There’s a George Floyd in every school where Black children learn. Black children are screamed at, berated, surveilled and searched in schools. Black children are slammed and dragged, kicked and prodded in classrooms. Black children are denied an education and disrespected because of their culture. Black children are groomed for containment. We’ve got children walking on tape with hands over their mouths like prisoners in training.
It’s worthwhile, then, to go to an expert on the environment in which Black children learn: Rising eighth grader Amir Lumumba. (Full disclosure: Amir is Zakiya’s son.)
Here’s my interview with Amir.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m 12 years old and will turn 13 in August. I’ve attended school in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland since fifth grade. Before that we lived in Dayton, Ohio.
Is your school diverse?
Yes, it’s very diverse. About 10% of kids are Asian or White, and the rest are pretty much divided between Black students and Hispanic students.
Do you feel safe there?
Yes, I feel safe, especially when I’m in the classroom with my teachers and the other students. But my friends and I have had encounters with the security guards.
Can you give me an example?
One of my closest friends was doing an art project and he accidentally got some paint on another kid’s project. He apologized but the teacher called the security guards and they took him to the main office in handcuffs.
Was this friend someone who had frequent discipline problems?
No, not at all. That’s just the way it is.
How do you mean?
I mean, personally, it wasn’t new to me because these kinds of things have happened before. When we’re in the hallways there’s this constant feeling of looking over your shoulder. I am always worried that I or someone else will get in trouble for a stupid reason, like what happened to my friend in his art class.
Do you feel that Black students are disciplined differently than other students?
It’s really Black and Hispanic students who get treated differently compared to the White and Asian students. I don’t know why, but we get harsher punishments. Last year I got in a fight with another kid and I had an in-school suspension for three days. Another kid who’s Asian got into a fight and he just got a talking-to and went back to class.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about defunding the police or taking security guards out of schools. What do you think of that?
I don’t think we should have security guards in schools. We’ve had them for a long time and they’re not making a difference. Nothing has changed.
What should we do instead?
We could have counselors or people with special training who could talk to students and get them to resolve their problems instead of getting suspended for three or four days. Usually when there’s a fight there is a big crowd. Counselors could break up the fight and mediate among the kids. Someone like my uncle would be great, someone of our ethnicity who knows why this sort of thing happens, someone who will talk to them and help them.
What do you say to people who feel that schools would be unsafe without police or security guards around?
Going back to your friend in his art class, why do you think the teacher felt she had to call security guards for such a minor incident?
It was such an over-reaction! But maybe the teacher felt she didn’t have enough authority to make them stop. Maybe she felt she didn’t have control over the classroom.
What about the administrators in your school?
Oh, I don’t think the principal or the people in the office know. If they do, they aren’t doing anything directly to address this. Everything stays the same.
Photo courtesy of the author.
Laura Waters writes about New Jersey and New York education policy and politics. As the daughter of New York City educators and parent of a son with special needs, she writes frequently about the need to listen to families and ensure access to good public school options for all. She is based in New Jersey, where she and her husband have raised four children. She recently finished serving 12 years ...