By Spencer Whitney
Nearly three quarters of juvenile arrests in Oakland are African American boys, who are often picked up for relatively minor offenses, according to a study recently released by the local nonprofit Black Organizing Project, Public Counsel and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
Titled “The Impact of Policing Oakland Youth,” the report looks at arrest data between 2006 and 2012 and found that African American boys made up almost 75 percent of all juvenile arrests in Oakland despite being under 30 percent of the city’s under 18 population.
The study calls on the school district to make dramatic improvements by making a greater investment in counselors and mentors and implementing a memorandum of understanding between the Oakland Police Department and OUSD that clearly defines and limits the role of OPD officers in and around campuses.
“There is no oversight on how Oakland police operate in schools, and that is why we need more accountability of the police and transparency in their reports,” said Misha Cornelius, communications coordinator of the Black Organizing Project.
“This an example of the school to prison pipeline and not being trained for success or being put on track for job skills.”
Cornelius says that she and her organization were astonished to find how many young African American students were getting arrested for minor offenses like gambling or skipping school and wondered why more money is not being invested in training counselors in restorative justice practices and conflict resolution.
Currently, there are only 20.5 counselors in OUSD.
More than 72 percent of calls from schools to the OUSD’s police force were to respond to allegations of “non-criminal conduct” by students or others. Only 28 percent of calls were in response to allegations of drugs, alcohol, weapons, and crimes against a person, according to the report.
The report also found that Black youth were referred to Alameda County Probation at more than two-and-a-half times their percentage in the population. About 44 percent of Black male students suspended or arrested at Oakland’s schools multiple times were ousted as punishment for “defiance of authority.”
During the period that report covered, there were more than 13,680 juvenile arrests in or near schools, mostly by OPD. Between 2010 and 2012, Oakland school police officers made 85 arrests.
To reduce these numbers of arrests, according to district spokesman Troy Flint, the district has changed its suspension policy, relying more on counseling students instead of suspensions, as well as taking steps to go from punitive to restorative and preventive justice practices.
“The report reflects a combination of social, economic, and historic societal factors that Black communities in Oakland have been underserved for generations, and we’re seeing that culminate in these arrest records,” said Flint.
“We recognize the disproportionality, and that this isn’t just an Oakland problem, it’s a national problem,” he said.
In response to the alarming rate of young Black male dropout rates and incarceration, the district formed the Office of African American Male Achievement in 2010. The office works to analyze data, track individual students, arrange internships and mentors, promote black male achievements, and lead workshops for students and parents.
Chris Chatmon, executive officer of the Office of African American Male Achievement, says the district is placing a focus on early literacy so that by the time students finish third grade everyone is on the same reading level.
“We have to have alternative programs for supporting children and keeping them in a nurturing environment,” said Chatmon. “This includes implementing social and emotional learning for both students and staff, revising the discipline policies, and a multitiered intervention system to curb dropout rates.”
Teresa Clincy, an administrator at OUSD ,said the district’s plan to reduce suspensions through restorative justice will go a long way towards solving the problems of Black male achievement. Since she began working for OUSD in 2010, she has seen a dramatic drop in the numbers of referrals for expulsion.
“In 2009, there were 350 referrals for expulsion,” said Clincy. “During my first year in 2010, the number of referrals fell to 270 and in 2011 that it was 201. Last year, the number dropped to 177.”
Clincy noted that only 12 out of the 25 students arrested last year were referred for expulsion. Already there are steps being taken to change expulsion policies, Now, school principals must seek secondary approval on expulsion recommendations.
“One person doesn’t hold the answer,” said Chatmon. “We have to change the culture and hold each other accountable on both a national and domestic level.”
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 12, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)