Prison Lobbies Force Rural White Communities, And Their Electors, To Choose Between Policies That Destroy Black Lives, Or Economic Decline.
Starting, January 1st, 2017, any student, at any grade, can be charged with a felony, for causing “emotional distress” to anyone. That means, if I feel intimidated by you sitting in my classroom, you’re getting arrested.
Adult men of color - and teenagers, and children - have lost their lives, because of “emotional distress” of others - aka “I feared for my life.”
Now, Missouri lawmakers have quintessentially legitimized that same racial prejudice that leads to police and extrajudicial violence. in our schools. It’s to the point, that it’ll not only send a juvenile to jail, but very likely give them a criminal record in a state that doesn’t ban the box, for seeking employment for private businesses, or housing discrimination - for kids.
You know, the little pre-adults who won’t fully develop their brains before the age of 25? Even the Missouri School Board Association’s Attorney, Kelli Hopkins, came forward to state her fears that the law could potentially sends kid to jail, just for name-calling.
See, in the state of Missouri, schoolyard bullying is considered a form of criminal harassment, which by law must be reported to local police.
While any incident where a student “knowingly causes physical injury to another person” is considered 3rd degree assault, which is now a felony.
What’s troubling is that in the law itself there is no specificity in how to determine if a student knowingly hurts someone, nor what constitutes physical injury, or what constitutes sufficient proof that the student actually did it in the first place.
And unfortunately, there is a depressingly large amount of LGBT students have to use self-defense when attending school, because this state pretty much looks the other way when it comes to bullying gay students.
And as the executive director of the Missouri ACLU, Jeffrey Mittman, correctly points out: the law doesn’t even offer exceptions in cases of self-defense.
And the school staff is left to interpret everything.
By the way, this is an example of the School to Prison Pipeline. For those who don’t know, it’s a metaphor used to describe “the increasing patterns of contact students have with the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems as a result of practices like: zero tolerance policies and the use of police in schools, or as Missouri school districts know them: Security Resource Officers. Obvious euphemism is obvious.
For the record, this law is meant to combat bullying. However, the reason a lot of Black Missourians and allies are upset about this, is that the law will not be equally applied to everyone.
The law specifically gives the authority to the schools districts to decide how they will interpret the law.
Missouri is notorious for large disparities in suspension rates between Black and White students in the same school for the same offenses.
It’s also, a state where predominantly black school districts are overwhelmingly more punitive to their students than predominantly white one for the same offenses.
Case in point:
Two School Districts, Hazelwood and Ferguson-Florissant,(that’s where I’m staying right now actually…) have come forward to say they will interpret this law to mean any student, at any age, who gets in a fight can be charged with a felony.”
The cruel irony is that parents and teachers alike have been advocating for the exact opposite thing.
So why are they doing this? Well, in a nutshell: Missouri has a class-and-racially-motivated prison-industrial complex.
Missouri doesn’t have the most prisoners per capita in the country. That honor belongs to Louisiana and Alaska. What Missouri does have, are entire districts that depend on the jobs and revenue generated by our 22 state-run prisons. That’s not including the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. Springfield’s also the district of state Representative Elijah Haahr, who is one of the law’s public supporters.
And look, it’s not just the small towns who depend on this system. St. Louis is home to quite a few companies that exist just to provide services to these prisons.
All of this is costing Missouri A LOT of money: $680.5 million. That’s 25.9% more than our Department of Corrections annual Budget of $503.9 million. That cost is determined by the size of our prison population. Each inmate costs the state $22,350 a year.
Hmph..$22,350 a year. That’s more than the average in-state tuition of $15,511 at any of Missouri’s state colleges or universities.
That’s a little less than the average salary of a Missouri correctional officer $29,300 - unless you work in Springfield.
And look, I get it. You can’t just shut down these prisons, and leave all of these people involved in the industry unemployed.
Like I said before, these prisons are the main employer in a lot of these districts.
But here’s the thing. These prisons are paid by the state of Missouri, meaning Missouri lawmakers can decide to invest in other ways that offer employment to people in those same districts. They can invest in infrastructure projects, rather than over-invest in a prison system that profits off practices that disproportionately imprison people of color, and the poor.
When Liberals criticize the War on Drugs, or any other “Tough on Crime” measures, like Broken Windows - they aren’t criticizing “Law & Order.” They’re not critical of safety.
They’re critical of how these practices are not enforced equally among everyone.
That’s what we’re seeing today in this law.
And if the population demographic of Missouri's prisons tells us anything, it’s that we’re simply looking at another reinvention of the Southern Strategy. They’re just turning poor and working class Whites against their Black neighbors for economic gain.
And that gets us nowhere, wasting millions of our own taxpayer dollars on companies that pressure our electors to fearmonger us into agreeing to spend more on policies that destroy our communities, rather than rebuild them.
by Paul A Notice II