#BlackGirlsMatter: When Girls of Color Are Policed Out of School

Last year, 12-year-old Mikia Hutchings was faced with expulsion from her Georgia middle school and possible felony charges by the local sheriff’s department.

Her crime: writing the word “hi” on a locker room wall.

Her white friend graffiti’d even more words on the wall, yet the school handled their punishments quite differently. Mikia’s friend paid $100 in fines to the school and was suspended for a few days, but since Mikia’s grandmother couldn’t afford to pay the fine, the girl had to attend a disciplinary hearing with school administrators, spend a summer on probation and complete 16 hours of community service.

Her family has now filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, citing a violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Stories like Mikia’s are not uncommon.

A pioneering study just released by the African American Policy Forum and Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Policy Studies shows that, when it comes to doling out punishments, school administrations are way harder on Black girls than their white counterparts. Titled Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected [pdf], the study delves into the blatant racial disparities that result in Black girls being more likely to fall behind in their education.

Black feminist law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, the lead author of the study, said in a statement:

As public concern mounts for the needs of men and boys of color through initiatives like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper, we must challenge the assumption that the lives of girls and women—who are often left out of the national conversation—are not also at risk.

The study reveals many alarming statistics on how overpolicing and “zero-tolerance” policies lead to girls of color dropping out, going into low-wage work and, in some cases, ending up incarcerated.

As the chart above shows, Black girls are suspended at a rate six times that of white girls (Black boys are suspended three times more than white boys). The gap becomes even wider in the public school systems of major cities: In New York, Black girls are suspended at 10 times the rate of white girls, while in Boston they’re suspended 11 times more. When it comes to expulsion, Black girls in New York were expelled 53 times more than white girls and in Boston, 10 times more.

In the study, young girls of color often saw their zero-tolerance schools as “chaotic environments in which discipline is prioritized over educational attainment.” They were more likely to become detached from their education and less likely to earn a high school diploma.

In conjunction with the release of the study, the AAPF hosted a webinar on the criminalization of girls of color that had #BlackGirlsMatter and #WhyWeCantWait trending on social media Wednesday.

In their recommendations, the study’s authors address the dearth of research and advocacy surrounding Black girls, and they urge schools to question punitive policies that ultimately lead to the detriment of Black girls, their families and their communities. Policies should let Black girls know that they belong in school, not out of it.

 Photos courtesy of the Black Girls Matter press kit


Associate editor of Ms. magazine