When Will the Sleeping Giant Awake? The Coming Revolt of Young People Beset by Police Harassment, Regimented Schools, and a Grim Job Market
The other day, I was at a meeting in the Bronx where a group of activists were presenting evidence of police misconduct to someone from the US Justice Department. The stories they were telling, of sweeps and searches, home invasions, arbitrary arrests and beatings, threats made to those who challenged police violence, were frightening and depressing.
Most ominous of all was a comment made by a local activist who, in his own words, was near the end of his rope with the way police were brutalizing people in Bronx communities. Young people in the Bronx, he warned, were more likely to “go to war” with the police than join non-violent protests against police misconduct. He didn’t say what form such a war would take and I didn’t ask, but none of the scenarios that came to mind were very comforting.
Then today, less than a week later, I read a powerful article on the dismantling and reorganization of New York City’s public schools by the Bloomberg Department of Education, which contained the following comment on students whose lives are being turned upside down by these policies:
“Bloomberg’s Children,” refers to the victimized students created by Bloomberg policy, the ever increasing student population of low functioning, antisocial students entering High Schools. Freshmen are increasingly disruptive and disrespectful to teachers and staff, fearless toward authority with no inclination to obey regulations. Many are apathetic and most of them believe they are entitled the freedom to act as they please. Some ominously display no sign of conscience and have little to no self-control or respect for the law, no less rules.
When I put two and two together, I concluded that people in New York and other major cities are sitting on a time bomb. Over the past 15 years, the War on Drugs and increasingly invasive School Reform movement has vastly increased the police presence in the lives of young people of color, inside their neighborhoods and out, while subjecting them to increasing regimentation in the schools they attend.
In New York City, the number of young people stopped and frisked — 87% young people of color — has multiplied six times since 2003, while schools have vastly increased the number of standardized tests and the weight assigned to them, while phasing out vocational programs and cutting sports and the arts.
Everywhere young people turn, they are being regimented, evaluated, and placed under surveillance, and if they show too many signs of resistance, taken into custody. Their voices are rarely heard, and even more rarely solicited, not on matters of police policy, not on matters of what goes on in their schools.
They are objects of an incredibly concentrated effort to regulate their behavior, which, whether intentional or not, keeps them confined in the hyper-segregated neighborhood where they live, and confines what they learn to preparation for entry level work in the lowest wage sections of the economy, or for the military
This confinement strategy is not likely to work forever, especially since there is no carrot to accompany the stick. There are no good jobs to parcel out as reward for good behavior — there is only more of the same regimentation and surveillance in retail sales the fast food industry, and security work their education prepares them for.
At some point, these young people will begin to rebel and in the right circumstances their rebellion will spread with the rapidity of Occupy Wall Street. It could be school walkouts that are the trigger. It could be commodity riots in the form of Flash mobs. It could be mass resistance to intrusive policing. It could be none of these.
But one thing is almost certain. You cannot beat down and repress such a large number of people without generating a response. Where it comes, and when it comes may be a mystery, but come it will. And when it does, it will shake this nation to its foundations.
With a Brooklyn Accent