Hitting the Gas on the School to Prison Pipeline: Racist Police in Springfield

Massachusetts is the hotbed of resistance to the Trump administration and home to the largest disapproval in the country based on the President’s actions on immigration, women rights and healthcare.

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Yet the state also has the distinction of having one the deepest racial economic divides in country on nearly every metric.

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There is no more of illustrative example of that racial inequality than Springfield. A city of 150,000 people, the majority of whom are people of color, which has become the centerpiece to glaring racial inequality that plagues the bluest state in the country.

Springfield is the 3rd largest city in Massachusetts, and the 4th largest city in New England. It serves as a crossroads of Western New England, being next door to Connecticut, New Hampshire and a few hours from New York. It is the city that brought the world Indian motorcycles, invented basketball and home of Doctor Seuss.

Despite its history as an economic powerhouse at the turn of the 20th, the city is the forgotten child of the Commonwealth. It serves as a painful reminder of economic investments of the long-ago New Deal era that allowed certain industrial towns to flourish — and failures of those policies to reach people of color.

People of color who live in Springfield have the lowest life expectancy in the state, and live 10 years shorter than their counterparts in the neighboring suburbs. It is also home to some of the worst environmental factors impacting health, where 1 out of 5 children have asthma and the highest number of uninsured residents (despite the state having 97% coverage).

One study tied this lower life expectancy to education and income, which Springfield has the one largest concentrated poverty of the state, and country. The cities concentrated poverty rate is now more than three times greater than the state’s 10.9% concentrated poverty rate. It’s concentrated poverty rate is also tied to is ranking nearly the highest in the country for residential segregation in 2013.

And if the failure to address income disparities connects with low life expectancy — Springfield’s education system makes it worse.

74% of Springfield public schools are considered the bottom quarter of performance in the entire state.

40% of schools rank at the absolute bottom of academic performance across Massachusetts.

74% and 76% of all students in grades 3-8 do not meet any grade level standard in Math and English Language Learning given by the state.

The outlook does not improve for Springfield kids in high school.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education indicates that the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the MCAS assessment in 10th grade was 18 percentage points below the state rate in ELA and 34 percentage points below the state rate in math. The Springfield Public Schools has the 2nd and 3rd worst SAT scores in the state. The graduation rate is 67%, 20 points lower than the state average.

A city with concentrated poverty, underperforming schools and riddled with health disparities will create issues of blight, generational poverty and crime. These persistent inequalities showcase a system left unchecked that prioritizes blaming racialized inequalities on the people experiencing them rather than the people making the policies, this model of thinking is highlighted in the city policing.

Nothing is more telling of the pervasive inequality of the city than the failure to hold police accountability for blatant systematic misconduct against people — in particular children — of color.

Springfield is currently roiled in numerous police misconduct scandals, all involving “excessive force” against residents of color. In the same month in which criminal charges are being filed against five police officers for a video tapped bar brawl in which they beat of a man of color, two videos surfaced of a man physically assaulted at the police station while trying to contest a ticket and 14 year old child choked by a police officer in one of the local high schools.

These incidents occurred in the shadow of federal indictments on “excessive force” which occurred 5 months prior — where two police officers berated two Latino teenagers with comments like “welcome to white town” during their interrogation.

In addition, the same month, a former Springfield police officer who had been fired twice for police misconduct and a history of disciplinary issues with his interactions with people of color was given his job back on the force. These issues are hardly new to the City of Springfield as the city has dealt with similar cases in the past costing them over $5 million since 2006.

In nearly all of these cases, videos that surfaced contradicted the police accounts of the incidents, which often directly implied that the people of color initiated physical contact to justify the action.

In response to the most recent incidents involving a child choked by a police officer during school, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno (who at recently threated to strip its status way for providing sanctuary for an undocumented immigrants) said there are “two sides” and that “children disrespect or malice toward authority figures”.

In response, the Springfield City Council, lead by President Justin Hurst and Councilor At-Large Jesse Lederman, who have been pushing for a Civilian Review Board, that Mayor has refused to implement.

While the City Council seeks to vocally challenge these systematic issues, other local elected, union and community members have remained quiet despite resident outrage. Notably, the State Senator from the district (James T. Welch – West Springfield) who cosponsored and voted for a “Blue Lives Matter” bill to increase punishments for assaults against officers while voting against the elimination of mandatory minimums supported but the State Police Chief association, has be markedly silence in days since the incidents.

And somewhat surprisingly, the Springfield Education Association, who endorsed Welch in his reelection bid, has yet to release any statement at all. In fact, while residents have been calling for accountability, a MTA leader and current school committee member Chris Collins, sent a survey claiming the schools were in a 2 million budget short fall, and residents should “choose” which services they would like cut.

Ironically, the Springfield Public Schools spend $1.4 million on providing police to in the schools, including the police officer currently embroiled in controversy. 

Community leaders, like Bishop Talbert Swan President of the NAACP Springfield chapter have called for the officer to be fired and other residents have started petition to not fund Police Officers in the school — saving millions of dollars per year.

These challenging times reveals deep divisions in our community and those committed to address the racial disparities in all facets of the lives of people of color in Springfield.

As James Baldwin once wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Isn’t it time to start facing things in Springfield?


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