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by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Black Like Moi.
School officials are trying to figure out why a security guard used pepper spray to slow down a food fight in a Norfolk Middle School. Parents are outraged that a guard at the Lafayette-Winona Middle School used what appears to be unnecessary force to calm the students down. Some of the children have suffered asthma attacks as a result.
Five parents have reached out to the school to express their concern:
“It was just terrible in there,” 12-year-old Derrell Hairston said.
“He stayed up all night coughing and gagging I just feel like you can’t treat these kids like animals they’re going to act like animals,” Hairston’s mother, Tyheshia, added.
“I’d be upset absolutely I don’t blame the parents for being upset I understand that,” said Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Richard Bentley.
“…we’re still investigating the facts, we don’t have all the facts yet okay and it would be inappropriate for me to speak about that until we completed the investigation,” he said.
The school’s security policy says that the officer must only give a warning before using the spray. The kids, however, are saying that she didn’t give any warning before firing.
“She just started spraying pepper spray she didn’t warn nobody or nothing,” said Derrell Hairston.
The school’s principal, Tracey Flemings sent a letter home to parents :
” Yesterday during your child’s lunch period, one of our school security officers determined that it was necessary to use pepper spray to end a food fight. Children who were in the vicinity of the incident, or any who complained of physical symptoms, were examined by the school nurse. We contacted their parents.
Please be assured that Norfolk Public Schools has specific policy and procedures regarding the use of pepper spray by our school security officers, and all officers are thoroughly trained. I am working in partnership with the Norfolk Public Schools Department of Pupil Personnel Services to determine whether yesterday’s use of the pepper spray met our policy and procedures. If we find that the protocols were not followed, appropriate steps will be taken to ensure that it does not happen again.”
It’s not unexpected that this school appears to be predominantly black. Excessive punishment of black kids is a problem that occurs all throughout the United States. When a kid should simply be given detention, he is suspended. Instead of being suspended, he is taken away in handcuffs. All of this is part of the natural structural connection our nation has created between dysfunctional school systems and money-hungry penitentiaries starving for more slave labor. The futures of black children are considered to be worthless, so administrators spend less time considering the long-term ramifications of their decisions when it comes to how they punish black kids.
A 2008 report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that while black students are only 17 percent of the school population, they make up 36 percent of the children who are paddled. A recent analysis by the Chicago Tribune shows that nation-wide, black children are punished at a rate that is far greater than white kids. They show that in every state except Idaho, black students are suspended at a rate that is greater than their percentage in the population. On average, black students are suspended at a rate that is three times greater than that of white students.
The guard who decided that children should be pepper sprayed needs to be fired and possibly put on trial in the court of law. The school should be sued by the parents involved. Citizens in the community should rally at school board meetings and make it abundantly clear that their children are no more criminal, deviant or deserving of police brutality than the white kids in the suburbs. The futures of our children are at stake, and if we don’t intervene, our kids will continue to be disproportionately criminalized.
There is no excuse for what happened at this school.