School Discipline And Socialization For The Carceral State

Schools are a buffer zone, artfully, strategically, placed between zones of dysfunction–the homes of ‘broken’ families, populated by the wrong ethnicity and racial category, which produce criminality and social pathology–and the rest of society. Here, a net may be cast, trawling through the swarms of schoolchildren, catching the bad, the misbehaved, the unrepentant repeat offenders practicing the tricks of the trade. Here, discipline may be applied in the name of tough love and muscular pedagogy, all the better to nip future outbreaks of antisocial violence in the bud. Here, police and school administrations may co-operate to give education a much-needed ‘correctional’ and ‘carceral’ edge.  Here, students may learn what fates await them in case they do not heed the warnings–dispensed with appropriate force, of course–that police officers, in co-operation with school administrators, direct at them.

Such, apparently, is the vision of school that underwrites school discipline today, one in which administrators, under the sway of a relentlessly constructed and reinforced vision of their wards as potential criminals, not only hasten to call in for armed and uniformed help on all too many occasions, but also demand the constant presence of the constabulary on campus.  In this vision–one that supplements the ‘teachers are babysitters’ one which is trotted out when school teachers go on strike–the burdens of disciplining the unruly can now be shared between the adult penal system and this ‘juvenile education facility.’

Education-shmeducation; reading-shmeading; learn to behave first.

Unsurprisingly, given the animating sentiments at play, students are treated by police–sometimes described as ‘school resource officers’ but always armed and equipped like folks with far less benign monikers–much as the residents of a correctional facility would be. A refusal to leave a classroom pops into focus through the lens of the school-as-prison perspective and appears akin to a jailyard riot; failure to comply entails the death of discipline. The police officers on duty in schools, taught and trained to extend their vision of the streets and neighborhoods outside as war zones into the boundaries of the school campus, respond to reports of such misbehavior with alacrity; it’s a 911, it’s a four-alarm fire, we need backup and possibly covering fire. Their responses and behavior, observed by the other students, inculcates important lessons: do not talk back to authority; comply with alacrity or face the consequences; violence will be visited upon you if arguments are not resolved. The critical thinking and speaking truth to power can come later, much later. Much, much later; once you are done serving time, that is.

The old saw about hammers and nails is inescapable here. When order is judged our supreme value, then all will be bent to its directives and requirements. A non-authoritarian society is a messy, fractious business; its path ne’er did run smooth. But it is the price that has to be paid if our obeisances to a democratic society are to not ring hollow. If the administration of our schools is any evidence, it has been judged too high a price to pay.

Our Police, Keeping Our World Safe From Young Black Women

The next time a video link passes you by on social media stop and take a closer look. Chances are, the dysfunction implicated in it can be traced back to one cause, and one cause alone: teenaged black women. And the police of this nation are on the case, keeping us safe by any means necessary.

Remember that black girl from the swimming pool party in McKinney, Texas, this past summer, the one wrestled to the ground by a brave policeman, Eric Casebolt, the one who executed a smart SEAL move, rolling and leaping into an Action Jackson move on his way to making said maneuvre? (For good measure, that policeman pulled his gun on the girl’s friends–presumably other thugs on the make–and let them know the precise fates that awaited in case their expressions of concern for their friend grew any louder.)



Well, she has a counterpart in Spring Valley, South Carolina, right down to a policeman with itchy arms and shoulders.

This juvenile miscreant, after committing the high crimes of being disruptive, and indulging in the dangerous activity of refusing to vacate the premises–nothing quite as threatening as a black person that does not leave when asked to–had to be wrestled to the ground and dragged out by a brave police officer.  The escalator to escalation was hailed and used quickly by him; not for him the patient assertion of his authority with judicious application of force. No, this called for application of the Powell Doctrine: overwhelming power, applied quickly and efficiently, with an aim to neutralize any hostile responses. (The application of a military doctrine to community policing is but one of the many talents this extremely accomplished officer of the peace–a ‘school resource officer’–brings to his daily assignments in the war zone, er, local neighborhoods. Officer Ben Fields’ “biography on the [school] website” indicates “he also coaches the school football team’s defensive line and is the team’s strength and conditioning coach.” Strength and conditioning well utilized, Sir.)

As the police officer performs his duties, quietly–except for the one warning directed at some ruffian in his audience that he will be the next person to feel the strong arm of the law on his collar–and efficiently, the other students look on in some awe. They have, in all probability, given their dark complexions, already experienced some of this tough love; they have now received another demonstration that that force may be applied, violently, to their recalcitrant behavior. This too, is education. It too, is dispensed in schools. Those students who will not learn their lessons today–about directing appropriate respect at uniformed armed men capable of exerting deadly force against you–will take their chances in the future, at their own risk. The ‘smart’ ones will police themselves from now on.

Officer Fields was not just subduing one stubborn subject; he was making other subjects docile too. And keeping all of us safe from those dangerous young black folk.

The All Too Inevitable Denouement of the Trayvon Martin Story

In commenting on the murder of Trayvon Martin last year, I wrote:

The killing of Trayvon Martin is a classically American nightmare: a suburb somewhere, a dark night, a young black man on the streets, guns in the hands of people who imagine it will make them safer, calls to 911 that provide grim, brief, staccato evidence of a deadly, preventable encounter. And at the end of it all, a dead man, grieving parents, a police force and a city administration making mealy-mouthed responses. When we reach that stage, a sickening sense of deja vu strikes, for we have memorized the rest of the script: a little outrage that soon blows itself out, some protest marches, featuring as usual, some ‘leaders’ of the black community, bland, banal responses from the police force, and a meandering march toward ‘justice,’ which, more often than not, ends in miscarriage.

Well, that familiar script has played out as predicted and the anticipated miscarriage of ‘justice’ is here: George Zimmerman has been acquitted of second-degree murder and of manslaughter; Trayvon Martin‘s parents are left grieving and inconsolate, resigned to spending the rest of their lives mourning a young life cut short. And the rest of us reduced to raging impotently, if eloquently at times, on social media timelines and playing parlor games in which thought experiments involving a white Trayvon Martin and a black Zimmerman are devised, with the same outcome every time: Zimmerman going to the gallows or heading for a life sentence in prison.

A few weeks, months or years from now, Trayvon Martin’s name will acquire some obscurity, and blend in with Yusuf Hawkins, Amadou Diallo, and oh, take your pick: a grim roll of black men who get shot on the streets, and whose killers always, somehow, manage to walk; his portrait will join those flashed at the rallies that will soon, again, be held for some other victim of the over-hasty, over-eager policeman or home-brewed vigilante.  Zimmerman will go back to his life, still armed and dangerous. If the perversity of our culture will play out in some of its most gruesome manifestations, we might see him again, perhaps on a talk show, or a book release event, justifying his unhinged reactions on that fatal night.

In the post from which I’ve quoted above, I also wrote:

[T]he final pull of the trigger, as in this case, was merely the spearpoint of a weapon that had been aimed at Trayvon Martin’s head for a very long time. Zimmerman lives in a society infected by racism; when he finally shot Trayvon, he wasn’t acting alone; he was accompanied by anything and everything that has conspired to make it the case that young black men in this country are taking substantial risks when they venture out alone into a dark street.

The ‘anything and everything’ includes legal statutes like Florida’s stand-your-ground law, but even more importantly, it includes the structural racism which made it possible for those thought experiments I allude to above to be run so easily.

That structure needs, and will take, some tearing down.