Federal data released in March 2014 show that black students are suspended at three times the rate of their white counterparts. Research from the collaborative reveals that these disparities routinely aren’t explained by more serious misbehavior by black and brown children: White children doing the same things often get less punitive consequences.
Excessive discipline comes at a steep cost. Studies show a single suspension in the ninth grade is correlated with a doubled chance of dropping out and that suspended or expelled students are three times as likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.
In both schooling and policing, then, young people of color—especially black girls and boys—are disciplined and punished excessively far too often for minor behaviors, with consequences lethal to their life prospects.
We see several shared dynamics at play.
First, according to research conducted by collaborative member Phillip Goff and his colleagues, Americans tend to perceive black boys as older and more culpable than they are. (Indeed, an officer thought 12 year-old Rice was about 20.) Police also use deadly force much faster and more often against black men in ambiguous situations that could easily be defused. And school data consistently show that youth of color are overwhelmingly suspended not for carrying weapons or drugs, but for subjective offenses like "defiance" or "insubordination" that require judgment calls and can fuel biased overreaction.
Second, as noted in the report from the collaborative, stereotypes as old as the U.S. slavery system, which enforced total social control over blacks, continue to frame African American males in particular as threats to order and safety. Emerging research on implicit bias shows the majority of Americans of all races continue to unconsciously associate black men with danger and criminality—and even apes. That Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown, described Brown to the grand jury as looking like a "demon" is a telling example of how black males are often perceived as hyper-threatening and even less than human.
Third, as noted in the report, because racial segregation in housing and schools remains the norm in the United States, many Americans (whether black, white, or brown) grow up with too little opportunity to form cross-racial relationships that might challenge the stereotypes. Although teachers and police interact across race lines more than people in many other professions, they rarely interact as equals with the people of color they serve. Instead, many commute into neighborhoods and schools as authority figures, often carrying a hyper-vigilant—if unconscious—fear of the people they are assigned to teach and protect.
Notably, the country’s learning institutions have increasingly become venues for policing, as schools hire more security officers to patrol hallways and enforce discipline. The number of school-based security officers on campuses nationwide increased steadily between 1997 and 2003, with the number of so-called "school resource officers" climbing again since Sandy Hook—in part thanks to $45 million in federal aid to hire more school police. Studies are mixed on the effectiveness of police in making schools safer, but data does show that their presence actually increases the likelihood that youth of color are suspended, arrested, and issued court summonses for offenses as minor as writing graffiti on desks, refusing to take off a hat, or talking back to an officer.