In a video from a Baltimore middle school released last week, a girl is summoned down a flight of stairs by a school police officer. After what appears, from the video, to be no more than a few seconds, she descends the steps but walks quickly past the cop, apparently ignoring a demand that she stop. The officer pins her against a wall, and soon the girl’s sister and later a third black girl—their cousin—rush in to intervene, crowding in and trying to get the officer to loosen her grip. The officer, a woman, runs after the cousin and hits her at least twice with a baton, bloodying that girl’s head so badly she will later need stitches. The officer, unprovoked and apparently angered by their refusal to accept her authority, then sprays the other two girls in the eyes with pepper spray.
Following the events on the video, the three girls were rushed to the hospital for treatment and then taken by police to Baltimore’s juvenile justice center, where they were charged with assaulting the officer. Those charges were dropped once the prosecutor viewed the video, but the girls were all suspended. The officer was reassigned to administrative duty.
According to a report released Wednesday, incidents such as these in which black girls are subject to harsh, apparently unwarranted school discipline and end up in the juvenile justice system are much more likely than the existing research and public conversation about the school-to-prison pipeline suggest. Concern and interventions focus largely on boys of color, particularly black boys. But according to the report, titled “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” black girls are also disciplined at disproportionately high rates compared to white girls and, as a result, are excluded from opportunities to learn. Black boys are suspended more than three times as often as white boys, and often that statistic is held up as sole proof of a problem. But if black girls are suspended six times more often than white girls, which data analysis in this new report finds, then why and what can be done to reduce that disparity?
The report, authored by the African American Policy Forum in collaboration with Columbia Law School, looked at 2011–12 school year data collected by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and found:
—Twelve percent of all black girls in school were suspended, while two percent of white girls were subjected to that form of discipline.
—In New York City’s public schools, black students made up 28 percent of the student body and white students were 14 percent. But black girls were 90 percent of all girls expelled, and no white girls were expelled that school year.
—In Boston’s public schools, black students made up 35 percent of the student body and white students were 14 percent. Black girls were 63 percent of all girls expelled, and no white girls were expelled that school year.
The report goes beyond simply reporting the problem and recommends solutions, such as training teachers how to work with students traumatized by violence and sexual assault and recognizing that girls have needs that can differ from boys’ and so demand specially tailored solutions. “This cannot be a trickle-down affair,” Kimberlé Crenshaw, a legal scholar and one of the report’s authors, said Wednesday on a call to announce its release.