Police As Violent “Principals”: A Lesson in Failure

0 Comments 27 October 2015

DeputyThe presence of police officers in public schools has been a contested matter for many years. In 2013, after the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, The New York Times published an article written by Erick Eckholm[1] questioning the efficaciousness of having armed police in schools. In the wake of the video showing Spring Valley High School resource officer Ben Fields pulling a teenage girl from her chair and tossing her across the room we must now revisit and question the purpose and impact of this program.

According to a White House blog written by Director Gil Kerlikowske: “School resource officers, or SROs, are members of the law enforcement community who teach, counsel, and protect the school community. When SROs are integrated into a school system, the benefits go beyond reduced violence in schools. The officers often build relationships with students while serving as a resource to students, teachers, and administrators to help solve problems.”[2] While NASRO and White House officials applaud the benefits of the program, it is not without problems particularly given its criminalizing impact upon poor students and students of color.[3]

Although early SRO programs had as their primary goal the building of relationships and therefore more teaching and counseling activity between students and police, the growth of the program came on the heels of campus violence from 1993-1999.[4] These days, the reduction of crime and campus security is ostensibly the role of SROs. Eckholm, looking at the data collected from a report by civil rights groups warned against “a surge in criminal charges against children for misbehavior that many believe is better handled in the principal’s office.” The report, entitled “Police in Schools are Not the Answer to the Newtown Shooting,” was written after the Newton shootings in response to proposals to increase the presence of armed SROs in schools and to allow the arming of teachers.[5] The report provides evidence of the rise in school arrests of children of color (p.9.).

Moreover, schools that over-police, “often creates a hostile environment that breeds distrust”(p.10) leaving us to question whether they are participants in what is now being called the school-to-prison pipeline. Zero tolerance policies where the slightest infractions result in punishment are part and parcel of this criminalization process that begins as early as kindergarten. Rather than increasing the training of educators and yes, family members to deal with misbehaving children schools have resorted to increased policing staffing and equipping their schools with SROs and metal detection devices. What training do SROs receive? According to the NASRO: “The Basic School Resource Officer Course is a forty-hour (40) block of instruction designed for any law enforcement officer with two years or less experience working in an educational environment and school administrators.”[6]

Should the American public accept the presence of armed officers in their school systems with such paltry training? Is the responsibility of disciplining children being shifted from educators (esp. principals) to police an effective strategy? And why the hell must Black bodies bear the brunt of poor policing strategies not only in our communities but in the very places where our children spend large percentages of their time?

We are aghast after viewing the video taken in the classroom at Spring Valley High School, and we should be. But there are more stories that have not been video recorded which students have reported such as the interview of a Philadelphia student contained in the post-Newton Shooting report:

“When security guards searched me in school for my cell phone the usual routine is for them to pat me on my chest and rub their hand down my cleavage. Then they make us lift and shake our bras out. Also, they would run their hands down from our waist to our ankles. Next they turn us around and pat our back pockets. At the very end they use the wand to search us thoroughly.”[7]

I cringed as I read those words. When I saw the video of the teenage girl being violently arrested, I was stunned and angry. It is not a difficult thing for me to connect the militarized police presence that I witnessed in Ferguson with the mistreatment of our children at the hands of armed police happening far too often in our schools. I am not of the mind that we can without question and accountability trust police to promote safety in our schools anymore than it has been proven police can be given carte blanche in our communities. Though we may determine her behavior to warrant some level of punishment there is nothing in that video that leads any sane person to believe that punishment should include being tossed about the room in front of her peers. Last time I checked, the role of SROs does not include discipline, but this is exactly what is happening on an alarmingly increasing rate. Discipline has shifted to: 1) arrests and violent “legal” takedowns of children whose bodies are still growing or 2) “alternative” schools where our children are cordoned off, effectively imprisoned on school grounds.

Finally, you do not teach children to obey or to respect “authority figures” (and I’m not suggesting either was the motivation in this case) by violent assault. It is a sign of a sickening educational system that Black children are more often than not the brunt of such vile behavior. I can only believe this is the case because Black obedience is more desired in America than our education. We watched a police officer strangle a grown Black man for failing to comply now we’ve watch a police officer’s violent assault against a little girl for failing to comply. The common denominator: excessive police force against Black bodies. We cannot abide an educational system that does not cherish our children and allows miscreants in uniforms to patrol its classes. These are not grades being toyed with but our very lives. Schools cannot afford to flunk on the safety and wellbeing of our children.

[1] “With Police in Schools, More Children in Court” by Erick Eckholm, April 12, 2013. Accessed at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/education/with-police-in-schools-more-children-in-court.html

[2] School Resource Officers, March 28, 2013 accessed at https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/03/28/school-resource-officers

[3] Matthew T. Theriot, “School Resource Officers and the Criminalization of Student Behavior,” in Journal of Criminal Justice 37 (2009) 280–287 Excerpt: “…students at schools with greater economic disadvantage had a higher number of total arrests as well as more arrests for assault, weapons possession, disorderly conduct, and other charges than schools with less poverty.”p.285

[4] NASRO (National Association of School Resource Officers) To Protect and Educate: The School Resource Officer and the Prevention of Violence in Schools, p. 9. Accessed at https://nasro.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/NASRO-To-Protect-and-Educate-nosecurity.pdf

[5] “Police in Schools are Not the Answer to the Newtown Shooting,” accessed at b.3cdn.net/advancement/df16da132af1903e5b_zlm6bkclv.pdf

[6] NASRO https://nasro.org/training/nasro-training-courses/

[7] “Police in Schools…”p.11.

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