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Hundreds joined a protest in Tacoma for racial equity in schools

Ashley Gross
Protesters in Tacoma raised concerns about racial equity in education, including the placement of police officers in schools.

The protests over police killings of Black people have broadened into calls to dismantle systemic racism — including in schools.

In Tacoma, a Black Youth Matters march on Saturday drew hundreds of people of all ages and races. One woman held a sign that said “No Cops in Schools.” Some children wore t-shirts that said “I can’t breathe” in honor of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes.

At one point, as the marchers headed down Tacoma Avenue, nine-year-old Saniyah Bundy stood in the middle of the crowd with a megaphone and led a chant of “Black Lives Matter!” and “No Justice! No Peace!”

There’s been a push in schools to focus on racial equity in recent years, but many youth and parents of color say there’s a long way to go. One young man at the march gave his name as Tru Justice. He’s 15 years old and multiracial. Justice said in middle school he and a white boy got into a fight, but the discipline was not equal.

“It did feel pretty unfair. That kid really didn’t get no form of punishment or anything,” Justice said. “He just walked away with nothing and he did more than I did. I felt like it was because of race.”

Statewide, multiracial students are disciplined at a higher rate than white students, and Black students are more than twice as likely to be disciplined as their white peers.

Credit Ashley Gross / KNKX
Tonetta Rogers, right, spoke about the need to address institutional racism in many areas of life, including policing, the health care system and corporations.

Tonetta Rogers joined the Saturday march after taking part in two protests on Friday: the massive silent march in Seattle and one later that day in Tacoma. She said she has a bad right foot and her feet were swollen after all the walking on Friday, but she soaked her feet and put on an Ace wrap on in order to keep protesting.

“I’m here today because I support all the movements because I feel the pain,” Rogers said.

Rogers has a daughter finishing seventh grade in Tacoma and who previously attended schools in the Franklin Pierce district. Rogers said she thinks her daughter has been unfairly disciplined because of her race. This school year, Rogers said she’s had to go to the school frequently to talk with the administration.

“It caused a lot of emotional distress and it caused problems for me because I had to take time out of what I was doing or work to continue to keep going up to the school to advocate for my child,” she said. “There was one week I had to go literally every single day in one week to that school.”

The discipline rate for Black students in the Tacoma district has declined from 14 percent in the 2016-2017 school year to 13.5 percent in the 2018-2019 school year, but it’s still more than double the rate for white students.

Dayna Perkins is from University Place and the mother of two boys, ages 7 and 9. She said she and other Black parents have to teach their children Black history at home because they don’t feel that it’s taught sufficiently at school, and she said those gaps in the knowledge of the general public lead to people not understanding the underlying reasons for the current protests.

“If we say 'Slavery was bad, but we fixed it, now everything is good,' and then you see angry people on the streets, the question is, why are they so angry, why are they looting, why are they burning?” she said. “Because of slavery, because of Jim Crow, because of mass incarceration. It’s just a different face on the same monster.”

Perkins said she’s concerned about her sons being subjected to disproportionate discipline because “their window of cuteness is closing soon.” Perkins said school officials should try to understand the underlying reasons that lead to children acting out, such as poverty, instead of taking a hardline approach.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.