The Woodland Hills High School-to-Prison Pipeline

Originally published in Huffington Post.

My people are dying. Our murders are being recorded and uploaded to the world. Our Disabled identities are being erased by people that claim to seek justice for us. Those same identities are being used to justify our executions. We are methodically being shuffled through institutions that were not built with our bodies in mind. We have been transformed from patients at Georgia Lunatic Asylum to subjects at Tuskegee and now inmates at Rikers. The discourse is riddled with code words for drapetomania. The uplifting of this violence goes beyond opposing police brutality or advocating against school-to-prison pipelines. The complicitness lies within our failure to acknowledge the normalized violence that is enacted daily through subtle messages that inform the way we view Black Disabled bodies and minds. The language has become thoughts that rationalize actions to funnel Black Disabled children from classrooms to courtrooms every single day. These are the outcomes of a system that is functioning the way it was designed to - nothing is broken.

The pathologizing of disability and race has assisted in creating systems that do not recognize the humanness of Black folks with disabilities. A purgatory-like space has been legislated to “protect” us from ourselves and insulate society from fallacious concerns of threat. As Black Disabled people, we have been otherized to an extent that allows for us to be perversely loved for our differences, but prevented from having voice in the direction of our own lives, much like domesticated animals… dehumanized. The paternalistic views of ownership over our bodies mitigates what feels like the hunting and caging of our people. Black Disabled bodies are the crux of the prison industrial complex, and the majority of the people that become hashtags before entering a courtroom.

Woodland Hills High School principal, Kevin Murray, has displayed a comprehensive understanding of his role in this process. While threatening a 14 year old student in the special education program, he stated that he didn’t “need the police, man. I’ll knock your fucking teeth down your throat;” he then affirmed his privilege by telling the student that “when we go down to court it’s your word versus mine and mines wins every time.” In stating this, Mr. Murray acknowledged that the police had the authority to brutalize the student and threatened to do the same, with impunity. After repeatedly being threatened by Mr. Murray, the student understood that his claims of abuse would lack credence without evidence. The student now faces possible felony wiretapping charges for recording this. He also faces charges for another recorded conversation. This is the moment that could alter the trajectory of his life. This is how our children become victims of a system that is rooted in slavery.

The abuse that transpired at Woodland Hills High School is not an isolated incident. It is an interconnected derivative of a value system that is embedded within the fabric of our country. Denying the existence of ableism and racism is an arduous task, but ignoring the latter half of the words is not. This forces us into redundancy by conveying that the actions of Mr. Murray were not just a moment of bigotry, but a product of systemic ableism and racism. Not only did the highest ranking administrator violently threaten a 14 year old, but no one believed it happened. It is important that Mr. Murray be held accountable along with the systems that are protecting him. While supporting the student in protest, we were met with the presence of police officers and their dogs. This transpired less than a 15 minute drive from the spot where Bruce Kelley Jr. was followed by 10 officers, shot 7 times, and killed after defending himself against a canine. Their tools of protection are being used against us as tools of oppression.

What lives matter to systems such as the criminal legal system is not an argument of semantics; it is a matter of life and death for the lives that have been proven to matter less. Our ability to breathe is contingent upon mechanisms of accountability that depend on evidence without a reasonable doubt. For Black folks with disabilities, our experiences are inherently unfathomable, which leaves us vulnerable to the discretion of those with institutional power. The erasure of Disabled narratives have constructed a fight for justice that seems as if it is “just us.” This is the result of experiencing oppression from multiple systems simultaneously. The constructs of ableism and racism intrinsically denotes the presence of a system. The perspective of system agents such as educators and police officers often overshadow the voices of the people that are being impacted the most. The way we view ourselves internally and in the context of a constructed society is the key to learning to love, be loved and building love. Our lives should not depend on funds given to white-washed organizations to research our experiences. Training will not change intentions. All Disabled people do not speak for us. All Black people do not speak for us. We can no longer wait for data to confirm our narratives. We are acutely aware that murder is possible, incarceration is likely, and violence is inevitable. We will never receive justice from an unjust system. We must seek liberation through #DisabilitySolidarity.

Dustin Gibson