I watched intently the live streams from Ferguson, Missouri witnessing the injustice that is taking place there. I’ve read countless articles and watched countless commentators explain and analyze this issue. I’m not going to go into the details of what is occurring in Ferguson, as there are much more competent folks that can give you a more detailed analysis than I can.
However, as I watch the events unfold in Ferguson, I can’t help but think of my own students and how Mike Brown could have easily been one of my own. I work in Edmonton’s inner city with marginalized youth. 95% of the student population identifies as First Nations, Metis or Inuit. Within the white dominant society that we live in, my students often feel that they are pushed to the edges and do not have the same opportunities as other youth. This feeling of “marginalization” that they have can be described in their interactions with Edmonton’s police. Students tell daily stories of harassment and mistrust of police officers. Any time a police officer even gets close to our school students seem to disappear as they don’t feel it’s a safe space any longer.
I have seen this type of harassment with my own eyes when I take students on field trips. More than a few times when I’ve entered a building with my students we are quickly surrounded by several security guards before we get two steps through the doorway. I don’t imagine this happens to many other school groups in the Edmonton area.
I have also seen the “battle scars” that youth show up with after being arrested by a police officer. For too long have I seen students come to school with black and blue faces and arms after an altercation with police. Marginalized youth in Edmonton often feel under attack or alienated from the very society they live in. There is a complete mis-trust of the police by my youth, which further serves as another barrier to them overcoming many obstacles on their pathway to a positive and successful life.
Let me be clear in saying that although police harassment and brutality does take place in Edmonton. There are police officers who are trying to do the right thing in the communities that they serve. However, it is clear that there are systemic issues within our justice and educational institutions that perpetuate the dominant ideologies of our society which privilege some while marginalizing others.
As many of my students deal with issues of poverty, racism, and colonialism it can become too difficult to deal with the barriers and obstacles that have been put in their way. Over the past three years, I have lost too many students to suicide and even murder. The conditions that our society places upon marginalized groups can be too much to bear.
Although our city, and country, does not have the rate of police violence as in the United States, we have to take the necessary steps to work with everyone in our community to understand that in order to have a socially just society, those of us with privilege and power must interrogate our roles and actions in order to work towards ending systemic oppression within society.
As for teachers, whether we teach in the inner city or the suburbs, we have an extremely important role to play in creating a better world. It’s up to you to take on these difficult topics and conversations with your students and engage them in the task of making the world a better place.
Dan Scratch is a social studies teacher at Inner-City High School in Edmonton, Alberta. He is a social justice advocate and believes that education can be used as a tool to empower youth to become critically engaged citizens who use their power to transform their lives and participate in the world around them.