Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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A white teacher on Black Lives Matter in Baltimore

Why is the #BlackLivesMatter movement so important? David DeMatthews, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, El Paso, and a former high school teacher and principal in Baltimore City and the District of Columbia Public Schools, tries to come to terms with the movement as a white teacher in this op-ed for the Baltimore Sun.

Protest march, Minnesota, December 2014 (Rose Colored Photo / Flickr CC)

He says he can “vividly remember the environment in my first school and the schools I visited across the city as a basketball coach: rodents, roaches, leaking toilets seeping into hallways, bars over frosted windows, rotten ceiling tiles, missing floor tiles, undrinkable tap water, decade-old textbooks, and broken and unsecured doors.”

As a teacher in Baltimore, he “listened to stories about the police, illegal searches and baby bookings.” In Washington, he also witnessed mistreatment of young blacks by police:

I witnessed other police pepper spray and club students, call them the N-word or bastards, and manhandle them for pictures of tattoos. … Many Baltimore and D.C. teachers want justice for their students and support Black Lives Matter because they want a more just society. Black Lives Matter is not just about policing and the war on drugs in the black community, but about the dehumanization of black people. Black Lives Matter is about basic human rights, which includes the right to a quality education … When I think about … my former students who are dead, incarcerated or trapped in poverty, I know black lives do not yet matter as much as other lives.


It isn’t stated when Dr DeMatthews taught in Baltimore City, but if the problems with the school buildings and textbooks he identifies still exist, that needs to change. There isn’t much schools can do about police violence, except to ensure that their own resource officers and police force treat young people properly, allowing them to grow from within, but schools can do something about their buildings and learning materials.

The district offices are nice, but if school buildings are in a state of disrepair, how can those officials who occupy the castle on North Avenue possibly expect kids to learn or even to want to come to school?

As far as police officers using pepper spray or clubs or foul language with children who have committed petty crimes, that approach doesn’t work. We reported earlier this month about a graduate student in Oregon who has spent the last two years of her life working in a juvenile detention facility.

Programs like “Scared Straight” or any long-term secure confinement for petty crimes, said Amanda McMasters in an email message, are “ineffective in reducing criminal activity in youth. … It has been proven to be more harmful to a juvenile in the system than helpful.”

This is why #BlackLivesMatter is so important to young people: Police violence against youth makes crime in Baltimore worse. What we want to do is help youth get better.

“I would rank Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as the most effective in helping at-risk youth make positive changes in their lives,” she told me. “Instead of just using punishment and locking them up as a deterrent, CBT offers to correct thinking errors, improve social skills which these kids often lack, and tries to change the behavior and thought process that drives delinquency.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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