As a 14-year old white kid growing up in a racist town, I could have been the one organizing a slave auction, thinking it was funny. Thankfully, people of every shade of skin over these 60+ years made it their business to save my heart from cruelty and hate.
However, I do not believe that had I been under the newly adopted rules of the Chatham County School Board, I would not have seen the light. A 10-day suspension for my first offense would have hardened my beliefs and made me an outcast among the people who I could most learn from.
There has to be a way to support teenage victims of racial bullying while also being sympathetic to perpetrators who have learned to hate. There’s a narrow window in the minds of teenagers for them to learn new beliefs, and lowering the hammer of punishment on the first offense will not send the message, “We care about you.”
In fact, it says the opposite: “We can throw you away.” Then, he grows up to be a racist adult.
Zero-tolerance policies can quell the righteous anger felt by most adults, but eventually communities come to regret them. Like my old school system in Virginia that had an automatic suspension for anyone bringing knives on school property. A child in 12th grade was found to have a knife in the glove box of his car, leftover from a fishing trip with his dad, and was suspended from school. As a result, he lost an ROTC scholarship and never went to college.
These are KIDS, people. Don’t expect them to find the path to goodness on their own.
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