The opinions expressed here are those of that organization, and not necessarily those of Madison365, its staff, funders or board of directors.
When we talk about school resource officers in our schools, it is important to center the impact that they have on black youth and other youth of color, Queer and Trans youth, and youth with disabilities who are pushed into the school-to-prison pipeline. People often care about protecting white students and white systems at the expense of black and brown students and their families. Millions of our children have been funneled into this racist system without any accountability for the people and institutions, including cops, that continue to destroy their lives. This is why Freedom, Inc., along with other community members, continues to fight for police-free schools.
We are all deeply affected when school shootings happen. Despite what occurred recently in Waukesha and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, there is still fragile and questionable evidence to indicate that the presence of SROs increases school safety, but it does increase the criminalization of black youth and other youth of color. In fact, there was an SRO present at the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, FL and he was not able to stop the shooter. In the terrible case of a school shooting, it is actually more effective to call for help outside of the school. We should also look at prevention by investing in our young people. We need to invest in adequate counselors, therapists, and other mental health professionals who can provide preventative resources and de-escalation without causing further harm.
The status quo, in Madison and elsewhere, justifies police presence in schools through claims of violence prevention, in this case, a possible “school shooter” or “weapon yielder.” Following that rationale, if we know that school resource officers and security statistically cause violence – arrest, criminalize, abuse, and terrorize Black and nonblack students of color – on a daily basis – why wouldn’t we remove SROs if safety and violence prevention is actually the goal? The logic doesn’t add up unless folks are willing to admit that they don’t care about black and brown children. The fact of the matter is black and non-black students of color are deemed threats and problems. Therefore, our schools’ current version of “safety” is detrimental to us because our children are seen as the thing that is unsafe. But what about cops shooting children? As recent events illustrate, the guns that are causing the most harm are the ones we pay to be in our schools.
We have to ask the question, who even gets to define safety? Is it students that are most impacted by school violence, including the violence from school resource officers? Here in Madison, the fear of white residents, students, and parents are prioritized over the lives of black and brown children. During the 2017/18 school year in MMSD, black students were only 18 percent of enrollment, but 81 percent of school-based arrests and 82 percent of school-based citations. This is a direct result of criminalizing and anti-black policies in MMSD.
Statistically, black children are not mass shooters. The profile is actually white, racist boys with a history of domestic violence and animal abuse. Our children do not shoot up schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and churches, but they are the ones targeted by police for surviving and having the audacity to try and thrive. More importantly, the only school shootings that happened in Wisconsin last week were shootings by police officers. What happens when the safety concern for students is the cops? Is this ever taken into consideration? Defining safety without using an anti-racist lens, gender justice lens, queer justice lens and disability justice lens is harmful, to say the least. Our elected officials and anyone that has been given the responsibility of caring for our children have an obligation to deepen their understanding and analysis around school safety and the impact it has on black students and students of color. Otherwise, they will continue to perpetuate oppressive practices and fail to actually keep students safe from harm.
We at Freedom, Inc. encourage all community members who care about young people to stand with us and uplift our demands. MMSD must completely remove all cops from schools and create an accountability process for school personnel who use police to harm students. MMSD must invest money and resources that promote the leadership, wellness, and creativity of black youth and other youth of color. MMSD must give community control over school safety. This means that most impacted youth, parents, and other trusted adults will have the power to decide what keeps students safe and the power to fully implement it.