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Daily Journal
     June 23, 2020      #47-175 KDJ
 

Police talk touches on racial profiling, equity in

By Stephanie Markham
smarkham@daily-journal.com


KANKAKEE — Teachers shared concerns about the racial profiling that many of their students face in and out of school during a talk about policing in schools Thursday.

Kankakee Deputy Police Chief Lt. Willie Hunt addressed a small, socially distanced audience of teachers in the Kankakee High School auditorium about the roles of school resource officers in schools.

“I think, through those relationships [between officers and schools] comes an understanding of the kids and what they really need in the community, because the school is just a small snippet of the community,” Hunt said. “What happens in the community also happens in the school, so if we can fix the problem in the community, we can fix the problem in the school.”

The talk evolved into a back-and-forth discussion among teachers and administrators who touched on topics of equity and racial profiling in schools and the impact George Floyd’s death and subsequent protests may have on young people of color.

Trent Wills, a recent Momence High School graduate, answered questions about his experience with racial profiling as an black male. He said that black men are often taught to stay strong and not show any signs of weakness, which contributes to society’s fear of black men.

“You can’t be soft, or you’re displayed as weak. As a black male, I don’t think we can go back to being weak,” Wills said. “We’ve been pushed around all the time, but as soon as we appear to be weak, that’s when the enemy or the oppressor or the antagonist wants to beat you up, mentally or physically.”

Kankakee Junior High Principal George Harris shared his experience of teaching his sons, ages 17 and 21, about certain survival skills when it comes to dealing with police.

“We teach them not just how to drive, but also small things like, ‘I don’t want you wearing a durag while you drive,’ or ‘Don’t have more than one or two guys in the car with you …’” Harris said. “I also think about what we are subconsciously informing them of, that it’s not an even playing field; you have to take these extra precautions so we can navigate this system. It’s just different [for black males].”

Harris also said that a system of checks and balances for teachers and administrators is important when it comes to minimizing the unfair profiling of students in schools. For example, using a student’s past disciplinary history that doesn’t pertain to the present incident or judging them based on their sibling/ family background is a form of profiling, he said.

“You don’t have to strong-arm your colleague, but you should point out to that colleague when something is being done unfairly or when some form of profiling takes place, because we do it almost subconsciously,” Harris said.

Superintendent Genevra Walters said teachers should also try to calmly and inconspicuously pull their colleagues away if they are escalating rather than de-escalating a situation with a student.

Walters said teachers and administrators need to have an ongoing dialogue about issues of equity in the schools, stressing that small group settings are beneficial for these types of discussions. She said that facilitating conversations about equity is one of the things that “can’t go wrong” for the district.

“When you’re talking about equity issues and people start attacking each other because of what they believe, that is when the barriers don’t come down,” she said.

Walters said the district has assigned three additional staff to its equity team dedicated to the issues of African American male students, and it needs to do the same for Latino student issues.

“What I think equity is, is everyone gets what they need,” she said. “You don’t take things away and give it to other people.”

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Stephanie Markham
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