Full-Body Pat-Downs in America's Schools: How the War on Drugs Is a War on Children
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This “school-to-prison pipeline” has emerged suddenly. Over just the last two decades, we got scared. We sent guns and billy clubs into our schools on purpose. We provided federal funds for massive surveillance systems—for cameras like they have in Oakland, monitoring every inch of school life from a command center. We slashed budgets for books, salaries, computers, psychologists, librarians and buildings. We dealt with classroom overcrowding by segregating those with learning difficulties, shunting them into tracks where they have no chance.
On top of that, we instituted blunt metrics by which teachers lose pay or even their jobs depending on student outcomes. If scores aren’t good—regardless of how difficult the students’ life circumstances or language challenges or learning disabilities— it is teachers who are held responsible. With so much at stake, calling the school police is one way to remove lower-performing students from the classroom on high-stakes testing days.
And with the police being given incentives for making a large number of arrests, why wouldn’t the rational officer bring charges of “disturbance of education” or disorderly conduct for catfights in the hallways, when he might beef up his salary with the easy frog-march of juvenile perps to the precinct?
The most vulnerable targets may be children of color, but this war on kids is a war on all children. Ultimately, the lack of due-process protections and human dignity in ghetto schools leaches into suburban schools. It doesn’t really matter whether one side views it as protecting against the dark side with zero-tolerance strip searches for ibuprofen, while the other side experiences it as an annexing of the prison-industrial complex onto daily life. Criminalizing children will have constitutional implications for generations to come. It is corrosive and rends the fabric of our erstwhile civil society, makes a lie of equal opportunity, and rewards authoritarian personality disorder at the expense of our humanity.