At just past 12 p.m. on Thursday, March 17, Callaghan Smith, Marcus Garcia and Brenden Harlan walked out into the sun to stand back-to-back in Hunsaker Plaza. They were dressed in black with duct-tape covering their mouths, and printed on each silver strip was “S2PP.” Next to them stood a colourful notice board peppered with discriminating facts regarding the cause of the demonstration, the “school to prison pipeline.” Wandering around the plaza were other volunteers explaining the demonstration to curious onlookers.
The demonstration was planned with support from RYG (Rangi Ya Giza), a social justice brotherhood at the University, and the R.E.A.C.H. program, a partnership between the San Bernardino Probation Department, San Bernardino County Schools, the Race and Ethnic Studies Department and Office of Community Service Learning, that aims to provide care and understanding to kids personally affected by the pipeline who are now locked up in juvenile halls.
The school to prison pipeline refers to a pattern of an increasing number of students, overwhelmingly from minority backgrounds, falling into the criminal justice system due to new practices at educational institutions across the United States, such as zero tolerance policies and the increased presence of law enforcement on high school campuses. The pipeline also refers not only to kids going to prison, but also to the increased rate of suspensions and expulsions.
“Every time a student gets suspended, their chances of getting suspended again – and of getting expelled, dropping out, entering prison––is raised,” said Smith, a University of Redlands senior and the organizer of this demonstration. “So there is this complete policy failure, in terms of zero tolerance policies within schools and in terms of school and law enforcement response, because a lot of our nation’s youth are now entering high risk categories and entering juvenile hall (…) for many things that before the 90s and 2000s may have just gotten you sent to the principal’s office.”
The two other men in the demonstration, sophomores Marcus Garcia and Brenden Harlan, also noted that it is often not only a policy failure, but also a problem of morale and lack of opportunities such as tutoring services, college and career guidance, etc.. This further de-motivates students who are already in a disadvantaged position.
“It’s the little things that run through the pipeline, like the lack of enthusiasm, like that there are teachers telling kids they’re gonna go to college and there are teachers telling kids they’re gonna go to jail,” Garcia pointed out. “It’s a bad influence.”
The purpose of the demonstration was to make people aware of the existence of the school to prison pipeline, and the demonstrators encouraged others to continue spreading the word and telling others about the problem.
“This is an issue that is not on many people’s radars, it’s a more bold issue, an issue that people don’t usually wanna touch (…) and so our thing is basically just to put this on people’s radar,” Smith said.
It certainly had the intended effect, as many people stopped on their way to and from lunch to observe the three duct-taped men, read the board and learn something new. Sophomore Kaylah Spangler said she felt that demonstrations like this effectively spread awareness.
“I didn’t know it was a big deal and now I do, and I think it’s really sad,” Spangler said. “I think it’s kinda crazy that that’s what happens, like I didn’t know it was that intense or that that was prominent.”
Other students remarked that although they knew of its existence, mostly in an academic context, they hadn’t really been confronted with the fact that this hits so close to home and affects people they actually know.
“Seeing faces that you know makes your realize the reality of the situation,” remarked senior Maya Joshua.
Sophomore Afari La-Anyane commented that one of the reasons he actually stopped to see what was going on was the fact that he was friends with one of the protestors.
“I was definitely interested. I know one of the guys doing it, so I thought, why is Brenden just standing there, in a circle? So I was immediately drawn and started reading [the sign],” La-Anyane said.
When asked what inspired students and readers could do to help and get involved, Garcia advocated both reaching out to himself, Smith and Harlan, going back into their own communities and helping out, and further spreading awareness.
“Growing up I had a lot of family and friends that were very influenced by the school to prison pipeline, and now they’re all locked up and some of them aren’t gonna come out,” Garcia said. “So it’s very much a real deal, and so going back to your own communities, somewhere you have a big influence and connection with, it’s a lot easier to do that than try to connect with a community you’re unfamiliar with.”
[Images courtesy of Madison Ryan, Redlands Bulldog photographer]