News & Politics

Principal Disgustingly Jokes About Calling Police on Black Student with Special Needs

The horrific audio includes a joke about telling police he has a gun.

Photo Credit: Your Black World (via YouTube)

Day after day, more evidence emerges that confirms something that should be common knowledge by now: America has a serious problem with police violence. Not only is that painfully obvious, but we have a plethora of data which confirms that it poses a specific threat to people of color, and blacks, in particular. This is no laughing matter. Yet, for some reason, an elementary school principal in Houston thinks it is. That’s why she joked about calling the police on a black student, who also has special needs, and telling them that he brought a gun to school. Here’s what happened, according to The Huffington Post

On April 17, Shanna Swearingen, the principal at Ponderosa Elementary School,  made joke to three staff members.

The boy has had behavioral problems and has been known to run from class, according to The Houston Chronicle.

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Swearingen reportedly told the staff members that the next time that happened, “We won’t chase him. We will call the police and tell them he has a gun so they can come faster.”

The comments came to light on a Facebook group dedicated to the school, angering parents.

Swearingen probably thought it was a funny, harmless little joke. Yet, it’s anything but harmless. Even though conservatives are doing their best to convince us that we have nothing to fear from mass shootings and that all we need for our safety are a bunch of good guys with guns, mass school shootings are actually on the rise. As the head administrator of a school filled with young children, this should deeply concern Swearingen. And she should be worried about ensuring that kids are safe and protected while they are in her building. 

But, really, let’s get down to the heart of why this joke is so problematic. There are dangerous consequences when police are called on black people. And, recently, some white folks have gone above and beyond to show their fragility lately—calling the police on black people for everything from golfingsitting in a Starbucksknocking on one’s door, to moving into an apartment. Each time, police are called on black folks for the very same, normal actions that white people do every single day, there is the possibility that said black person could be injured or killed. And despite so many white people pretending to be oblivious to this fact, deep down inside, it is likely that they know it. It is demonstration of the power that whiteness holds. If you are white, you can call the police on a black person, have that complaint taken seriously and potentially and fatally harm that person with your call. 

The other reason Swearingen’s remark isn’t at all funny is how frequently black kids are shuttled into the school-to-prison pipeline. Research shows that black boys are disciplined in schools far more often and with greater intensity than their white peers. This starts as early as prekindergarten. And this has an impact on their suspension rates, their overall student success and likelihood to drop out. Handling disciplinary problems by calling the police for minor infractions unnecessarily involves children in the juvenile justice and criminal justice system and could devastate their lives and that of their families. And special needs students are also overly disciplined. A ProPublica investigation found that they are often subjected to violent restraint and isolated against their will. 

As for the school system, they responded to the joke by saying the following, as written in The Huffington Post:

The Spring Independent School District sent out a statement on Monday, calling Swearingen’s comment “thoughtless and insensitive”:

“While the comment was made in jest, it was inappropriate and should never have been made.

“That point has been thoroughly communicated to Ponderosa’s principal who actually self reported the incident to the district ― taking full accountability for the inappropriateness of the comment. Ponderosa’s principal has also apologized to her school community.

“The district will continue to monitor the school climate at Ponderosa to ensure that incidents like this do not occur again.”

Thoughtless and insensitive is right but, more importantly, jokes always have a meaning behind them. You are free to tell politically incorrect jokes but you are not free from the consequences of them. Swearingen’s little joke indicates that she is cavalier and careless about the safety of black children in her school. It also suggests that she thinks it’s funny to call the police on special needs kids who may have behavioral or cognitive challenges or unaddressed trauma. That’s not remotely funny. It’s actually negligent and dangerous. If she really feels that way about this student and others like him, perhaps she shouldn’t be around them. And if she hasn’t learned the proper time and place to make inappropriate jokes, perhaps she shouldn’t be leading a school.

 

Kelly Macias is a staff writer at Daily Kos focusing on racial justice, social justice and gender issues.