School-to-Prison Pipeline: Disabled Black Indigenous Boys in the Time of Covid-19

School-to-Prison Pipeline Disabled Black Indigenous Boys In The System In The Time Of COVID-19 (By) Se’mana Thompson

This is a personal, yet common, story of two disabled Black Indigenous boys subject to the school-to-prison pipeline (public & charter off-reservation and on-reservation Bureau of Indian Education [BIE] schools) before and during COVID-19. All of facts in this presentation, collage and poetry are real and happened to these boys, my children.

PIPELINE INDICATORS FOR NATIVE STUDENTS: Students with disabilities are 3x more likely to be subjected to physical restraint (75% v. 25%) and 2x more likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions (U.S. Department of Education, 2014b).

PIPELINE INDICATORS Out-of-school suspension again? What'd you do this time? Alls I did was throw a pencil at my teacher and he wants to charge assault. Man, I'm only 11. 3 weeks and they might not let me back in. This shit sucks. Out-of-school suspension? Man, you just got here. Why tho? Got caught smoking a cigarette in the bathroom, son. The hell? You're 10. And 10 days, you go before the board? Yeah and teen court and substance abuse class or somethin. ISS? Maaaan, you buggin. What'd you do this time, boy? I don't know bro, I can't sit still, I talk a lot. I cuss a lot. I don't know, I'm different. People just don't like me. I'll be in ISS forever. Let's play Legos, man. School for Kids with ADHD.

Native boys with disabilities received the most out-of-school suspensions (U.S. Department of Education, 2014b).

UNTITLED Rather than getting to the root of it, they caged him. Rather than evaluate for mental disorders and disabilities, they suspended his dreams in school, in space, in time. Psychiatric care for you, boy. Two weeks suspended in a unit, white walls confine. Burn to the face. Shot to the face. Burn unit he stayed. BBs steel in his skin. Scars to his skin, heart unseen. "He doesn't pay attention, he's a troubled boy, see." Third grade for you again, boy. Sit still or beware of suspension. The Board may not let you back in and the police will find you. Handcuffs on little wrists, tight and in the police car you go, brother and you gone. Why? You're ten years old. Life has caged you long enough. Be free.

NATIVE YOUTH IN DETENTION: 1 in 4 students referred to law enforcement and subjected to school-related arrests have special education needs and disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 2014b).

Compared to white juvenile offenders Native youth are 1.5x more likely to be incarcerated and referred to the adult criminal system (Arya & Rolnick, 2011).

Despite the fact that AI/AN juvenile arrest rates decreased by 55% between 1980-2012, (the graph above shows that once Native youth are arrested), it is harder for them to escape the system - being referred to courts at a much higher rate than white youth (Puzzanchera & Hockenberry, 2015).

NUMBERS Six months, two weeks, six days. They let you out Black August. Five minutes every Sunday I hear you say, "Mama." Three visits, line up outside with others' families. Two hours, dominoes and uno. No hugs allowed. One last visit, masks required. You still caught covid. Three weeks quarantine. Unlimited phone calls. You said nine youth had covid nineteen. Now twenty youth in the one gym. You became more and more anxious. "I'll be here fo(u)rever, mama. They don't care about us." I know. Twelve years old, jail food. Thirteen years old, State-run food. Two home cooked meals in, "This tastes better than jail." One night you asked to wash faces side by side. Brush teeth. One boy, thirteen. One mama. Sleep now, little brown boy.

It is time to go back to our schools - for families and tribal leaders to be engaged in what is happening in our children's classrooms and defend their learning needs.

BIE SCHOOL School resource officer waiting for you, watching you. 88 cameras for 300 K through 8. Zero tolerance for you little black boy. They don't care you are 10 years old, 12 years old. They wait for you outside your house gate and drive through your community searching for little black boys in maroon collared shirts. Locked up in jail? Doesn't matter, you still missed 10 days of school so goodbye to you. In psychiatric care? Doesn't matter, you signed an agreement so now you cannot come back this year. Wait until next year when covid-19 catches you little black boy. It can catch you again if it wants to. BIE don't care. Do not worry, little man. Their eyes are watching you.

Invisible.. Our children deserve better.

Native children behind bars.

MORE FACTS Compared to 3% of public schools, 37% (68 of 185) of Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools are in despair, requiring $1.3 billion to meet the infrastructural need. While BIE school improvement funding dropped 76% since 2004, the only other federal school system (administered by the Department of Defense) received $5 billion to renovate 134 schools (Star Tribune, 2014).

When you are DISABLED BLACK INDIGENOUS CHILDREN attending any school on or off-reservation, you are subject to numerous suspensions, disenrollments, policed by SRO, in court, which leads to being on juvenile probation, in juvenile detention, children's psychiatric hospital, group homes, shelters, foster care and youth facilities.

Are Native Children Being Pushed Into Prison? An infographic produced by the National Congress of American Indians


Are Native Children Being Pushed Into Prison?

An infographic produced by the National Congress of American Indians

All poetry & collage by Se’mana Thompson

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Filed under: Comics


Se'mana Thompson is an Akimel Otham artist currently living on their homelands, O'Otham Jeved, Gila River Indian Community.