Ample news stories from across the country have reported on recent attacks perpetrated by young Black assailants, some resulting in death. This behavior didn’t manifest itself overnight. It was developed by a pipeline, starting at home, that fails Black children.
For example, on June 24 at approximately 2:30 a.m., a group of Black kids brutally attacked 73-year-old James Lambert, a Black man, in Philadelphia. He died a day later due to the beating and now, two of the seven assailants, brothers 10 and 14, have turned themselves in to authorities.
And, in an example this month of pee wee violence, Minneapolis police officers executing a search warrant for a murder suspect were physically accosted by a group of rogue Black toddlers. The incident was caught on camera where the youngsters can be heard shouting profanities and racial epithets at the Black officers such as “shut up, b——,” “shut the f—- up,” and “Oreo head.” The latter term is slang used against Black people who are accused of acting or thinking stereotypically “white,” much like the plays on “Uncle Tom” used against Sen. Tim Scott and Justice Clarence Thomas that have trended on Twitter.
Government has a role in fixing this trend — largely, through proper law enforcement — yet it is instead making things worse.
Many on the political left have decried the disproportionate incarceration of especially Black men as an issue primarily tied to earlier disproportionately harsher discipline while in grade school — the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.” The cause, they continue, for racial gaps in disciplinary outcomes are driven by racism — intentional and unintentional. The answer, they concluded in the Obama administration, was to require schools to reduce the amount of discipline they dole out — especially to minority students.
There are reports that the Biden administration is seeking to revive this requirement that was rescinded during the Trump administration. It shouldn’t. It was never a good idea, but in our current age of skyrocketing crime because of defunded and depopulated police departments and soft-on-crime prosecutors, and a mass exodus of teachers for, among other things, a rise in student misbehavior, this idea couldn’t be revived at a worse time.
If there is a pipeline to prison disproportionately affecting Black children, going soft on their misbehavior is a part of it, and home life is where it begins.
I grew up in poor, all-Black, southern communities and witnessed behavior like that of the toddlers in Minnesota. The reason behind it wasn’t structural racism or white supremacy. Instead, it was because almost no one — including my siblings and me — had a father present in the home or a responsible male role model in their lives to provide guidance and discipline.
As our mothers, or other female caregivers, worked to provide — sometimes two or three jobs — we latchkey children ran the streets, often with older irresponsible males. We did bad things because we were taught it was cool, we were encouraged by the group and mob mentality, and we simply wanted things we couldn’t get legitimately. So long as we could get away with it, we had few qualms.
Authority figures like cops, whose job it was to prevent our activities, were seen as the enemy. Indeed, they — in our minds — were responsible for incarcerating our fathers and other male loved ones in and out of our lives. It hardly crossed our minds that those individuals might just bear some responsibility for their own predicaments. The idea that police were the boogeyman of Black people was also pushed into and repeated by members of our community.
Many with whom I grew up never received appropriate correction before graduating to more serious criminal activity and entering the justice system. I remember when, because of teacher intervention, I became one of the lucky ones.
My second-grade teacher, Ms. McCleod, gave away customized pencils as rewards for good behavior and academic achievement. I coveted them and she caught me red-handed one day trying to steal them.
She didn’t take it easy on me. I was disciplined like any other student would be, regardless of race. I was separated as a distraction to the learning environment and for the sake of other students who cared to learn. Importantly, she also took a greater interest in me. She demanded I do better with my behavior and my studies. Which I did.
Later that year I was tested for and passed the entrance examinations for “gifted classes” — courses designed for students with high academic aptitude. Another great intervention and opportunity for bright children of any background to get increased academic attention that government and progressive elites seem adamant about gutting for the sake of “equity.” I credit the disciplinary intervention and dedication of Ms. McCleod as one of the turning points in my life that led me to a better place.
I wasn’t blessed with a father in my life, as greater than 70% of Black children similarly face today, but the pipeline has many points of contact. I see my young self in the painful faces of those Minnesota babies. There’s still a chance to save them.
• Devon Westhill is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.