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Kennedy School Study Links Police Violence to Diminished Educational Outcomes and Student Trauma

By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Simon J. Levien and Austin W. Li, Crimson Staff Writers

A Harvard Kennedy School study released this month suggests a direct link between police violence and diminished academic performance of inner-city students.

HKS public policy professor Desmond W. Ang analyzed data from more than 600 police killings and more than 700,000 high school students in a large, urban county, and noticed significant drop offs in students’ educational outcomes and mental health following the killings.

Ang published his findings in the June issue of the HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series.

Ang found that students who live near a police killing are more likely to miss school the following day. The study also showed these students experience drops in their GPAs over multiple semesters and are 15 percent more likely to experience emotional disturbance, a learning disability associated with depression and PTSD.

Each killing affected more than 300 students on average. Students were twice as likely to report feeling unsafe in their neighborhoods the year after a killing, according to the study.

Ang also identified a strong racial disparity in student outcomes: The harmful educational effects of police killings were “entirely” levied against Black and Hispanic students, while white and Asian students remained largely unaffected, the study found. Black and Hispanic students were found to be especially affected when a police shooting involved an unarmed minority.

Ang wrote in the report that his findings suggest each police killing causes three students of color to drop out of high school on average — nearly 2,000 students in his dataset dropped out. Though Ang only analyzed high school data, he said in an interview that there could be additional effects on younger children.

Ang added that killings comprise just a “really tiny fraction” of police violence, and that researchers “don’t have a strong sense” of the specific effects of beatings, tazings, and non-lethal shootings on students and their neighborhoods.

He also said one of the main challenges when presenting his research is different people’s perceptions of policing.

“A lot of people's conception of police is just so different from what it is in minority or urban neighborhoods,” he said. “And I think that's the challenge, getting people to understand that policing just looks completely different in certain neighborhoods and people's views of police are really different between different neighborhoods.”

Ang said he hopes people will begin to understand that police brutality and violence has larger social ramifications for “the whole community.”

Amid nationwide anti-racism protests in the wake of murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police, Ang also said he is hopeful recent events will engender “a growing recognition” of the importance of topics like police brutality in the social sciences.

—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at simon.levien@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.

—Staff writer Austin W. Li can be reached at austin.li@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @austinwli.

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