The Youth Justice Project (YJP) envisions a future in which young people of color attend schools that lift them up, not pat them down; live in communities that follow their lead, not suppress their voice; and are served by governments that invest in their future, not their incarceration. We believe in a world where no child is criminalized and all Black and Brown youth receive the education and support necessary to thrive in their full dignity.
We believe all youth:
- Possess value, potential, and unique strengths and needs;
- Are fundamentally different from adults, and should be treated as such;
- Are rights-bearing persons who should be meaningfully involved and heard in matters affecting them;
- Deserve to be free of racism, classism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination;
- Deserve supports and services necessary to be healthy, well-educated, safe, and economically secure;
- Deserve systems and communities that are warm, welcoming, loving, caring, and safe;
- Deserve laws, policies, and practices impacting them to be based on research, data, and principles of cooperation and positive youth development, not based on profit, competition, and control;
- Deserve a high-quality education that enables them to both develop skills and knowledge and become critical, courageous, creative thinkers in a self-governing democracy; and
- Should be protected and rehabilitated when they encounter the juvenile and criminal systems.
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Students, parents and community members are united in the call to remove all school resource officers (SROs) from Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) schools. Instead of policing students, WCPSS must fully implement a Peacebuilder Program that employs community “Peacebuilders” in every school to build positive relationships with students, implement restorative practices and peacefully address interpersonal conflicts.
For years, students and parents have demanded an end to the WCPSS’s harmful and discriminatory school policing practices. In 2014, students and advocates filed a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice against WCPSS and multiple local law enforcement agencies. The complaint highlighted years of discrimination and criminalization of Black students for minor, age-appropriate behavior and of students with disabilities for actions associated with their disability. In 2018, WCPSS entered into a voluntary agreement with the Office of Civil Rights, agreeing to revise discipline policies, expand restorative practices and reduce unnecessary referrals to law enforcement. However, two years later, the district continues to criminalize Black students at alarmingly disproportionate rates.
Following the brutal murder of George Floyd and Raleigh Police Department’s violent response to peaceful protestors, students and parents have renewed their demand for justice and police-free schools. The same officers terrorizing peaceful protestors are disproportionately targeting, arresting and criminalizing Black and Brown students in WCPSS schools. WCPSS must follow the lead of courageous school boards throughout the county by removing police from schools and investing in alternatives to policing that create supportive and nurturing environments for all students.
Invest in Youth of Color and Divest from Their Criminalization and Incarceration
Municipal and school board budgets are moral documents that should reflect the interests of those most impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline and demonstrate a commitment to addressing needs of Black and Brown communities. To effectively end the school-to-prison pipeline, municipalities and school districts must divest from school policing and youth criminalization while investing in the overall wellbeing of youth of color. This includes investments in:
· Community schools that include small class sizes, culturally relevant curriculum and holistic supports for students and their families;
· School-wide, fully-staffed restorative justice programs and positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS); and
· School social workers, health professionals and counselors with caseloads small enough to provide excellent care to every students in need.
Decriminalize Student Behavior
School policing and student criminalization are linked to a long history of racial oppression, extending the arms of jim crow into modern classrooms. In addition to ending exclusionary discipline practices that remove students from their learning environment, we must eliminate laws and policies that criminalize students for schoolyard behaviors. This includes statutes that make it a crime to disturb school, citations that often require the payment of fines and fees and policies that provide school police officers with the discretion to address discipline matters as crimes. Doing so will drastically decrease the number of Black and Brown youth funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline and help create positive school climates for all students.
Remove Law Enforcement from Schools
Black and Brown students disproportionately interact with metal detectors, school resource officers, surveillance cameras and random drug searches as a routine part of their school day. Yet there is no research to suggest that increasing law enforcement and surveillance in schools makes students safer. In fact, the increased presence of police officers in schools has been linked to increases in school-based arrests for minor behaviors and negative impacts on school climate.
School districts and local law enforcement agencies must ensure that police officers are only called into schools as an instrument of last resort and that schools are prohibited from sharing student information with local law enforcement agencies and ICE. This can be achieved through policies eliminate the regular presence of police officers on campus and place limits on requests for police assistance.
Create Mechanisms for Student and Parent Decision-Making Authority and Oversight
In order to hold school districts and law enforcement agencies accountable for their role in ending the school-to-prison pipeline, we must create mechanisms that provide the communities who are most affected by the school-to-prison pipeline with the ability to make policy decisions and hold government officials accountable. This includes the ability to:
· Impact annual school budgets;
· Access and review school discipline and policing data disaggregated by race, gender, offense, age and school;
· Create and revise school policies;
· Access to user-friendly school complaint systems without the threat of retaliation or being targeted by school officials or law enforcement; and
· Community-based review of complaints against school officials or school police that maintain student confidentiality.
Youth Steering Committee members learn the necessary skills for advancing change in their own community and become youth leaders in the fight for social justice. Members meet and discuss issues relating to education, the school-to-prison pipeline, and criminal justice with major stakeholders in Durham, including elected officials, grassroots organizers, and community activists.
Thank you to all the 2020 applicants! Youth Steering Committee meetings will begin in September.
The Youth Justice Project partnered with the Wake County Black Student Coalition, Education Justice Alliance, and the ACLU of North Carolina to release infographics to educate and inspire people to action. Learn about policing in Wake County Public Schools and join our #CounselorsNotCops movement by sharing these infographics with Wake County school board members.
Racial Equity Report Cards
Racial Equity Report Cards use public data to provide a snapshot of a community’s school-to-prison pipeline, including any racial disproportionalities that exist in the pipeline. There is a Report Card for each of the state’s 115 school districts and one for the state as a whole.
Know Your Rights
YJP has produced a wallet “Know Your Rights” card that outlines 1) an individual’s rights when interacting with law enforcement; 2) general tips for interacting with law enforcement; and 3) what to do if an officer violates your rights. We encourage you to print a card for yourself and distribute cards to any youth you work with or know.