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Rod Watson: Deal with racism before giving teachers guns

Some issues would be so much easier to sort out – the answers, in fact would be pretty black and white – if this nation had ever dealt comprehensively with race.

Take the death penalty, which is fine in theory. There are some murderers who deserve to die and for whom I’d gladly throw the switch with no compunction. In fact, I’d even expand the list to include rapists and child molesters.

But though I have no moral qualms about the government taking a life, I can’t support capital punishment because this nation is incapable of administering it fairly across racial lines. It has been well documented that black defendants are more likely to be executed, that those who kill whites are far more likely to be put to death, and that blacks are more likely to be excluded from juries in capital cases.

In short, race still plays far too great a role in who lives and who dies at the hands of the state to allow a punishment that, in theory, would be appropriate.

Which brings us to having armed teachers in the classroom – an idea state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia calls "ridiculous" and "ludicrous."

But what strikes me as ridiculous is choosing to be defenseless. What strikes me as ludicrous is cowering in a broom closet and leaving your students sitting ducks should the unthinkable occur.

State Education commissioner calls arming teachers 'ridiculous'

Letting properly trained teachers opt to carry a concealed weapon would at least give them a fighting chance.

And what’s the alternative when preventive measures fail? One Florida teacher talked about putting her students in a closet and guarding it with a pair of scissors.

Really? If a shooter came in, who in their right mind would rather have a pair of scissors than a gun?

Similarly, the Department of Homeland Security advises that if you can’t hide from or flee an active shooter, you should try "throwing items and improvising weapons." Who in that scenario would rather improvise weapons than have one already ready to fire?

Still, if the national reaction is any indication, most teachers would never choose to carry a gun. But in a "more perfect union," letting those who want to carry a concealed weapon do so would make perfect sense.

The problem is that we’ve never come close to perfecting our union, as reams of data reflecting overall teacher attitudes toward black students make clear.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, "Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students."

Astonishingly, this pattern even holds true in preschool, where blacks make up only 18 percent of the enrollment but 48 percent of the tykes with multiple suspensions.

The same patterns hold true when it comes to which students are referred to law enforcement or arrested at school, according to the office’s 2014 report.

And now that the Buffalo Public Schools are emphasizing restorative justice practices to address such disparities and respond to long-standing community concerns, teachers are complaining that classes are being disrupted because not enough kids are being suspended.

This in a district where two-thirds of the students are black or Latino, while 87 percent of the teachers are white.

It’s clear that too many teachers are either afraid of or expect the worst from black students, especially boys. Introducing the firearm option into that scenario without first addressing the explicit and implicit bias that permeates U.S. society is a recipe for disaster.

One Florida mother summed up the fear as black legislators there tried unsuccessfully to short-circuit an effort to arm some school personnel. "They’re going to be targeted," she told CNN, referring to black students. "It’s going to be target practice."

Behind that hyperbole is a real dread, grounded in racial reality and the possibility of replicating in schools what too often happens on the street at the hands of frightened cops who shoot unarmed blacks.

In theory, the proposal being pushed by the White House and the NRA sounds great. But as much as I believe in armed defense and self-defense, I’m not ready to give teachers guns until they are ready to give black students the same respect they give white students.

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