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September 25, 2023

Disproportionate School Brutality Upon Black Children

Black children experience multiple times the level of school brutality that White children experience. School brutality is the excessive and unwarranted use of physical force by governmental employees upon K-12 public school students, and it includes assaults, solitary confinement, and inappropriate handcuffing. Such brutality regularly injures, traumatizes, and kills children. It is a form of systemic discrimination because Black children are not violating school rules more than White children. Such state violence has the additional significance of perpetuating state-sanctioned traumatization and subjugation of Black children, which arose during slavery.

Specifically, legalized violence and fear of such violence were the principal tools by which White people subordinated and controlled Black people during slavery and the Jim Crow era. They were also the main tools for delaying desegregation of public schools. Disproportionate school brutality upon Black children thus maintains state-sanctioned, legalized physical maltreatment and threats of such maltreatment upon Black children and the continued denial of a quality education to them. Such state violence continues to harm and oppress the health and educational functioning of Black children today, denying them a fair and just opportunity to be healthy and successful. It is also a barrier to social change. Unfortunately, few legal structures exist to stop this racialized trauma, as most states authorize at least some form of school brutality in public schools. Statutes of only a few states prohibit discriminatory school discipline, and federal law does not sufficiently support claims of discriminatory school brutality by children and parents. Only when school brutality is abolished for all children will this racialized, systemic trauma inflicted by the government end.


  • Caitlin Millat, Climenko Fellow and Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law, Boston, MA


  • Terrance McNeil, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Leadership, Tennessee State University, Nashville, TN
  • Nicole Tuchinda, J.D., M.D., LL.M., Assistant Professor of Law, Academic Director of the Health Law Program, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, New Orleans, LA