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The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board recently wrote an editorial that the Madison Metropolitan School District should keep cops in schools.

This, of course, is the wrong choice – a choice led by fear, half-truths, and anecdotal evidence. Thankfully, due to research and Families for Justice of Dane County, we can know the truth.

The WSJ, and indeed most arguments for cops in schools, sound the same. They must respond to emergencies, yet in Madison, SRO’s (School Resources Officers) were present in less than one-third of incidents. This lets us know, overall police aren’t needed to respond to situations that arise within a school.

They also brush aside any bias of police officers, or institutional racism from the institution of policing itself, by saying the officers are minorities. This implies: how can they be racist or how could they perpetuate a system of racism if they are minorities? This screams a lack of understanding of how racism works, specifically institutional racism.

People of color have and will continue to perpetuate white supremacy and racist outcomes in racist institutions (Hi, Ben Carson). When an institution, like law enforcement, is rooted in racism, a disparate impact will occur regardless of the color of the skin of the individual working within the institution – as the institution itself perpetuates racist outcomes. And even with these “I have a black friend” SROs, there are “at least 4 arrests involving black people for every 1 white person.”

Further, the open records request from Families for Justice of Dane County also tell us “less than 50% of incidents school cops report occur on school grounds” and that there was “Nothing to report” on at least 50 workdays last year; school cops reported that there was nothing to report from their labor that day.”

There are anecdotal arguments. You hear of an officer intervening with a student to prevent outcomes that would involve arrest, suspensions, or more. But more often than not, these situations would have played out just the same way, if not better, if schools had more social workers. Much of the work SROs are tasked to do is that of a social worker – except social workers will impact the school-to-prison pipeline far less. As someone that has spent his entire 32 years of life living with a social worker – cops are no social workers.

In the case of school shootings, there have been very little documented cases of cops in schools preventing a school shooting. (See Tweet at right, for instance.) What is well documented is the contribution to the school-to-prison pipeline. And in a school district that is criminally failing its black and brown students, why are they letting officers further this criminality. If we’re talking violence, then we must also talk of documented violence within schools. Let’s not forget a fully grown man ripping a black girl out of her chair in South Carolina, and throwing her to the ground.

See, SROs are 100% reliant on how “good” that individual is, but students are not protected from the system and institution that is law enforcement, and it’s racist outcomes. One officer might be less likely to arrest a student of color than another and build great relationships. But what happens when that officer leaves? Not to mention, the numbers show that officer was likely still contributing to the criminalization of black and brown kids.

“If this city and school district are serious about addressing its deep racial disparities, it would remove SROs, and use the saved money to hire more social workers for its schools. More social workers would help students navigate a stressful school environment and they would also be able to work with community resources just as well, if not better, than SROs. And if the school indeed needs an officer present, I’m sure there will be some nearby to respond quickly.”

Madison has a habit of letting its worst fears paralyze itself when it comes to doing what’s right, especially when it comes to black and brown bodies. We saw this with the Common Council voting to add more officers, and twisting and turning their so-called logic to defend that choice. If you don’t know, they originally said if MPD received a federal grant they would match the funds. MPD did not receive the grant, but the Common Council said they should “match” the funds they didn’t get anyways. My own alder also cited retirement as why the needed to expand the force, but can’t you just replace those that retired instead of expanding? Oh, and burnout, but MPD doesn’t actually record what many of its officers are doing. And our County Board approved a massive amount of funding for a new jail, beyond just making the current one up to code.

The bottom line is that our governing bodies let fear guide them. Someone can always point to outlier situations to say we should do something. Shoot, there are stories out there of not wearing a seatbelt saving someone’s life. Does that mean Madison should stop enforcing seatbelt laws? No, because the larger impact is that seatbelts save lives.

Are there outlier situations where an officer in school has had a positive impact on a student? Yes. In fact, I am one of those outlier situations where an officer helped me out of a tough jam and didn’t arrest me when he could have. The thing is, though, arrest shouldn’t have been on the table – because I needed assistance and help, not a cell. Help I was getting from a counselor and a caseworker at school.

So I chose to look beyond my individual experience and I see that my situation was reliant on the individual. And if he wasn’t even there, then arrest probably wouldn’t have been on the table. But even more importantly, we see in the numbers, it is a net negative, one that continues to harm our black and brown students.

If this city and school district are serious about addressing its deep racial disparities, it would remove SROs, and use the saved money to hire more social workers for its schools. More social workers would help students navigate a stressful school environment and they would also be able to work with community resources just as well, if not better, than SROs. And if the school indeed needs an officer present, I’m sure there will be some nearby to respond quickly.

Written by Matthew Braunginn

Matthew Braunginn

Matthew Braunginn is a Madison native and civil rights activist.

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