Schools are meant to mentally and intellectually stimulate young people in order to help them explore their own academic identities. However, the presence of police officers, or the so-called “school resource officers,” on school campuses with populations made up predominantly of students of color has been one way in which students are socially and mentally conditioned to accept their impending road to prison; the notorious school-to-prison pipeline.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “[After the end of Jim Crow laws] white communities argued that desegregation could not occur too quickly, claiming that a lack of discipline among Black children would bring disorder to white schools” (Bullies In Blue: Origins And Consequences of School Policing). Police officers were placed in schools in order to control the behavior of students of color, especifically to police behaviors that were deemed “unsafe” by white folks.
Policing behavior of students in schools has resulted in the criminalization of adolescent behaviors, particularly behaviors that students of color exhibit. The result is an internalized sense of criminality that normalizes detention for our youth of color, and the reality of eventually getting locked up in a prison becomes an underlying expectation for many of our students. Considering the historical context within which school resource officers were deemed necessary on school campuses, it is difficult to shake off the racial prejudice that envelops policing our students of color.
West Contra Costa Unified District has been, for several months, re-evaluating its use of school resource officers in the district in an attempt to disrupt practices that might inadvertently (or openly) perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline. WCCUSD began by getting rid of suspensions for students who partake in nonviolent behaviors. Suspensions have historically and disproportionately affected black and brown students who are directly impacted by the school-to-prison phenomenon. Although several school board members have expressed their hesitation regarding the removal of school resource officers from school campuses altogether, the simple re-evaluation shows that WCCUSD understands that we must self-examine and be proactive to effectively challenge the school-to-prison pipeline.
We must also better prepare police officers in handling adolescents when these students might engage in any behaviors that pose a physical threat. It is obvious that there might be situations, such as an active shooter situation, when police officers will need to come onto a school campus. Police officers should be prepared when, in the rare instance that police intervention is required, they must interact with our young people. We must invest in proper police training if we truly believe that effective policing is based on relationship-building. Let’s get out kids of color focused on their academics, and police focused on protecting and serving rather than criminalizing and detaining.
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