By Jayden Eden
I still remember the cool air of a spring afternoon. In a small apartment building, I sat in my brown chair with a white desk doing homework when my dad burst into the door. I’ll never forget the day the first time I saw my dad cry and the first time in life when the bubble of protection and immunity to the cruel realities of the outside world popped into mine in the 4th grade. Trayvon Martin was dead, killed by a man who would eventually be deemed not-guilty, and I felt the color of my skin change in its meaning. Transforming from just a color to what felt like an essential difference between me and my white peers, knowing I was judged as a human being before anyone spoke to me: a feeling and a reality still felt and experienced by myself and my Black friends till this day.
I am 17 now and although I haven’t felt the worst of what racism has to offer in this country like Martin did at his age, I can still say without a doubt nothing has changed for us since 2012. The constant profiling and killing of Black Americans in this country has skyrocketed and police brutality being filmed instead of taken at face value is opening the eyes of people across the globe. Despite mainstream America’s attempts at portraying the fight for racial equality as settled, we are fighting the same battles in the same war for equality, even now, as Reverend King.
The worst news seems to come in spades during the times when you least expect it and for us in the African-American community it came in the back-to-back deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor respectively: deaths in which the system proves its crude and spectacular failure in protecting the Black community. In the wake of these deaths, we have seen protests from Washington state to Korea, however, in the midst of this global conversation about police brutality which presupposes guilt onto Black people, we must not allow our city to be left out of this reckoning. South Pasadena is a place where we vote blue, we stick signs in our lawns that proudly proclaim that Black lives matter, but South Pas is a tale of two cities.
In one, students, who are mostly white and Asian, gather in Advanced Placement or honors classes without interruption. While, in the secondary is welcomed to interference, as the regular classes, filled disproportionately with our Latinx and Black students, are taken outside to let police officers and their four legged partner search and sniff for something that isn’t there. Even going as far as opening parts of bags previously left unopened, a thin line of trust casually overstepped routinely every few months. Not only is the efficacy of drug dogs under fierce debate as some detection dogs have a false positive rate of over 50 percent, the presence of these detection dogs in schools is not effective in lowering the amount of students who are using illicit substances.
I am a rising high school senior at South Pasadena High School, and when talking about the abundant memories I have in this district, I can’t help but remember these random searches and the specific classes I got them in. For instance, out of the entirety of my junior year I can recall several periods in which my regular classes had been searched with the pawed animal using its keen sense of smell to complete the officers tasks in our class times. However, not at any point could I recall during the entire year of AP United States History that we’d been taken and formally searched. Even in one of my honors classes, I had only seen the drug dog come out and sniff out bags and school items. A surprising revelation, given that I am one of two
African Americans enrolled and taking each class. However, a disproportionate amount of times had the same visits occurred when most of my Black friends had the same class and class period as me. This form of racial profiling on the institutional level needs to end and as a member of the South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform, we are calling for the South Pasadena Unified School District to end its relationship with the Police Department’s drug sniffing K-9 units.
It seems to me that drug dog searches were never meant to deal with the public health crisis of America’s addiction epidemic, but to humiliate and criminalize my Black and Brown peers. The truth of the matter is simple though, by repeatedly targeting Black and Brown students on the false pretense that they may carry drugs, it effectively enables the idea that they are meant to be kept under a close watch: from their movements at school to their very existence. This manufactured idea becomes weaponized during harmful and fatal conflicts with law enforcement.
In a recent conversation between an SPUSD staff member and the South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform confirmed an open secret for students familiar with the drug dog searches. The classes chosen to be searched are not random. A list of students suspected for holding drugs is kept and then their classes are targeted. Guilt is then assumed on the part of these students, who are too often part of our low income and/or minority communities. If SPUSD wants to be serious about treating Black and Latinx students as equals in our own classrooms, it is long past time to get rid of this discriminatory practice that we know doesn’t work. Instead, it simply starts the criminalization of young kids of color in middle school.
The sad truth however is that hashtags die out. Names become forgotten and the world may move on. However, in the end, as the Reverend Martin Luther King reminded us, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It is not enough to reactively respond to instances of overt racism and police brutality against our Black siblings, we must deal with the roots of anti-Blackness, even in our schools.