Fort Lauderdale NAACP launches cooperative initiative to reverse ‘School to Prison Pipeline’
Fort Lauderdale/Broward County NAACP President Marsha Ellison recently unveiled plans to begin a major project which will address the high incidence of minority students who wind up in the juvenile justice system due to school related violations. (Photos by Anthony Williams)
By Charles Moseley
During a recent news conference Fort Lauderdale Branch NAACP President Marsha Ellison addressed an issue which has become commonly referred to as the “School to Prison Pipeline.” According to Ellison statistics reveal that minority students are much more likely to be suspended, expelled, or placed in juvenile detention for violating school policies, compared to their white counterparts.
As Ellison, NAACP officials and a coalition representing law enforcement and the court’s system addressed the gathering one by one, the message was loud and clear; no longer would it be business as usual when it comes down to how minority students are disciplined for committing misdemeanor offenses during school.
Newly proposed measures proposed by the NAACP and signed on by the school district, law enforcement, and the judicial system would replace the zero tolerance policies currently in place with more lenient measures.
“With this area’s administration coming to work as stake-holders to include law enforcement, PTA’s, school unions, and like minded other organizations we have now reached a point where we are ready to begin to close the gap so that all children will be able to attend safe schools, quality schools and be directed toward colleges and universities rather than the police station.”
As each public official stood at the podium they voiced their support for the initiative to stop the systematic manner and punitive nature that punishment was meted out to minority students. It was hard to escape the symbolism reflected in the banner of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, which adorned the front of the local NAACP office. The banner read, “Justice for Trayvon,” and served as a back-drop during the press conference.
Trayvon Martin has come to symbolize the millions of Black males across America, who are often singled out or racially profiled by law authorities, many feel, simply because of the color of their skin.
Leon W. Russell, Vice Chairman of the NAACP Board of Di-rectors, joined several NAACP officials from the state and national level who were present at the press conference in a strong show of support for this initiative. Russell listed five “NAACP Game Changers” which the nation’s oldest civil rights organization had pin-pointed to address nationally. These five major areas of importance are; Education, Criminal Justice, Economic Sustainability, Health, and Voting Rights. The initiative ad-dressed two of those areas and one he said would serve as a model for the rest of the country.
“On behalf of the National Directors of the NAACP it is a pleasure to join in what I consider to be a great celebration. A celebration of collaboration, an agreement that I believe has just the possibility of changing the lives of thousands of children in this community and setting an example for communities all across this nation.”
“When we have a collaboration that talks about closing the school’s prison pipeline, that talks about ending the disparity representation of minority children in the criminal justice system it is in fact wonderful to think we for the first time in this community can say that the community, that the judiciary, that law enforcement, that the Public Defender, the State’s Attorney, and the school district all have come to the same conclusion.
That we all are obligated to work together on this district situation where minority children who are just a small portion of the school population make up the vast majority of those who are suspended, expel-led and unfairly disciplined. So this collaboration is in fact an outstanding one.
“And for me it’s particularly important because as a member of the Governor’s Group Care Commission for Juvenile Justice for Florida in the state of Florida several years ago we created 54 recommendations about how to close the “Schools to Prison Pipeline.” It’s wonderful to see this community after five or six years is trying to get something done in this state. To see this community step out under the leadership of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People and bring in all parts of those 54 recommendations is fantastic,” added Russell.
Broward County leads the state among students who are arrested and subsequently placed under some type of detainment in the criminal justice system. Broward is one of the nation’s largest school districts. Seventy percent of 1,062 student arrests resulted due to misdemeanor offenses.
According to statistics reported by The U.S. Department of Education Associated Press 70 percent of students who were arrested for school related offenses was Black or Hispanic, while white students who committed a similar offense were only given a warning.
This new policy began in the beginning of the school year and has resulted in a 41 percent reduction in the number of arrests.
Kim Keenan, NAACP General Counsel said that once a child has gotten a juvenile record it can have an adverse affect on the rest of their life. She lauded the initiative drafted by the Fort Lauderdale/Broward NAACP as a prototype which would set the standard for other parts of the country.
“A juvenile record for a child can ruin their life. It means they can’t join military service. They will have trouble getting into college and they will have problems for a productive future. We know that if children graduate from high school and go to college they will become productive citizens. We must be focused on making them be-come productive citizens in the future.”
“This new plan this agreement that is comprehensive, if we all collaborate will find a solution. And when law enforcement and when the justice system and the community comes together to say no we’re not putting our children in jail because they threw an M-n-M across the classroom. We’re not putting them in handcuffs. We’re not training them to be criminals. We’re training them to become productive Floridians.
“Today’s signing is an ex-ample of a community that believes in can do collaboration; that believes in saving their children by setting an example for other places. We definitely will promote this as a model to be used throughout the nation, “added Keenan.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel pledged his support to the initiative marking a new day in Broward County under his administration when it comes to law enforcement and the juvenile justice system.
“I think the most important thing that we’ve done in law enforcement especially in the Broward’s Sheriff’s Office is we’ve done away with the phrase ”zero tolerance.” Some-times people say being the Sheriff of Broward County is a powerful position and I guess it is but the most powerful of all is God so if He could have tolerance than we can have tolerance. We will demolish this school-house to jailhouse pipeline. We will do that, kids will get second, third, and forth chances. So we will not be taking kids to jail so that he or she can’t get into the military or can’t get into policing or compete on a level playing field with others. In conclusion I think what everybody is saying is that students will not become our collateral damage of the way things used to be. We’ll change that. Let’s make sure these kids stay out of jail.”