I Was Almost a Victim of the Student-to-Prison-Pipeline
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/sakhorn
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The school-to-prison-pipeline is an epidemic that is plaguing the nation, making a visit to the principal’s office or a lonesome time-out outside of your classroom a thing of the past. What we have here is a war not only on students, but a war on kids, where essentially nonviolent behavior (like the two students who were arrested for pouring milk on each other during a break-up) is being criminalized in a remarkably horrific pattern. What’s worse is that schools are not only allowing this criminalization, but they are actually assisting it.
Today the evolving police state and its worker bees are finding themselves rather comfortable roaming school hallways, ‘visiting’ classrooms and relaxing in school offices. In the past year, students have been arrested for burping in class, improperly conducting science experiments, or throwing water balloons. When students aren’t arrested police are actively (and aggressively) making their presence known by conducting spontaneous drug searches, interrogations and guarding school entrances and principals’ offices.
In light of this booming trend, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own case of student criminalization two years ago during my senior year in high school. To my surprise, I was pulled out of my pre-calculus class and escorted to my vice principal’s office where I was greeted by a uniformed and armed police officer, otherwise known as my high school’s School Resource Officer (SRO). The SRO closed the door behind me, sat me down and said, “It’s come to my attention that you have written a story about graffiti. Would you like to help me do my job today?”
I was totally bewildered.
Before I could answer him he went on to explain that he was referring to an article I had written for my high school’s newspaper titled “Art or Vandalism?” where I discussed the illegal and creative qualities of graffiti in the city of Davis, CA. He began by insisting that I help him by disclosing the names of two graffiti artists quoted in my article.
At first I thought this was a joke, but the potential humor slowly dissolved as I was going nowhere fast.
“Tell me their names. If you don’t cooperate there will be serious consequences,” he said.
But I told him I wouldn’t help him.
“I promised I wouldn’t give their names away, I gave my word to them,” I said.
At first he was surprised by my response. And then he got mad. He then told me, in an absurdly aggressive voice, that my article was not “real” journalism. Therefore, he said, it was my “duty and obligation” to reveal the identities, and that if I refused to do so, I would be taken to court, found guilty and charged with a felony.
At this point I was still confused. I thought back to the numerous articles I had read online about graffiti and wondered if those reporters had been jailed, too. I thought, “Why would my newspaper adviser let me write about graffiti if she knew I would be prosecuted?” and “What does he mean my reporting wasn’t ‘real’ journalism?” Though I knew I had not committed any crime by reporting on an illegal activity, I grew increasingly annoyed since I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. Yet here I was sitting in a room with an armed police officer hovering over me telling me that regardless if I decided to help him, the artists and myself would “without a doubt be put in prison.”
At the same time, my vice principal and school hall monitors crowded around me echoing the SRO’s demands, telling me to “do the right thing” and to “get this over with.” Not once was I told I could remain silent, leave the room or contact my parents or a lawyer.