Earlier this year, Dr. Tamar Klaiman, member of the Abington Board of School Directors, came under fire for saying the following:
We know that the Black and Brown students are much more likely to be shot by the officer, especially school resource officers, than other students, and I have serious concerns about anybody in the building having firearms, regardless or not of whether they are police.
Some parents called for Klaiman’s removal from the board and while Abington Township Police Chief Patrick Molloy forgave the comments, he said they were hurtful to his officers, their family and the law enforcement community.
Chief Molloy said himself,
“There are instances and the data supports some of this stuff that they were suggesting about African American males being more likely shot by police.”
What I wonder if the focus of any on-going dialogue between Abington Police and the Abington School District is on Klaiman’s comments being hurtful or the data that supports them?
Let’s start with why Dr. Klaiman made the point in the first place – what the data says.
Black students nationwide are disproportionately disciplined in schools. Black students make up only 15% of students nationwide, but are disproportionately suspended, both in-school and out-of-school, expelled, referred to law enforcement and arrested at school.
In fact, the highest percentages of students suspended and arrested are Blacks students; Black students also lose more school days (that means instructional time) due to suspensions.
The data reflects a similar picture at the Abington School District.
Roughly 20% of Abington School District students are Black. Yet Black students are disproportionately suspended, both in-school and out-of-school, Black students are grossly over-represented in the percentage of students expelled and are more likely to be both referred to law enforcement and arrested; Black students with or without disabilities.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, Blacks students in the district are excessively underrepresented in 8th grade algebra enrollment, calculus enrollment and in gifted and talented participation.
Just last year, the Trump administration flirted with the idea of arming teachers in schools as a solution to school shootings… based on the data, and the fact that majority of teachers and administrators are white, who’s more likely to get shot?
While Abington teachers are unarmed, school resource officers (SROs) in the district are. But according to the Abington superintendent, SROs, serving in high schools, have been in the district for over 25 years without any incident of firing a weapon at a student. Chief Molloy, as well as other advocates such as the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), argue that the purpose of SROs is not only to make schools safer but also to build community relations.
The district superintendent agreed.
However, research shows that SROs don’t make schools safer. 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.
Dr. Klaiman is right to be concerned. But what about the argument about Black and Brown kids being shot by officers?
Black people are more likely to be affected by police shootings.
White officers are more likely to use a gun than Black officers and more likely to do so in neighborhoods that are overwhelmingly Black.
Black people account for less than 13% of the population but the Washington Post found they are shot and killed by the police at a rate that’s over twice as high as for white people. According to the Washington Post’s analysis, while more white people have been killed than Black people by police, more Black people are murdered by police at a higher rate than anyone else; Latinx folks at a higher rate than white people.
Let’s hope that law enforcement and school officials aren’t as colorblind as Donald Trump, who said that more white people are killed by police to dismiss the fact that Black people are killed by police at disparate rates.
A 2019 study produced by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), initially aided the arguments of those attempting to dismiss racial disparities in police shootings, saying that they found no “evidence for anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparity in police use of force across all shootings, and, if anything, found anti-White disparities.”
This study, cited in a Wall Street Journal article, however was full of errors; so many that the authors retracted the study. The Washington Post, calling the study “fundamentally flawed,” cited research that showed that Black men in particular had a 2.5 times greater chance of being killed by a police officer than a white person.
According to Mapping Police Violence, Black people are disproportionately killed by police shootings in Pennsylvania; in 2019, more Black people were killed by police shootings in the state.
In my home state of New Jersey, not only are Black people killed by police at disparate rates, but more Black people have been killed by police than any other race/ethnicity since 2016.
That’s what the data says.
I assume Chief Molloy wanted Dr. Klaiman to have all of that information at her disposal when she made her statement when he said that without data or context such statements don’t lend themselves to fruitful exchanges.
But everything I mentioned is public knowledge; I hope that Dr. Klaiman’s comments were discussed by all parties (parents, school officials, district staff and law enforcement) in light of the data. Such discussions are necessary to have in order to forge forward with actionable items that will remove such disparities.
Sadly, the reality is that many white people choose to focus on their anger and/or hurt feelings over comments, like the one made by Dr. Klaiman, rather than focus on the reason the comment was actually made.
Dr. Klaiman is still a member of the Abington board. Hopefully, conversations are happening on the reason for her comments earlier this year. In any case, I hope she doesn’t stop speaking the truth on behalf of Black and Brown students… no matter who gets pissed off.