Monday, August 12, 2013

Dream Defenders Impacting Real Issues? Stand Your Ground, Racial Profiling, and School-to-Prison Pipeline

Dream defenders-Racial profiling

For almost four weeks, the Dream Defenders have been peacefully occupying the Florida Capitol.  They have the goal to affect change.  They are asking Governor Scott to call a special session of Florida legislature to address issues of “Stand Your Ground,” racial profiling, and the school-to-prison pipeline.  All of these issues are legitimate concerns, and many should support the Dream Defenders in their efforts because they should be OUR efforts.

For issues discussed in prior blog posts, Stand Your Ground (SYG) should be reviewed to see if it is being implemented and interpreted most effectively by jurisdictions in Florida.  Recently, I attended a forum at FAMU Law School, which focused on Florida’s SYG law.  Multiple state legislators were in attendance, including one of the original sponsors of the controversial legislation.  After a series of serious conversations during the event, the legislators appeared open to revisiting SYG.  However, who knows if that was real talk or political talk to appease the disappointed attendees!  Regardless, the Dream Defenders recognize that SYG creates circumstances where prejudices become “reasonable” and the subsequent fear might increase the likelihood of violence.  I would be happy to provide research that shows a fear of young minority males.

The Dream Defenders’ second issue is the racial profiling that occurs within this state.  While Governor Scott cannot fully eliminate the practice of racial profiling, he can provide leadership by asking the state legislature to review laws, policies, and practices that create an environment for this type of profiling to take place.  Florida is a fairly conservative state (in terms of state laws), where it is tough on offenders who use guns, sex offenders, and drug offenders.  However, the state appears to be more liberal in terms offenses that derive from racial profiling.  These types of (in)actions demonstrate the priorities of the state.

The Dream Defenders’ final issue is the school-to-prison pipeline.  This is an unfortunate reality, not only in the state of Florida, but across the entire country.  In many of the public schools, especially those in socially/economically disadvantaged areas, there are several policies that increase the likelihood of kids going from school to “prison,” or some aspect of the juvenile/criminal justice system.  For instance, zero tolerance policies allow for no discretion in sanctions when policies are violated.  Therefore, context and understanding are irrelevant.  These policies result in kids being suspended or expelled, which increases the likelihood of criminal justice contact.  Other school districts have programs where school infractions are downloaded and sent to local policies stations, allowing youth to have a record with law enforcement.

While some may feel the Dream Defenders are being unrealistic in their requests to the Governor, the fact is that there is a reasonable, logical, and empirical foundation for each request.  SYG, racial profiling, and the school-to-prison pipeline are all relevant issues in the state of Florida and beyond.  The criminal justice system is drastically impacted by all of these issues.  When many people think of racial profiling, they think of Black and Brown people being profiled.  When many people think of the school-to-prison pipeline (regardless of whether they agree with the term), they think of Black and Brown people.  When people think of SYG, it now has the face of Trayvon Martin, given the shooting and subsequent not-guilty verdict.  Given that these issues have a Black or Brown “face,” does it make you wonder why they are not getting the state’s attention?

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