Spectral color

Students of color fend off calls for police at schools

After the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, schools across the country pledged to step up security measures and increase law enforcement presence on campus, in part to reassure parents and students.


What do you want to know

  • A group of students in Wake County, North Carolina, advocates removing police officers from school buildings and instead investing in student counselors and support staff
  • Critics say the presence of armed police on campus can lead to the arrest and disproportionate punishment of black students, leading to what they call the school-to-jail pipeline
  • The National Association of School Resource Officers rejects criticism that police contribute to a school-to-jail pipeline and says officers who follow its best practices do not arrest students for issues that are typically handled by educators.

But policing inside schools can make some students more uncomfortable, not less. Especially for black students and other students of color, their personal experiences with the police can leave them feeling unsafe and estranged from school when they see officers on campus.

High school student Malika Mobley saw three different school resource officers patrolling the campus in Raleigh, North Carolina. Once on his way home from school, Mobley witnessed officers arrest a visibly distraught classmate and push the student into the back of a police cruiser.

“They were screaming, ‘Why are you doing this to me? I did nothing,” said Mobley, co-chair of the Wake County Black Student Coalition. “I was just forced to stand there and there was nothing I could do.”

Since 2020, the student group has been advocating for the removal of police officers from school buildings in favor of an investment in student counselors and support staff.

“We don’t see police presence as part of the solution,” Mobley said. “If you really think about why the police don’t make us safer, you can make connections to all kinds of tragedies that affect the most marginalized among us.”

Police officers have had a regular presence in schools across the country in recent decades, often in the form of school resource officers, who are responsible for building relationships with young people to promote trust in the forces. order, ensuring security and enforcing the law. Critics say the presence of armed police on campus often results in Black students arrested and disproportionately punishedleading to what they call the school-to-jail pipeline.

Researchers have found that black college students report feeling less sure around police than their white peers and that police in predominantly black school districts were more likely to view students themselves as threats.

Black students and other students of color are also disproportionately likely to have negative interactions with police at schools, ranging from referrals to law enforcement to arrest or detention, said Katherine Dunn , director of the Advancement Project’s Opportunity to Learn program. Since 2007, the Advancement Project has documented at least 200 instances of officers in schools assaulting students, she said.

“It shows all the physical harm that young people suffer from the police,” she said. “It’s also the experience of being degraded and feeling like a criminal because you have to walk down the hall to your class with several armed cops, who aren’t there for your safety, who you see being arrested your friends, attack your friends.

In 2018, after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the state legislature passed laws requiring public schools to have law enforcement or armed personnel present on campuses.

A study of the impact of the law by F. Chris Curran, a professor at the University of Florida, found that increased police presence was followed by an increase in school arrests and the number of reported behavioral incidents. . He said there are many factors to consider when deciding what role the police play in schools.

“I would like this conversation to include thoughtful considerations about the potential benefits, the decrease in certain types of behaviors, but also the potential unintended consequences, if it increases the likelihood of students being arrested or potentially increases racial disparities in the discipline. and arrest rates,” Curran said.

While there are examples of school resource officers responding to incidents of gun violence, Curran said, the presence of law enforcement does not always guarantee that shootings or other violence will not occur. not, or that the agent would be immediately effective in apprehending the perpetrator and minimizing losses.

In a statement released this week on school safety best practices following the Uvalde, Texas shooting, the National Association of School Resource Officers stressed the importance of having “a carefully selected and specially formed on its campus whenever school is in session.”

The non-profit group dismissed criticism that the officers were contributing to a school-to-prison pipeline. Officers who follow his best practices, he says, don’t arrest students for disciplinary issues that would normally be handled by educators.

As elsewhere in the country last week, the the police presence has been reinforced outside schools in North Carolina to reassure families following the shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Wake County Schools has 75 School Resource Officers, drawn from several local law enforcement agencies.

The Wake County Black Student Coalition’s campaign to remove officers stemmed in part from student accounts of bad experiences with officers, including a 2017 incident where a school resource officer was filmed picking up a black girl and tackle her to the ground, said Chalina Morgan-Lopez, a high school student who is co-president of the student group.

“I think it’s a reasonable response to want more officers in schools, especially from people who feel really protected by law enforcement, even though that’s not my lived experience. “, Morgan-Lopez said. “But I think people have to take into account…that officers are actually doing more harm than good.”

Last summer, the school system made several changes to its school resource officer program, including a new grievance process involving officers and adjustments to training to better prepare them for the school environment, Lisa said. Luten, spokesperson for the school system. The review was based on community feedback the district was seeking following the killing of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Luten said.

“This is not a new conversation for us,” she said. “It certainly brought him back to light.”