Black Girls Doing Time for White Boys’ Crime? Considering Columbine’s Security Legacy Through an Intersectional Lens

Published date01 August 2019
Date01 August 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2019, Vol. 35(3) 296 –314
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986219840205
Black Girls Doing Time
for White Boys’ Crime?
Considering Columbine’s
Security Legacy Through
an Intersectional Lens
Lynn A. Addington1
The 20th anniversary of the deadly shootings at Columbine High School provides an
opportunity to take stock of policy changes it prompted. Two were the increased use of
security personnel and exclusionary discipline. Although neither started in response to
Columbine, both were greatly expanded in the wake of that event. Both also contributed
to the current punitive school climate that has negatively affected students, particularly
students of color. This article considers the experiences of Black girls. This focus is
important given the general lack of attention given to Black girls despite their greater
disparity in rates of discipline especially for minor, subjective infractions. This article seeks
to provide a summary of the current literature to highlight trends in the use of security,
the resulting disproportionate effect on Black girls, and the need to bring an intersectional
perspective into current calls to reduce exclusionary discipline. The patterns summarized
in this article highlight the need for criminologists, in particular, to include the experiences
of Black girls in the post-Columbine security and policy discussions.
exclusionary discipline, school-to-prison pipeline, intersectionality, school violence
The fatal shootings at Columbine High School in April 1999 prompted a variety of
policy proposals to address a perceived growing epidemic of school violence
(Muschert, Henry, Bracy, & Peguero, 2014; Muschert & Peguero, 2010). The most
1American University, Washington, DC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Lynn A. Addington, Department of Justice, Law and Criminology, American University, 4400
Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20016-8043, USA.
840205CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219840205Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeAddington
Addington 297
popular initial security responses involved implementing visible surveillance mea-
sures and enforcing rules with stricter sanctions (Addington, 2014). These changes
sent a clear “get tough” message to students (both to reassure the fearful and discour-
age potential offenders) and parents (to placate demands for greater school safety).
This reaction to Columbine played an important role in solidifying a punitive stance to
school discipline, which would remain a dominant policy orientation for years after
the shootings. The enduring nature of these changes can be attributed to continued
concerns about school violence (which were reinforced by subsequent school shoot-
ings) and policies such as No Child Left Behind, societal tolerance to greater surveil-
lance after 9/11, and reactions arising from fears of a minority threat in schools (e.g.,
Advancement Project, 2010; Hirschfield, 2008; Rocque & Snellings, 2018; Welch &
Payne, 2010).1
Two initial policy changes were the use of security personnel, particularly police,
in schools and the reliance on exclusionary discipline in the form of zero-tolerance and
related policies. Neither started in response to Columbine, but both were expanded in
the wake of that event. This expansion was despite a lack of evidence that either tactic
reduced school violence in general or fatal violence in particular. Both policies,
though, contributed to an academic environment that disproportionately punishes stu-
dents of color (Skiba, 2015). One reaction to this consequence has been an effort to
explore alternatives to address school violence, including programs to promote posi-
tive school behavior and restorative justice strategies (Hirschfield, 2018). Initial eval-
uations find these options reduce exclusionary discipline, but not racial disparity in its
use (Skiba, 2015; Vincent, Randall, Cartledge, Tobin, & Swain-Bradway, 2011).
Scholars, especially those writing from an education perspective, suggest a need to
include cultural responsiveness to these policies to directly address racial dispropor-
tionality (Gregory, Skiba, & Mediratta, 2017; Vincent et al., 2011). In this context,
cultural responsiveness seeks for schools to recognize the “need to be responsive to
the needs of diverse students” and to critically examine whether forms of discipline
that in theory are developed to be race neutral actually work that way in practice
(Skiba, 2015, p. 117).
This article considers the legacy of the increased presence of school security offi-
cers and exclusionary discipline practices in connection with specific consequences
for Black girls. This focus is for a few reasons. One is to confront the irony of this
pattern as the Columbine shooters as well as almost all the mass school shooters since
have been White males (Hobbs, 2018). Another is to help remedy an omission in the
literature. Although researchers have long recognized racial disparities in exclusionary
discipline, only recently have they focused on the experiences of Black girls (Hines-
Datiri & Carter Andrews, 2017). This gap ignores that Black girls can experience
disparity rates greater than those for Black boys (Skiba, 2015) as well as White and
Hispanic girls (Crenshaw, Ocen, & Nanda, 2015; E. W. Morris & Perry, 2017).2 In
addition, the lack of attention to Black girls minimizes the need for an intersectional
perspective to explain these outcomes. In particular, an intersectional perspective can
identify ways to tailor future policy suggestions. Criminologists in particular tend to
offer generic policy responses when discussing school security. Important insights can

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