Dominion of New York

Social Justice

August 15, 2012

The Punishment for Black Students Who Write on Desks — Jail

More articles by »
Written by: Kelly Virella

NYPD make an arrest. Photo courtesy of Flick/Diacritical


ften when we hear that a black child has been arrested for throwing a tantrum in school, that school is in the South. In fact, Florida seems to love to produce those types of stories. But it’s probably happening in New York City a lot more than you think.  That’s one of the most disturbing conclusions in a new report released yesterday by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the Dignity in Schools Campaign-NY about the racial disparities in arrest rates in NYC schools.

The report analyzes arrests made by NYPD School Safety Division personnel during the 2011-12 school year, using data from the NYPD. The data does not provide a narrative account of each incident, so NYCLU can’t determine exactly how often students who are arrested could just as easily have received in-school detention. But they know something fishy is going on inside the schools for three reasons.

  1. “Disorderly conduct charges, a catchall category that can encompass all kinds of typical misbehavior, accounted for 64 percent of all summonses issued over the year, which indicates that NYPD officers are getting involved in non-criminal disciplinary incidents in schools,” a NYCLU press release says. Disorderly conduct includes things like writing on desks and engaging in horseplay, the press release says.
  2. Sixty-three percent of arrests were of black students. And 32 percent were Latino.
  3. “There are more than 5,100 police personnel in our schools, compared to approximately 3,000 guidance counselors and 1,500 social workers,” a NYCLU press release says.

Even if you are a conservative and want to give the police the benefit of the doubt, you should learn about how other school systems are handling dubious disorderly conduct arrests, before you dismiss NYCLU’s report. The press release says:

Other school systems in the country have limited the practice of arresting students for minor misconduct like disorderly conduct and banned outright the arrest of elementary-aged students for misdemeanors. In Clayton County, Georgia, these limitations on school police, along with supports for alternative programs, have resulted in an 87 percent decrease in fights and a 20 percent increase in graduation rates since 2004.


About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


A student at Ocean Hill Collegiate Middle School. Photo by Jessica Campbell
The outdoor plaza at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of OlivierJD.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Renato Ganoza

Is the NAACP’s New Education Initiative Unfair to Asian-Americans?