Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Eric Holder: School Fights are "Relatively Minor Transgressions"

    Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech at Frederick Douglas High School in Baltimore, MD.   I wrote about the announcement of the appearance at The Weekly Standard earlier in the day.  The event was billed as "Solutions to Enhance School Climate/Improve Discipline Policies and Practices".  Holder was there with Education Secretary Arne Duncan as part of President Obama's anti-gun violence initiative launched in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
    Part of the president's plan was to "disseminate best practices on school discipline policies and to help school districts develop and equitably implement their policies."  In fleshing out this proposal, Holder made a rather strange, even alarming, statement:
As it stands, far too many students across the country are diverted from the path to success by unnecessarily harsh discipline policies and practices that exclude them from school for minor infractions.  During critical years that are proven to impact a student’s later chances for success, alarming numbers of young people are suspended, expelled, or even arrested for relatively minor transgressions like school uniform violations, schoolyard fights, or showing “disrespect” by laughing in class.
    Holder's formulation conflates "schoolyard fights" with school uniforms violations and laughing in class, clearly a false equivalence.  While the latter two items might be characterized as "relatively minor transgressions," does a physical altercation really fit the bill?  Fights do not begin spontaneously - usually there is an aggressor, which probably indicates an assault and battery has occurred.  Certainly not all fighting in school rises to the level of arrest, but shouldn't suspensions or even expulsion be on the table?  And has anyone ever really been arrested, or even expelled, for a uniform violation or laughing in class?  Unlikely.
    Why would Holder muddy the waters in this way?  How does preventing violence in schools square with downplaying the seriousness of... violence in schools?  As I pointed out in my Weekly Standard post, the whole Baltimore event seemed predicated on the idea that unfair, discriminatory, and ineffective school discipline could lead to gun violence.  If Holder truly subscribes to that line of thinking, he should stop trying to get schools to go easy on violent offenders by comparing them to the merely disrespectful and dress code violators.


  1. Young grade schoolers get expelled for a little green army man or a pop-tart that vaguely looks like a gun, while minority high-schoolers are to be given a pass for assault and battery, or worse?

  2. No one can know what, in Eric Holder's world, is the color of the sky.