Summary: A young Lancaster local reports on anti-Black police presence in Lancaster schools. — Editors
A report published June 15, 2022, by the LA County Office of the Inspector General has revealed Black high school students in Lancaster are contacted by deputies, arrested, and suspended at higher rates than any other racial group. The data also corroborates an earlier investigation done by LAist and ProPublica on the topic of racial discrimination in Antelope Valley High Schools. This investigation has only confirmed the experiences that I and many others in the Antelope Valley can relate to.
The Inspector General’s analysis found that in the 2019-2020 school year, Black high school students made up only 17.9% of the students in Lancaster High Schools yet comprised 67.1% of contacts by the school deputies. In comparison, Hispanic students who make up 64.3% of high school students, accounted for 25.6% of deputy contacts. In addition, Black students faced a much higher rate of suspensions than Hispanic students. 1 out of every 7 Black students (15.3%) had been suspended compared to 1 out of every 29 Hispanic students (3.5%).
The report also found that Black students were contacted by officers at a higher rate during school hours than outside of school. This suggests the actions of school administration could be a significant influence on the racial disparity. This becomes more likely when considering Black students also received harsher discipline by school administration than white or Hispanic students in similar cases.
These findings indicate that there is a racial bias against Black students in Lancaster. This claim is supported by the larger data on racial disparity in policing which shows that Black people account for 43.4% of contacts by Lancaster police despite being only 20.5% of the population of Lancaster. The Inspector General notes that the disparity is likely larger due to the inaccuracy and underreporting of the Sherriff’s Automated Contact Reporting System (SACR).
The initial investigation by LAist and ProPublica was spurred by a news report of a black student, MiKayla Robinson, being body-slammed by a deputy at Lancaster High School. The Lancaster Sheriff’s Department refused to send a copy of bodycam footage to the Inspector General which has left the investigation open over the deputy’s use of force. The reluctance of the Sheriff’s Department to provide information for the investigation prompted further investigation by the Inspector General.
As a former student of Lancaster High School, it was no secret that Black students were targeted more frequently and had more encounters with the school deputies. Any Black student could recount more than a few confrontations with school deputies. While many people seemed aware of this disparity, the fact that this was racism seemed to escape ordinary consciousness. It was not seen as a problem with policing itself but a moral failing of the individual students. Just like when the issue is brought up outside of schools, the disproportionate arrests of Black people are dismissed as a fault of the individuals and not viewed as a systemic problem.
Assertions such as “Black students just get into more fights” or “Black students are more defiant to authority” try to offer some rationalization for the obvious racial disparity in policing. These are precisely the type of explanations I would remember hearing whenever someone brought up how often Black students were suspended or given a citation by the school deputy. Of course, these rationalizations only impose the racist notion that there is something essential to Black students that cause them to get into more fights and be disobedient. I recall witnessing more than once a Black student being tased by a deputy in order to break up a fight. Once the image of Black students as troublemakers or criminals is accepted all else can become ideologically justified.
The data presented makes it clear that this racial disparity is not just a problem within high schools but indicative of a more significant social issue. As a social institution, schools are subject to the same social inequalities that are to be found outside of them. It is hard to ignore the influence capital and political policy have on the school system and the further role that schools play in reproducing inequalities. Reports such as this expose the reality that racism is alive within the school system. Within the school, racism manifests itself in many forms from the biases of administration to the inconsistency in the quality of education and resources offered to students of color. The presence of police on school campuses represents the most blatantly repressive and violent side of this racist system.
The disproportionate mistreatment of Black students and the racist justifications for it have their origin in the marginalization of Black workers under capitalism. The over-policing of Black students in high schools is invariably linked to the unique forms of oppression that Black people face outside of school. The disproportionate rates of poverty, homelessness, and imprisonment of Black Americans attest to this fact. The more subtle and obvious forms of racism in schools are just one cog in an oppressive capitalist machine.
What has been revealed by the Inspector General in Lancaster High Schools is just one story of many that are happening every day all across the country. Thousands of black students like MiKayla Robinson continue to face violence by school deputies that will go ignored. The push to move police off campus has been seen in universities across California but as racism in lower levels of education is brought to light, we will start seeing the same push against cops in high schools as well.
This movement has already begun and will require the participation of not only students and parents but administration and political leaders. As Marxists, it is important that we not just acknowledge the fact that racism is alive in schools. We must work against the racist reaction that attempts to justify the racial disparities identified as they form a part of larger racist ideology. Moreover, even though the movements against police on campus are smaller in form we must support them and connect the essence of these movements to the larger struggle against racism.