An adorable little african american girl in a pink shirt

 “How can Black girls learn the kind of assertiveness that will make them future leaders, when they aren’t even allowed space to be human, when they are criminalized for simply having bad days?” –Josie Pickens

It’s Women’s History Month, and congresswomen Bonnie Watson Coleman (R-NJ), Robin Kelly (D-IL), and Yvette Clark (D-NY), have made even more history by announcing the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls.

As one-time First Focus intern Alton Pitre candidly put it regarding policy brutality of young people, the world simply isn’t safe for black children. And that’s doubly true for black girls.

Their experiences are difficult to stomach. In a Baltimore school, three black girls were hospitalized after being violently apprehended and arrested at their middle school. You have to watch yourself to believe it, but the video clearly shows the police officer starting the physical confrontation. One of the girls needed ten stitches after being hit repeatedly with a baton.Two were pepper sprayed.

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The criminal charges were dropped by the state’s attorney, but the girls were still enrolled in a school for “troubled” students.

And then there’s the video from a high school in Columbia, SC, where a police officer flipped over a desk, with a black female student still sitting in it, and dragged her to the ground. A second student who spoke out about what he saw was also arrested. Both were charged with “disturbing schools.”

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And recently, a 6-year-old was handcuffed by a school security guard for taking candy off of a teacher’s desk.

The trend is clear: adults in positions of power are violently disciplining black girls and disproportionately responding to either typical behavior or minor disturbances.

Black girls are punished in schools at an even more disproportionate rate than black boys, according to a recent must-read feature by NPR. In fact, black girls are a whopping six times more likely to be suspended than white girls (black boys are three times more likely to be suspended than white boys).

Stereotypes and gender-based punishments are treating girls as defiant and challenging when they are instead just engaged, curious, and expressive. At the intersection of race and gender, black girls are seen as not only too aggressive for being black, but also too assertive for being female.

While these students face racism and sexism throughout their education, the problem can be exacerbated by the presence of school resource officers. Today, there are more than 43,000 sworn officers working in 84,000 public schools across the country. Not surprisingly, the presence of school resource officers is positively correlated to an increase in arrests and referrals to the juvenile justice system. For example, Clayton County, GA saw a 1473 percent increase in referrals to the juvenile justice system after it began its school resource office program.

It’s called the school-to-prison pipeline, where minor offenses are criminalized and students are thrust into the criminal justice system, especially children of color and children with disabilities.

As Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman said, “Black women deserve a voice in a policy making process that frequently minimizes, or altogether ignores the systemic challenges they face. This caucus will speak up for them.”

We couldn’t agree more, and look to the caucus to address the school-to-prison pipeline and its injustice to black girls.

Update: The Kresge Foundation has created this compelling infographic highlighting many of the challenges urban students face, and offers potential solutions to making a degree attainable, despite adversities.


Black girls matter, and we’re failing them: v/ @First_Focus #BlackGirlsMatter #BlackLivesMatter #BlackChildrenMatter
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