A coalition of progressive organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Advancement Project, the Alliance for Educational Justice, and the Dignity in Schools Campaign, is arguing that adding additional police officers, including those with guns, to schools throughout the country only further the current ‘school-to-prison’ culture currently found in many of our country’s urban schools.
“Enhanced police presence in schools is not a panacea for preventing the violence we saw in Newton, Connecticut. Instead, adding police and armed security to schools often means that normal student behavior becomes criminalized. The negative consequences of increased police activity is felt most sharply in schools with large numbers of African-American and poor children,” stated Damon Hewitt, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s Education Practice Group, on a conference call this morning to discuss a report issued by the coalition on the subject.
Hewitt claimed on the call that 42 percent of the students currently referred to law enforcement in the United States – and 35 percent of those arrested by police officers on school grounds – are African-American.
On the same conference call Judith Browne Diains, the co-director of the Advancement Project, commented that, “police in schools often respond to minor student misbehavior by handcuffing, arresting and criminalizing the young people they were intended to protect.” The report details many occasions in which students were arrested for non-crimes, including throwing a temper tantrum in class or writing on a school desk – all incidents, the organizations’ note, should have been handled by the school’s administration and guidance counsellors instead of the police.
“When we take a step back and review what we know about safe schools, we realize that these proposals go more towards creating the appearance of safety rather than towards actually creating truly safe schools,” the report reads.
The coalition suggests that the money being spent to fortify schools be invested in better mental health training for teachers, guidance counselors, school psychologists, and program support for students, as well as the development of local programs that improve student safety while reducing the number of juveniles entering the system annually.
Increasing the police presence at schools is one of the ideas that the task force spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden is considering to make our schools safer and prevent tragedies like the one in Newtown, Conn. last month from happening again.