More and more our public schools, particularly serving people of color, seem to have the goal of preparing black and Latino students for a lifelong relationship with the prison system. There's no better example of this than Los Angeles Unified School District, and their surplus Program 1033 military weaponry.
"In terms of a clear national picture of what kind of military equipment is going to K-12 schools through the 1033 program, we don't have a 100 percent transparent picture," says Janel George, education policy counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. That lack of transparency is one reason the Legal Defense Fund and Texas Appleseed are asking the DLA to end the 1033 program's relationship with school districts and school police departments. George also emphasizes that excessive force against students by school police is already far too common, with many school officers armed with weapons like tasers and pepper-spray. "The concern is not only the potential harm when you add in military-grade weaponry – we're talking about M16s, AR 15s and grenade launchers. It's also, how does this exacerbate existing school climates that are already tense? And how does that contribute to the criminalization of youth of color in particular?"
The disproportionate punishment of Black and Latino students for the same behavior as their white peers is so well-documented that, earlier this year, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education expressed concern that such disparities may constitute a widespread civil rights violation. The fact that students of color, as well as students with disabilities, are so much more likely to be referred to law enforcement leads advocates to wonder: On whom are such military weapons likely to be used?
"In LA, if you depend on public schools – and given that the vast majority of students are students of color – at the moment you walk into school, your interaction with police automatically grows," says Manuel Criollo, director of organizing at the Strategy Center. "You depend on a public service, and that public service is attached to the criminal legal system. Are the police there for [the students'] safety, or are they there because they perceive them as a threat?"
Exactly why does a school district need MRAPs and grenade launchers? But hey, let's blame teacher's unions and make kids pull their pants up.
In all seriousness, schools today are largely segregated and designed to prepare well-off suburban white kids for life in middle management, and to prepare poor urban kids for life in GenPop. Even 20 years ago when I was in high school this stuff was unthinkable.
Now it's normal. Somewhere along the way we've decided that brown kids are just smaller, more dangerous adults, and should be treated as criminals from birth.