The Zero Tolerance Generation

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By now the image is familiar: Ahmed Mohamed, a high school student in Irvine, Texas, wide-eyed as police haul him away for bringing a clock he built into class. 

The absurd bigotry of the incident made national news and, fortunately, a backlash has hit hard. Instead of facing charges Mohamed has received invitations from NASA, Facebook and the White House, just to name a few. Fortunately, the issue of racism in policing schools is even getting some much-needed attention in the wake of the case.

But while it looks like the story will end relatively well for Mohamed, he’s sadly far from alone, and his arrest only represents a small part of a very brutal system that’s a lot older than most people realize. While racism and paranoid crackdowns in America’s education system is nothing new, starting in the ’90s it began to be massively refined and extended under the auspices of “zero tolerance,” the idea that only draconian crackdowns would halt supposedly dangerous students from running amok.

In the midst of Mohamed’s case — with school officials and police issuing grim, formal and thoroughly insane statements in the jargon of zero tolerance — some of the media jogged their collective memory enough to stretch back two years and remember that of Kiera Wilmot, an African-American straight-A student in Florida who faced adult bombing charges for a pre-school science experiment gone wrong.

They should keep stretching, because that’s only the beginning…

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