Pasadena ISD’s over-surveillance statistics will scare you. Here’s a breakdown of the numbers

After Houstonian George Floyd was murdered on the streets of Minneapolis in 2020 by former police officer Derek Chauvin, the national conversation about police reform reached a peak of coverage the country hadn’t seen in since. years. Floyd begging for his life in the nearly nine-minute video highlighted the gross injustices black people face in the criminal justice system.

So in the 2020 election cycle, police reform has become a regular talking point in federal and state campaigns, with many leaders on both sides of the aisle aiming to enact policies such as George Floyd Justice and Policing Act.

But after Republicans and Democrats in the US Senate couldn’t compromise on qualified immunity, and with President Joe Biden shouting ‘defund the police’ during his State of the Union address at the beginning of the month, police reform seems non-existent.

At the state level, Texas Governor Greg Abbott has consistently said he “supports blue.” Yet he then backs policies like license-free transportation that has been denounced by police unions statewide on public safety grounds.

Nevertheless, according to reportsTexas continues to have one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, with black and Hispanic Texans being the highest population in prisons.

Nonprofits like the Texas Civil Rights Project address criminal injustices in the state. Specifically, in public education, where statistics show significant disparities in exclusionary discipline, over-surveillance in schools, and how this affects students in the long run.

A recent TCRP investigation sought action by the Pasadena Independent School District on suspensions, referrals to alternative schools, physical restraints on campus, and police response to student misconduct.

According to the report, PISD had one of the highest discipline rates among students despite being the 17th largest district in the state. During the 2018-2019 school year, PISD suspended, expelled or sent to an alternative education disciplinary program 8,942 different students totaling 23,890 different disciplinary actions.

Additionally, the PISD Police Department has arrested more students than other major districts, including Dallas, Fort Worth, and Austin. And while black students make up just 7.5% of the student body, they make up 19.4% of the total arrests made.

The Signal spoke with Travis Fife, a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project’s Criminal Injustice Team, about the chilling numbers, disparities among black students and solutions for the future.

A specific issue Fife said it recognized in the investigation is the differing response of school employees to black, Hispanic and Caucasian children who “misbehave”.

“An obvious sociological fact to bear in mind is how the emotions, behavior and excitement, and sometimes aggression, of young black boys and black girls are sensationalized,” Fife said. “When you think about how we understand who is and isn’t a danger, that’s a perfect example of how that manifests and harms the treatment of children. There are systems in place that almost explicitly allow these types of bias assessments.

Like the criminal justice system, public education also highlights disparities between black and Hispanic students compared to Caucasian students. Similar to how black defendants receive harsher sentences than their white counterparts, according to the survey, the district’s use of police, punishment and physical force led to 15.3% of black students be referred to disciplinary alternative education programs.

“When children misbehave or behave in a way we don’t want them to, do we give them the tools they need to correct the behavior at the root or do we just put ourselves on a band-aid solution by sending them to the alternative school so that we don’t have to deal with them?” he said. “It is this investment in supporting educational services, for students, teachers and families who are struggling that is really, really lacking.”

Another troubling statistic TCRP found in the survey is the number of “constraints” reported by the district. PISD reported 663 cases of school employees using physical restraints against students over the past three years, and Black students specifically accounted for 40% of the restraints.

The Texas Education Code defines restraint such as the use of physical force to severely restrict the freedom of movement of all or part of a student’s body.

Fife also said TCRP spoke with families in the district who highlighted the lack of grace and empathy for students of color. As a result, TCRP sent a letter to the district in February highlighting the statistics and requested a meeting with members of the Pasadena School Board.

“In the very intimate student-teacher relationship and the historical context of Pasadena, I think the representation of Latino and black students is really important,” Fife said. “Shifting money from police department security and surveillance to special education services, mental health programs and more would make students and families feel much more supported.”

For context, Fife refers to the lawsuit between the federal government and Pasadena after the city was sued in 2013 for violating the Voting Rights Act after local officials re-cut cards specifically diluted Hispanic voters . On another note, Pasadena was one of States headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1980s.

Without a doubt, public safety and what it looks like needs to be an open conversation between the community and leaders in positions of power. TCRP therefore hosts a town hall on Wednesday, March 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Multicultural Center in Webster, Texas to host a space for families and students in the district to discuss their experiences.

After many attempts, the Signal has still not heard from Pasadena ISD.