Guest MINDSETTERS: PC Students -  Prelude to Ferguson

Thursday, March 26, 2015


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Most of us know of the shootings of young unarmed black teenagers like Ramarley Graham, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Darrien Hunt. What we forget to look at is what led up to this. Why these men? Did the educational system and the larger society around them create the "perfect storm?"

There is no denying that this is a recurring pattern that begins as soon as a black students enter the school system and then escalates to consequences like the tragic deaths of these men. In order for these and other heinous and violent racial profiling events to stop, our nation must focus on the factors that influence these situations. Until then, nothing will change.

The Stories

By now the nation is familiar with the murder of Michael Brown in St. Louis, Missouri and Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Less familiar are the stories of Ramarley Graham and Darrien Hunt. Ramarley, a student from the Bronx, New York, was eighteen years old when he was followed into his house by police and shot in his bathroom. Police claimed he was running and had reason to believe he had a weapon or drugs he was trying to flush down the toilet. An investigation proved he walked normally into his house and had neither drugs nor a weapon.

Darrien Hunt was outside of a strip mall in Saratoga Springs, Utah when police were called because of "suspicious behavior." He had in his possession a replica samurai sword and it was reported that he lunged at police. After the autopsy it was clear that all six of the shots that killed Darrien were fired while he was running away from the police, not toward them. These instances of innocent men being killed call to question whether or not the results would be the same if these men were white.

At an early age black males are subjected to a higher rate of suspensions than their peers. When these students reach high school this unfair difference is clearly seen. In Missouri, eight black males for every one white male were given an out of school suspension. In Florida that ratio drops slightly to 4:1. In Utah, Darrien Hunt's home state, the ratio is 5:1. In Ramarley Graham's state, New York, the ratio is 3:1.

High Suspension Rates

Because black students are targeted for suspension, they tend to drop out of high school at higher rates. On average only 10% of all white students in the United States drop out before they graduate high school. But in Missouri where Michael Brown was shot, 19% of black students dropped out in 2008; in Florida 29%, Utah 14%, and in New York State 23%. The local numbers aren't any better. In St. Louis, 25% of black students drop out; in the Miami/Sanford area a little less than 50% of black students drop out. In the Bronx, an average of 29% of black students drop out.

Many have heard about the school to prison pipeline. For young black students, this is very real. In Missouri, 96% of incarcerated juveniles are black. In the state of New York, 46% are black.

The question remains: if these young men want to stop getting suspended and ending up on the road to prison, why do they keep getting in trouble? The answer is that it is not them, it's their school system. The majority of African Americans in the United States live in the inner cities. According to Jonathan Kozol, inner city school systems focus on the core value of discipline. In suburban schools, where the population is mostly white, the schools focus on creating a well-rounded individual, with less of an emphasis on discipline. Black students are subject to constant encounters with authority and these encounters, in turn, stigmatize them.

The Stigma

The stigma is that young black men are dangerous and are destined to a life of crime. With the unchanging views of law enforcement and the neverending cycle of discipline, it is no wonder these young men are seen as targets. We need to be able to break this pattern. No young man should have to be gunned down because of the misguided stereotype associated with his race. Instead of fighting against these young men, we should be fighting for them.

Kara Kelly, Caroline McBride, and Alison Kern are first year undergraduates at Providence College. This MINDSETTER piece is also signed by a team of students in Cedric de Leon's Sociology 101 class at Providence College: Amanda Berkman, Katie Daly, Rebecca Dotti, Kyle Ford, Conor Hilton, Conor Johnson, Danielle Ranucci, Vania Romero, and Miranda Simpson.


Related Slideshow: RI Reacts to Ferguson

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Pilar McCould

Providence NAACP Branch

"Although I understand the law, I cannot wrap my head around this decision. So am I to understand that Mike Vick who fought dogs.....illegal yes,  did do jail time, lost his position & had to prove himself in society once released from prison is a criminal but a law officer can shoot kill an unarmed young man & not be indicated on any charges????

We have come from the days of MLK.......or have we???? There are times I feel as though it's a modern day Jim Crowe.   And I somehow have to be able to explain this to students who I work with, parents who are angry & community residents who are outraged."

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Kobi Dennis

Project Night Vision

"My thoughts come from a local standpoint. The urban community for decades have not seen "Eye to Eye" with law enforcement. They don't understand our culture and we don't understand theirs... This situation and many others have been extremely difficult to navigate, especially from a civilian point of view. I agree with the masses concerning police brutality, racist officers and unjust arrests.

What I don't believe in has to do with continuing this unbalanced relationship. We need one another and the sooner community & law enforcement realize this, incidents such as the Mike Brown death will lesson. The community has extended an "Olive Branch" on many occasions and the responses from law enforcement and community are improving. We have plenty of work to do on this issue and several others concerning race relations but it takes hard work and dedication instead of millions of angry bloggers."

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Leah Williams Metts

NAACP Youth Council

"I believe that everyone had hope but in the back of our mind we knew what the verdict was going to be

We knew he would get off free for this its sad. I am very happy that they took a second look at the case. I think that that might have sent a huge message to police officers all over this country."

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Ray Watson

Mt. Hope Neighborhood Association

"Legally they have their reasons. But morally and righteously, is disgraceful. And it's systemic. Overwhelmingly Law Enforcement can shoot people, especially young Black males, with impunity. I'll be out tomorrow voicing my disgust with the situation. I hope others will join us as well."


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