[Posting in part from the African Americans in Higher Education list below.  Not a few of my own students at Brooklyn College reported comparable brutal treatment being singled out on the streets as young African American men by our NYPD.  I well remember years ago a kid being shot and killed by a cop who was then while on paid leave working out for a fee a deal for a friend to reduce his debts to his bookie.  Things are a bit better than that now, but it is still extremely dangerous to be a young African American here.  Far too many are headed into our massive prison population — 2.1 million with 6 million more ex-cons barred from most forms of employment.

For the record we imprison 1/4 of those globally with only 1/20 of the world’s population.  During my teaching career things have gotten marginally better for young black men — but a majority are still unemployed in NYC now which tells the never ending tale of race and racism in America.  Incidentally, most NYC cops are decent guys.  They are horribly underpaid and, thus, understaffed.  I no longer hear of them openly taking bribes as we witnessed when we were living in Harlem as graduate students.  But I grieve for the younger generation which is trapped in our racist culture.  I once watched a tipsy elderly African American being brutally beaten by a gang of happy transit cops in a Brooklyn subway station — the sergeant in charge was himself African American.  A little gang with which I worked back when all died violently except for 3 who escaped to better things — one homeless, a second a hero cop, and a third alive and well on Long Island.  I guess this is still about the odds for survival for a young African American guy today.  Ed Kent]


What Kind of System Does This to Its Youth?

by Linda Flores

“They’re treating us like criminals, like we’re animals.”

— Student at Curtis High School, Staten Island, New York City

“Sometimes the classroom feels like a jail cell.”

— Jane Min, Flushing High School, Queens, New York City

Imagine if schools were places where youth were treated like the precious people they are–where their creativity, their curiosity, and their critical thinking were valued and encouraged. Imagine if, in school and out of school, the youth were challenged and unleashed and they were called upon to discuss and debate everything from Shakespeare to religion, from the state of the planet to how society-–including their own schools-–should be run. Imagine if the rebellious spirit and questioning of the youth were not only not squashed and corralled–imagine if it were valued as a crucial part of revolutionizing society.

But in this society, we can only imagine this. And for way too many youth, the experience is exactly the opposite. Schools are ringed with fences and metal detectors. Instead of the sounds of debate and lively discussion over string theory or globalization, the hallways ring with echoes of cops, Glocks at their hips, screaming to the youth to “Get the fuck back in line!”

When youth come to school, instead of knowing they are coming to a safe place where they will learn and be learned from, they live with fear: will they be frisked and humiliated in front of everyone for no real reason? Will they be arrested if they wander out of the metal detector line? Will they make it home at the end of the day, or will they be taken to jail for swearing or getting into a fight?

An important report, “Criminalizing the Classroom: The Over-Policing of New York City Schools,” was released by the New York Civil Liberties Union in March 2007 (available at:


It covers the experience of youth in New York City, but it provides an all-too-rare glimpse at the experience of youth all over this country, particularly Black and Latino youth–the harassment, degradation, brutalization, and criminalization that they are forced to endure when they come to school. The report is drawn from interviews with parents, teachers, school administrators and staff, and, importantly, surveys from 1,000 youth in New York City schools.

In New York City, the public schools have been policed by the NYPD since 1998. In the 2005-2006 school year, there were a total of 4,625 cops (200 of them armed) patrolling the schools as so-called “School Safety Agents (SSAs).” The NYCLU report points out that if the NYPD’s School Safety Division were its own police force, it would be the 10th largest in the country–larger than the entire police force in Washington, D.C., Detroit, or Boston.

Cops Like School Prison Guards

Under the school “safety” program, any junior high and high school in the New York public school system is subject to “roving metal detectors.” What this has meant is cops coming into schools unannounced, setting up a military-style task force. In an approach very similar to what U.S. soldiers do in Iraq, the cops swarm in, take over the school’s cafeteria or gym, and turn the school into a police zone, snaked with lines of students waiting to pass through the metal detectors.

Students are forced to wait for hours in line as their bags are searched and their cell phones (prohibited in the school district) or cameras (not prohibited) are confiscated. And 21 percent of the city’s junior high and high schools now have metal detectors permanently installed. At Wadleigh Secondary School in Manhattan, one student who found a “roving” metal detector at his school called his mother to come pick up his phone before it was confiscated–and was then arrested when he tried to explain why he wasn’t waiting in line.

These cops in the schools act like, and basically function as, prison guards: barking orders, pushing and shoving students, deciding arbitrarily what is and is not allowed on any given day. Students’ bags are searched, and everything from house keys to spare change is confiscated. The cops decide what they will and won’t let students bring in to schools. For example, some students who had permission to carry cell phones had them taken. Some students had their iPods confiscated and never returned. And at an aviation magnet high school, students had their engineering supplies taken for supposedly being “weapons.”

Cops have confiscated students’ food and then eaten it. Students are routinely yelled at and cursed at, and have reported being physically shoved through the metal detectors or shoved against the wall to be frisked regardless of whether they set off the metal detectors. At one school, the cops taunted one student who was wearing a nice coat, accusing him of stealing it. When one cop found a blank CD in a student’s backpack he said, “Is that rap? That’s probably why you’re being searched.” In one eight-month period more than 17,000 items were taken from students in the “roving” metal detector program–70 percent of them were cell phones, and 29 percent were iPods and similar items. Not one gun was found.

The NYCLU report detailed numerous instances where the cops actively terrorized and brutalized students. At one school, cops chased students who tried to avoid the checkpoints, screaming, “Round them up!” At Samuel Tilden High School in Brooklyn, a 17-year-old student named Biko Edwards was walking toward his chemistry class when a vice principal stopped him. When Biko protested not being allowed to go to class, the vice principal called in a cop. The report describes what happened next:

“Officer Rivera then grabbed Biko and slammed him against a brick door divider, lacerating Biko’s face and causing him to bleed. Officer Rivera then sprayed Mace at Biko’s eyes and face, causing Biko’s eyes to burn. Rather than treat the student, Officer Rivera then called for back-up on his radio, and proceeded to handcuff Biko… [He]was taken to a hospital where he spent approximately two hours being treated for his wounds, and spending most of his time in the hospital handcuffed to a chair… He faces five criminal charges.”

And what happens to young women in these schools–are they places where young women are treated as human beings with value and intelligence, and not as a collection of body parts? Are the schools themselves a place where young women and men are encouraged to debate the oppression of women, and called upon to solve it? No–the schools are places where women are harassed and groped by the armed enforcers of the state themselves. One student reported that “the police like to put their hands on kids without reason.” And 27 percent of students surveyed reported that officers touched or treated them in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. Young women whose underwire bras set off the metal detectors reported they were forced to lift up their shirts, supposedly to prove they weren’t carrying any weapons, or to unzip or unbuckle their pants supposedly to prove they weren’t concealing cell phones. Young women have been searched by male officers, and the report says, “students and teachers alike complain that male SSAs subject girls to inappropriate behavior, including flirting and sexual attention.” At one high school, cops were heard making remarks about a young woman’s body. At another school, a gay student was humiliated every day as male cops would flip coins to see who had to search him.


“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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