By Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
This piece was originally published by the Nevada Current.
A recent video showing Clark County School District police officers arresting several Black teenage boys, with one officer slamming a student to the ground, has outraged the community and led activists to push for a stronger response from the district.
While CCSD has offered little details about why officers stopped the teens, community groups recognize the incident as an ongoing example of how students of color are disproportionately targeted by school police.
The video, which circulated via social media, shows Clark County School District police arresting several Black Durango High School students Feb. 9.
One student who was recording the incident was thrown to the ground by an officer, who then placed his knee on the student's back and then shouted an expletive at the other students who were recording his actions.
West Juhl, the communications director for the ACLU, said not only is a person's right to record law enforcement codified into Nevada law, "it’s also a First Amendment right."
Quentin Savwoir, the NAACP Las Vegas chapter president, said CCSD nor its police force have still not explained why the officers engaged these students in the first place or why they thought the force they used on teenagers was justified.
"These are for 14 year olds," he said. "I think this happens a lot with Black and brown kids. They say 'oh, they look like they are 23 therefore I had to handle them like they were a grown man.' No. These are kids. These are children."
Several groups including the NAACP, No Racism in Schools and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada are planning to speak out against CCSD police and the district’s response Friday night.
Savwoir, who said he has heard the investigation could take months, said the groups are pushing the district to move swiftly.
“The idea that this could take 180 days and that disciplinary action could be reversed by the union is very troubling,” he said. “We need a swift investigation and we want to see the officer terminated. He has no place around our youth and children.”
The community, he said, also wants a “full review around procedures and all aspects of how CCSD interacts with our youth.”
The Clark County School District Police Department put out a statement Feb. 10 to acknowledge they saw the video and had “initiated an investigation and the department will review all aspects of the interaction, including what transpired before, during and after the recording.”
The incident, they wrote, stemmed from “an investigation regarding the report of a firearm near one of our schools.”
The Las Vegas Sun reported Wednesday evening the officer has been reassigned while the district investigates.
Based on the video, Savwoir “we don’t see a threat that these young people are causing to the officers.”
‘Our students are not safe’
Athar Haseebullah, the executive director for the ACLU of Nevada, said in a statement Wednesday that it was “disgusting that school police officers can attack children without being held accountable.”
“There are no statements from the District Attorney that they are attempting to seek justice for these kids or have opened an investigation of the officer’s conduct here,” he said. “It’s sad and pathetic. It’s as if these government entities only believe justice should exist for white adults and not Black children. If these same government entities in Nevada refuse to seek justice and accountability when an incident here is so obviously egregious and unlawful, the ACLU of Nevada will.”
The ACLU announced Wednesday it was representing the students.
Akiko Cooks, the co-founder of No Racism in Schools, said this isn’t an isolated event and in recent years “we have seen several examples of excessive force between CCSDPD and our students.”
“Quality education does not exist without safety, and our students are not safe,” Cooks said. “Pepper spray, body slams, and knees to their necks or backs will not be tolerated. Our children are just that — children. They need to be treated as such.”
When it comes to the school-to-prison pipeline, Juhl said Nevada is a lot worse than people realize.
“The most recent data I’ve seen has Nevada ranked sixth in the nation for the amount of students that get arrested at school,” they said. “We know Black and brown students are disproportionately arrested. We know students with disabilities are forced into the criminal legal system.”
Data from the Clark County School Justice Partnership report in 2020 showed Black students accounted for 43% of police referrals in Clark County despite only representing 14% of the student body.
The ACLU’s national “Cops and No Counselors” report also showed Black students in Nevada were twice as likely to be arrested as white students while Native American students were three times as likely.
The recommended counselor to student ratio, the report notes, is 250 to one but Nevada’s ratio is 441 to one. The trend is similar for other support staff:
- Recommended ratio of social workers is 250 to one but Nevada is 8,730 to one;
- Recommended ratio of psychologists is 700 to one but Nevada is 1,866 to one;
- Recommended ratio of nurses is 750 to one but Nevada is 1,743 to one.
“We have a lot of students going to schools with heavy police presence and not a single counselor in the building,” Juhl said.
‘The kneejerk go-to response’
In addition to CCSD taking action, groups say there is a chance for lawmakers to address the systemic problems that were underscored by the video in this current legislative session.
Savwoir said legislators could consider changes to policy to expedite investigation into student arrests and when school police officers release body camera footage.
In previous legislative sessions, Juhl said, Nevada has taken steps to address the racial disparities between white students and students of color.
Lawmakers previously approved restorative justice policies to prevent disciplinary action or arrests of students from being the first, and only solution.
“I think education advocates will tell you those things have never been super fully implemented,” they said.
Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo has said he wants to repeal restorative justice measures. Proponents of harsher measures have pointed to several incidents of violence including a 16-year-old Eldorado student accused of assaulting a teacher.
“I think there is a lot of corresponding rhetoric that there is an increase in violence in schools, but I don’t think that plays out in the data,” Juhl said.
Defaulting to increasing law enforcement is “always the kneejerk go-to response to these things and it’s problematic and super reactionary,” Juhl said.
Assembly Bill 65, an assembly education committee bill, seeks to remove the requirement for schools to provide a plan “based on restorative justice before suspending, expelling or removing a pupil from a classroom or other premises of the school and requires a public school to instead consider whether restorative approaches should be used as an alternative or in addition to suspending or expelling a pupil or removing a pupil from a classroom or other premises of the school.”
Juhl called the bill problematic and said it was a step backwards.
“The thing that’s concerning to me is that lawmakers are facing a lot of pressure coming out of this weird tough-on-crime political cycle where they are actually considering rolling back the school district’s restorative justice policies,” they said.