As I sat and listened to a replay of Tuesdays’ House Education Committee Hearing where HB 63 was FINALLY heard after three false starts, and white lawmakers shared testimonies of their favorable experiences with SROs, I couldn’t help but notice one thing. Not one of them put themselves in the shoes of Black people when considering how “safe” they felt, and “how well it works” to have armed police in their schools. In fact, the committee chair (Huff) and the bill sponsor (Bratcher) did a bang-up job making sure the Black voices who came to speak against the bill were the very last ones to be heard, if at all.
Not only was HB63 at the top of last week’s agenda, only to be scratched last second after many of us had driven from Jefferson County to speak against it, myself included. Two previous times the bill had been on the agenda, the entire meeting was canceled. So when it made the top of the agenda this week, I thought, “fourth times a charm,” and we made arrangements for a member of our group to drive to Frankfort for the 8:30 AM meeting, once again.
Due to various people of privilege’s schedules, despite HB63 being at the top of the agenda, the meeting kicked off with a “performance” by a very impressive young white student who remarked that he was asked to speak because February was National Trades Month (or something like that). He spent a great deal of time quoting Kentucky educator Carl Perkins and expressing the importance of diversity and equity in the types of programs students should have access to. Not that I disagree with any of that, I hardly think that’s what is meant when people refer to diversity and equity. I doubt the young man saw the irony in the words that he spoke, but I suspect the adults who recruited him and helped him practice knew exactly what they were doing.
Two more times throughout the meeting this handsome young high-achiever received compliments and accolades from white lawmakers who had very little problems allocating precious speaking time to this concern, while Black speakers from Jefferson County continued to wait to be called upon.
Then came two other bills that were heard prior to introducing HB63’s bill sponsor. The first was one on tornado disaster relief for Western Kentucky, which of course should be enacted. The second one was on “Erin’s Law,” which would potentially implement curriculum that would reduce child abuse, an area where Kentucky currently ranks highest. Both very important bills that were dedicated speaking time, including justification for not having to make up days because everyone has been dealing with trauma and needs time to get some normalcy back in their lives. While I don’t disagree, I just can’t help but wonder where the compassion is for our students who suffer from gun violence, racial discrimination, high poverty and over policing?
And after listening to bill sponsor Rep Bratcher wax on endlessly about how he was bused to Shawnee his 11th and 12th grades, and he never felt unsafe having SROs there, to reminiscing with Rep Charles Miller, who used to be his principal at PRP, about what he and his teammates did under the bleachers that led to him getting paddled by him. Those were the “good old days,” weren’t they, boys?
Our representative left Jefferson County before 7 am so that he could arrive in room 145 of the Annex building in time to sign up to speak. Once everyone with a microphone had exhausted their treasure trove of personal white experiences with SROs, there were a few minutes left to hear from the Black people. One man spoke as a parent of a Black JCPS student and Sadiqa Reynolds of Louisville Urban League did an outstanding job as well, even going so far as to ask, “how dare you?”
The vote was called. Every single yes vote, including some Democrats who should know better, was white. The bill passed out of committee. It now heads to the House floor and on to the Senate.
Our friend asked why he was not called on to speak and he was told that “they ran out of time.” Please listen to this week’s episode of Save Our Schools with Dear JCPS for a recap of the House Education Committee Hearing on HB63, and ESPECIALLY to the speakers at the very end.
Again, I ask, when will the lives and experiences of Black and Brown students matter?