitive and harsh zero-tolerance policies -- policies that contribute to pushing more youth like Brian out of school. Bringing restorative practices into the school building is a key to keeping youth in schools and dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline.
AFSC St. Louis continues to work with Brian even though he is now out of school. We’ve connected him to a local Job Development Program where he is currently enrolled.
*Brian is a pseudonym.
For more information on the School-to-Prison Pipeline: