Speakers at a protest at Mankato East High School Saturday said Mankato Area Schools promote a “school-to-prison pipeline” for Black and Hispanic students and target them with higher rates of suspensions.

“Mankato Area Public Schools has worked with law enforcement to effectively strengthen the school-to-prison pipeline,” Anisa Omar told a crowd of more than 100.

“The school-to-prison pipeline occurs when there are policies and practices in place where students are pushed out of the classroom and are thrust into the criminal justice system.”

Citing Minnesota Department of Human Rights data, Omar said that in 2019 Black students made up 33% of total suspensions and were only 13% of the district population. Hispanic students made up 7% of total suspensions and were 6.5% of the district population. Special education students made up 39% of total suspensions and were 15% of the district population.

Omar, a member of the Ignite the Youth group, said having police resource officers in only three of 19 schools in the district “is blatantly racist” because it focuses on schools with more minority students. The officers are in East and West high schools and Prairie Winds Middle School. But there are none at Dakota Meadows Middle School in North Mankato, where there are fewer students of color.

“Data has also shown that schools with police officers are more likely to refer students to law enforcement. This is clearly showcased in our school district where within the school year 41 students have been referred to law enforcement: 13 Black students, five Hispanic students, and seven students with two-races or more.”

The group has sent a letter to school board members and the superintendent demanding they address the issues at their Oct. 8 board meeting.

“We as students want to make it clear that many of us Black and brown students do not feel safe near the police. Many of us do not trust the police, and the district continuously trying to force a relationship has very traumatic and harmful effects,” Omar said.

“As students, we know that we can both love the schools that assisted in raising us while also holding them accountable to our success.”

Ibrahim Ibrahim attended the protest, holding a sign showing the rate of suspensions for Blacks, Hispanics and special education students in the district.

He graduated from East last year and said he had a good relationship with the police resource officer at the school. But he said many students of color are uneasy about police in the schools and he said the argument that police in schools can limit things like school shootings has been proven untrue.

“There are people that aren’t comfortable with having police with a gun in school,” Ibrahim said.

A Washington Post analysis found that out of nearly 200 incidents involving a school shooting there were only two times a school resource officer has successfully intervened.

Marilyn Allen, a student at Minnesota State University who is part Dakota and Lakota, spoke about Native Americans being removed from the land where Mankato now sits and about the execution of 38 Dakota in Mankato in 1862.

More information on Ignite the Youth: facebook.com/ignitetheyouth20.