school-to-prison pipeline

MDA Lock-Up and the Cult of Compliance

I took yesterday off from the social medias. It was a holiday and I was sad and tired.

On Facebook this morning, I read about the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s current fundraising effort.

MDA Lock-Up

MDA Lock-Up

I personally know a few people who are participating in the local version of this event. It is my intent to think critically about the power and language behind the Muscular Dystrophy Association using prison-culture imagery for their fundraising efforts, the kind of privilege inherent in that kind of decision, and how that plays into the Cult of Compliance.

This is not the first time a national organization dedicated to serving a population of people with disabilities has used police imagery in their fundraising campaigns. Last year, Special Olympics Washington organized a number of Run From the Cops events. Such an event is inherently privileged. It completely ignores the context of deadly encounters between the police and people with disabilities.

The troublesome imagery in the MDA fundraiser goes further than the encounters with police. People with disabilities have fraught and often dangerous experiences in the prison system. The Rikers Island abuse cases focused heavily on inmates with mental illnesses. Neli Latson, a young black man with autism, spent the better part of a year in solitary confinement. His initial arrest stemmed from a loitering complaint and the police officer that didn’t understand his autism. In January, Georgia executed Warren Hill, a man with an intellectual disability whose execution had been stayed several times before. Many of the articles covering the execution wrote that Hill “claimed” disability; a clearer example of ableist privilege I cannot find right now.

In the world of disability advocacy, police violence against people with disabilities is a significant issue. We live in a culture that has made immediate and total compliance to directives from police and other authority figures absolutely mandatory. Failure to comply has tragic results. Inability to comply is never considered. The intersection of disability and race–in the cases of Neli Latson and Warren Hill–is an especially dangerous place into which to be squeezed.

It is in this context that I find myself fielding requests to donate to the MDA fundraiser to help my friends “make bail.”

People with disabilities don’t get the chance to crowdsource their bail. Men of color with intellectual disabilities don’t have flashy web campaigns and cute kids to tug at the heartstrings and open the pursestrings.


“Swatting is acceptable in certain situations”

I’ve written this blog post four times. I’ve written it angry, discouraged, royally pissed off, and totally deflated. I’m not sure what mood I am experiencing at the moment. It’s a mix of tired and something.

The other day, a friend posted an article about using restorative practices rather than zero-tolerance policies to address behavioral infractions, thus cutting off the flow to the school-to-prison pipeline. I was very interested in this article, as I have been following the writings of David Perry as he develops and shares his essays and posts on the Cult of Compliance, which he explains thusly:

Here’s some of the thinking behind the “cult” language. I could have said a culture of compliance, or a culture that doesn’t accept non-compliance, or any number of other ways of framing the problem. Cult, though, implies an unthinking adherence to an idea, principle, group, prophet or deity that you must venerate at all costs. To me, in our police culture but also our American culture more broadly, we venerate compliance.  It’s not just the police to blame, but all of us who accept the “he/she didn’t comply” rationale in any given case. (emphasis in original) (source)

I should have known not to get involved in a comment discussion; I end up frustrated and jaded and I smash my face on the keyboard. The first three comments made it clear that Jerkface McPoopyhead (not the original poster) had either not read the article or did not comprehend the article he’d read. He first asked the original poster what the alternative should be (even though the entire article was about the alternative: restorative policies. He must have only read the headline). He issued quite a missive about how sending kids to the principal doesn’t work and suspension is the only way to punish both the kids and their parents. He peppered his comments with references to his experiences in law enforcement, which made the leap from Cult of Compliance (as related to police) to the Cult of Compliance in schools an easy one to make.

I can’t break his arguments down into component parts; it was my first big reminder that just as spheres of oppression intersect, so do spheres of prejudice. Very rarely is someone just racist or just sexist. Mr. McPoopyhead said the school-to-prison pipeline doesn’t exist because rules are not actually enforced unfairly. Blacks are disproportionately represented in the discipline statistics because they disproportionately break the rules. The reason is they all come from broken families, because the black family unit is deteriorating, because black welfare mothers kick the men out so they can collect more benefits. And everyone knows that fathers (men) are the only people who can provide any kind of structure for children and teens, and, by extension, for society. See? Gender essentialism and racism all wrapped up in one little package. I can’t extract one from the other. It’s ampersandwiched bigotry, coming to you live on Facebook.

I wanted to let it go. But I couldn’t. As an ally, I cannot remain silent if I see racism in action. Moreover, he said that things were better back when we could swat kids on the backside. He held himself up as an example of a kid who knew how to behave because of corporal punishment. I put on my typing gloves.

The conversation was like playing Calvinball, except with an adult with a who is going to become a teacher some day.

I started small: “Swatting and spanking children is not an option. Please stop holding it up as the reason you turned into a well-adjusted adult.” We should not need to have that conversation, but I will continue having it, even as every person who uses such an argument loses all credibility with me.

Physical discipline damages children. It does. There is mounds of evidence to support that assertion. If we are going to be discussing the problems with school culture, or with school discipline, or with the preschool-to-prison pipeline (which is a real thing, people), I feel like we need to at least have this recognition in common. We need to at least be on the same page and agree that physical punishment does not belong in our schools.

And yet, I found myself staring his reply in the face: “Swatting is acceptable in certain situations.” On the same day I read a new report that “minority children, and disabled children, make up the largest majority of children paddled by their teachers.”


Take note of the recent heavy press given to police brutality, aggression, excessive force. Call it what you will, but we have a problem. There is an underlying belief that some people will only respond to force. That some people just have it coming. That a physical response is necessary for failing to comply with verbal directives given by a school resource officer, or a police officer, or off-duty deputies. Because this is where it starts.

The more I see it, the more I cannot ignore it. So when someone asserts that black children and teens are more inherently deviant, and that swatting is acceptable, I will engage. Because minority children and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented on the receiving end of corporal punishment and zero-tolerance policies, and we should be seeking restorative practices for all our students. Because the #CultofCompliance depends upon early adoption, early indoctrination. The #CultofCompliance depends upon the silence of bystanders to maintain its foothold in our schools and in our police stations.

And I will not be silent.