The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What many black parents think about when teachers are armed in schools

Kendall McKee, 11, last year in Salt Lake City during a pro-gun march designed to advocate for fortified schools and more armed teachers. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

A new analysis by a gun control advocacy group says there have been more than 65 publicly reported incidents of mishandled guns at schools in the last five years. They include:

The analysis, by Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, has not deterred legislators in a number of states from moving to expand opportunities for teachers to carry guns in schools.

In Florida, teachers can now carry guns at schools under a new law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). In Texas, the legislature has sent a bill to the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, that would allow more teachers and school personnel to carry guns on campus. And in other states — including Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma and North Carolina — legislators are pushing to create programs that would allow for adults to carry guns in schools.

This post looks at the issue from the lens of black parents, whose children are shot by authorities and disciplined at school in far greater percentages than white children. This was written by Rann Miller, an African American educator who directs the 21st Century Community Learning Center, a federally funded after-school program located in southern New Jersey.

Miller spent six years teaching in charter schools in Camden, New Jersey, and is the creator, writer and editor of the Official Urban Education Mixtape Blog. His writing on race and urban education has appeared in Salon, AlterNet, and the Progressive, where I’m an education fellow. Follow him on Twitter:@UrbanEdDJ

By Rann Miller

I am an educator. I am a former social studies teacher and a current director of an afterschool program for a school district. I am also African American and the parent of a school-aged child, with two other children in pre-school.

I am horrified at the notion of armed teachers. I echo the concerns and fears of African American students and the families in Texas, where teachers have been armed since 2013. I cringe when I consider that teachers in Florida — where the murder of black youth have been justified under a stand-your-ground state law — are allowed to carry firearms.

If the state of New Jersey were to pass legislation that allowed for the arming of its teachers, I would be concerned for the safety of my children and for the black students of the state. If after that, my child’s school district elected to arm its teachers, I would strongly consider taking him out of his school and out of the district. Some may consider that a drastic move and my concern to be misplaced, however the over disciplining of black children is justification for my position.

Black children are suspended, expelled and referred to law enforcement at the highest rates. Even in pre-school, black children are suspended at higher rates. There is legitimate cause for concern for any black parent who is sending their child to a public school where their child’s teacher is armed. That the majority of teachers are white and most schools have more cops than guidance counselors are realities that black parents cannot ignore.

White educators, white teachers specifically, struggle to understand the role that race plays in their interactions with black students; for example, their unfamiliarity with the interactional patterns that characterize many African American males may cause these teachers to interpret impassioned or emotive interactions as combative or argumentative. Where academics are concerned, many white teachers expect less of black students in comparison to black teachers.

While the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) argue that police in schools make schools safer, research shows that they do not. Also, research shows that schools with larger minority and poor populations are more likely to implement criminalized disciplinary policies — suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests — and less likely to connect students to psychological or behavioral care. And when schools increase their police presence, black children are harmed disproportionately.

A 2014 study published by the American Psychological Association found that black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime. There is even published research indicating that white people are more likely to attribute supernatural or magical powers to black people, even to the extent that they believe black people feel less pain.

Let us not fail to remember the numerous instances of anti-black acts experienced by black students in schools nationwide. These include such things as a young man’s shaved hair being colored in with a marker, a young woman being tackled by a teacher and having her braids ripped from her head, and a young man being told by a teacher that he’d have a bullet put through his head by that teacher.

Policymakers and school leaders alike refuse to address the elephant in the room: the profile of a school shooter is a white male youth. According to Mother Jones, roughly 65 percent of mass school shootings were at that hands of white males; none at the hands of black people.

Still, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tried to end the Obama administration discipline guidelines, citing racial pseudoscience as justification for doing so, rather than deal with the misplaced aggression of young white males who believe they are targets of racism and discrimination.

The result is that the lives of children undeserving of death, white and black children alike, are being sacrificed and the privilege and entitlement given white males in our society remain intact.

This is what many black parents think about when the decision of arming teachers comes to mind. It is why black parents believe guns in the hands of white teachers and school resource officer will endanger, not protect, their children. Our voices are often ignored or overlooked. The fears expressed by our children are often disregarded.

Is it any wonder why the number of black parents who home-school their children doubled within the last 15 years?

I hope it doesn’t take a black child being shot by a teacher for my words to be heard. Listen to me now, believe me later on.