Can we get into this conversation about how school districts, teachers unions and police unions are triplets? Because they all have the exact same DNA when it comes to their complicity in the criminalization and abuse of Black people and upholding systems of oppression.
Here’s how I got here.
During the opening statements of the Derek Chauvin trial, the prosecution played the cellphone footage of the brutal, heartbreaking and traumatic murder of George Floyd. What stood out again was how the other officers fell back and allowed another Black man to be murdered by their brethren. Not one cop intervened or seemed to have any visible regard for the life of George Floyd. It reminded me of how Black kids are assaulted and mistreated in schools all around the country without protection, intervention or justice.
So not only do we need to save our kids from the Derek Chauvins in the public education system whose knees stifle their self-actualization through deprivation of essentials, bias and all-out racism, but we also need to protect them from and oust the bystanders like Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng. These three symbolize teachers unions and school districts that continuously turn a blind eye to the harm done to students and in my mind, they’re just as guilty as the person(s) that committed the offense.
The Bystanders in Our Schools
The very sad reality is, teachers and administrators have been given passes and protections to abuse our kids for ages. The stories we know about are just the ones who have gotten caught— similar to how we know Black people have been brutalized by police for generations but social media and smartphones have made it easier to catch them in the crime.
And while some of these predators and abusers are fired or put on leave, it doesn’t necessarily stop them from taking their terrors elsewhere. We can thank a lack of accountability, poorly designed policies and practices in hiring and all-out indifference for students’ safety and well-being for also helping to destroy lives.
One example of this lies in the 2018 exposé, “Betrayed”, an investigation on rampant sexual abuse in Chicago Public Schools. In this reporting, the district was put on blast for its mishandling of hundreds of cases of student sexual assault committed by teachers, staff and other students over the course of 10 years.
When investigators reached out to the Chicago Teachers Union for commentary and cooperation, they were MIA. But when everything came out publicly, that’s when CTU President, Jesse Sharkey, was all of a sudden “horrified” and said “protecting students was a top priority,” calling for an independent task force after months of silence. By the way, silence does indeed equal consent or acceptance and is dangerous, fam.
Regardless of what their objections and deflections were, it’s completely ridiculous to lobby against a policy that protects youth from being preyed on by adults. But hey, just another instance in which the unions are protecting their money—I mean, members.
When one of the parents first complained to the principal and administration, her concerns went unaddressed, allowing the teacher to continue the abuse.
And I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count the number of times Black kids have been victims of verbal degradation, physical humiliation and assault this year alone—including the violation of one of my near and dear activist sisters, Chioma Oruh. Just last week her son with special needs had the police called on him for removing his face mask on the school bus.
Now for my usual disclaimer, this isn't an attack on individual teachers because there are many that uphold the integrity of their positions every day. But, this is a calling out of the organized political factions posing as public servants that serve as gatekeepers to white supremacy.
Because these can’t be the same unions calling for the police to be defunded when they’re mirroring the same behaviors and attitudes. These can’t be the same people telling our kids to say something if they see something when they fail in their roles as mandated reporters. And these absolutely cannot be the same groups hollering “Black lives matter” when they’re failing to provide our kids with safe spaces in their schools and communities.
So what we’re not going to do is continue making excuses for anyone or any group by saying they’re just doing their jobs. As I said earlier, anyone who stands by and allows, defends, ignores or delays justice for abused students is just as guilty and should be thrown right under the jail with the abuser.
Going forward, we have to be brave enough to expose those and tell the truth about anybody or anything that contributes to the harm and trauma of young lives. We have to call out hypocrisy. And we have to be resolute in protecting our kids, whether that be from police, teachers, administrators or the systems that protect them.
Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and ...