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Decarceration Begins With School Discipline Reform []


By Anthony Conwright, Illustration: Alex Trott, Learning For Justice, January 2023

If the U.S. education system is to become equitable, its reproduction of historical oppression must be eliminated. The current system—born of the same DNA as a country that rendered the humanity of Black people invalid—is intertwined in a tradition that had the purpose of moving Black people into enslavement through incarceration. No structure in the U.S. educational system is immune to the nation’s legacy as an anti-Black, enslaver country, and that legacy is present in harsh discipline practices that disproportionally affect Black, Indigenous and other youth of color.

Criminalizing Blackness Has its Roots in Enslavement

The mechanisms to criminalize Black people have a history of enforcement that seeks compliance from all citizens. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, for example, forced Northerners to view enslaved people who escaped as criminals and held that “all good citizens are hereby commanded to aid and assist in the prompt and efficient execution of this law.” The law attempted to compel everyone to participate in the capture of fugitives from slavery or face punishment if they aided their escape. And although there was resistance to these laws, as Abraham Lincoln said in his 1855 letter to Joshua Speed, “Northern people do crucify their feelings in order to maintain their loyalty to the Constitution and the Union.”

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