NYCLU: Minority Students Arrested Disproportionately

(Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Even though arrests in New York City public schools are in decline, more needs to be done to eliminate the “extreme racial disparity” demonstrated by the numbers of students who are handcuffed by the police.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) analyzed New York City Police Department (NYPD) detention records and found that 90 percent of summonses and arrests made in school zones are of black and Latino students.

“When children are arrested in school, the chance that they will graduate diminishes significantly and the probability that they will end up in prison greatly increases,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman in a phone interview with El Diario.

Of all the students who were handcuffed in 2016, 262 were “child in crisis” cases, that is, minors who end up being taken to the hospital for psychological evaluation to determine if they suffer from an emotional disorder. In 98 percent of these “child in crisis” cases, the students who were handcuffed were Latino or African-American.

In an attempt to defend the practice of handcuffing students, the NYPD said that physical restraint is only used in exceptional circumstances. The department denied applying it in 90 percent of the cases involving “children in crisis.”

“The NYPD continues to work closely with city schools to reduce arrests and provide a safe learning environment for all students,” said a police spokesperson, pointing out that arrests in schools have dropped 55 percent over the last 5 years and summonses are down by 81 percent in the same period.

This is the first time such figures have been available, thanks to an amendment to the Student Safety Act made two years ago to require the NYPD to write a report every time a student is handcuffed.

What is the solution?

Lieberman believes that, in order to solve this racial disparity issue, there should be fewer circumstances in which police officers are allowed to enter a school. “They should not engage in policing activity in schools unless there is a serious security threat,” she said.

Of the 3,660 incidents reported to the NYPD inside schools in 2016, 1,379 ended up in arrests, mostly for minor offenses. One of Lieberman’s concerns is that 88.5 percent of all detentions were carried out by police officers who lacked school environment training from precincts located near schools. Although the department has a dedicated school safety division, trained officers performed only 11.5 percent of those arrests last year.

Moreover, in 26 percent of the cases, arrests were made for incidents that took place outside the school’s property.

“The NYPD should not treat schools as places to hunt for students they believe committed a crime off of school grounds. Students should never be afraid to go to school,” said Johanna Miller, NYCLU advocacy director.

In 2016, during his first year as a teacher, 24-year-old Joshua Ramos heard about students being arrested at the Fordham High School for the Arts in The Bronx. Most arrests made that year took place in that borough.

Ramos noticed the negative effect the arrests had on the teens. “It definitely disconnects them from the police and from saying something if they see something,” said the educator, adding that it also affects their relationships with all adults, including teachers.

The city’s Department of Education (DOE) insisted that “nothing is more important than the safety of students and personnel.”

The DOE has extended two initiatives aimed at minimizing the involvement of courts in schools. One of them is the Warning Card program, which grants officers the discretion to issue a warning instead of a summons to students under 16 for offenses such as disorderly conduct or marijuana possession.

The second program is the School Justice Project, which provides students with free legal assistance to clear summonses. The initiative also educates students about their rights and offers an opportunity to learn more about the criminal justice system.

“Crime in schools is at an all-time low, and we’re encouraged by the continued decrease in the number of suspensions, school-based arrests and summonses,” said Toya Holness, DOE press secretary.

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