NEA President Lily Eskelsen García applauded Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday for launching a civil-rights investigation into police practices in Ferguson, Mo., where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer last month, just days before he would have entered college.
“This is a step in the right direction and much-needed action that family members of Michael Brown, and community and civil rights leaders have been demanding since the incident,” said Eskelsen García.
The killing of Brown on August 9 led to several days and nights of protests and unrest in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson—but it also has led to millions of Americans demanding answers about how it happened that an unarmed Black teenager was shot six times in the street. “We need to end widespread racial profiling and racially motivated violence against and humiliation of racial and ethnic minorities,” said Eskelsen García.
There is an opportunity here: “Educators believe that now is the right time to raise awareness and create dialogue about the problem of racial and ethnic profiling nationwide.,” said Eskelsen García.
That kind of work needs to happen in schools, she noted. With the majority of the nation’s children back in school this week—and, for the first time in history, with non-White students outnumbering White students in public school classrooms—educators, parents, and students have the opportunity to sit down together, to talk frankly, and to build communities that value all of their children.
NEA has a long, rich history of standing up for social justice and equity. From its historic work around Brown v. Board, to its more recent efforts to end zero-tolerance policies that disproportionately harm students of color and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, the union and its members have dedicated themselves to the rights of all students to learn. These aren’t just words: earlier this year NEA provided specific resources for its members interested in restorative justice.
More recently, in response to the specific needs of educators for resources around the Ferguson shooting, NEA has developed a host of materials around racial profiling, including tips for youth on how to interact during encounters with law enforcement, a racial profiling curriculum guide and resource guide, plus supplements about the rights of individuals and youths when encountering law enforcement. NEA worked with the NAACP, Not In Our Town/Not in Our School, Teaching Tolerance/Southern Poverty Law Center to identify and develop those materials that would best help educators, parents, administrators, and youth.
More broadly, NEA and NEA’s Health Information Network also has resources for educators on cultural competency, on supporting students after tragedies, and on supporting them through stressful times, depression, and anxiety. Our members understand that it’s not possible to divorce our communities from our classrooms. Because of the Ferguson shooting, many students, particularly students of color, will be coming to school with specific concerns about safety in their communities. When the topic is addressed by educators, parents, and students, it must be dealt with honestly and in ways that promote understanding.
NEA also recently joined forces with the Congressional Black Caucus to draw attention to the need for more programs to help Black males, such as mentoring and career academies that build strong communities of support within our nation’s schools. Earlier this year, NEA released a policy brief outlining strategies and interventions used to improve academic achievement and educational attainment for Black males.