The recent student-recorded video of a White male police officer slamming a Black female adolescent sitting in her school desk to the floor while her classmates and teachers looked on grabbed the nation’s attention about the unproductive presence of police in schools. This past July Mother Jones magazine documented how police in schools (or by their Orwellian title, “School Resource Officers”) inflict horrendous and unnecessary injuries on young people.
This is not a new problem. Ten years ago the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) issued a comprehensive report about this problem (“Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline”). Similar to police violence dished out to unarmed civilians, cops in schools punish and arrest students of color at a disturbingly disproportionate rate –about which the American Civil Liberties Union issued warnings seven years ago. Students of color on the average are disproportionately criminalized for the same behavior exhibited by their White peers.
The rise of the carceral state since the Reagan and Clinton administrations mirrors the rise in the criminalization of normal youthful behavior/misbehavior – with lasting negative effects on life opportunities for arrested and incarcerated youth.
The numbers help tell the story. In the past 40 years the rate of school suspensions and expulsions have doubled. Diversity and Education documents that
“suspended or expelled students have 300% higher likelihood than their peers of having a direct experience with the juvenile justice system within 1 year… During the 2009–2010 academic year, California school administrators alone suspended 400,000 students.”
A 2013 New York Times article – “With Police in Schools, More Children in Court” – observed how the presence of police in schools is associated with
“a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially non-violent behavior ... that sends children into criminal courts.”
Once in the juvenile criminal justice system, as noted in an earlier commentary (“‘Cruel and Unusual Punishment’ of Incarcerated Youth”), young people often suffer human rights violations.
Over the past four decades too many schools abandoned a focus on providing young people with counseling and on using other non-punitive methods to handle disciplinary complaints. Instead, public schools adopted a police-state strategy of law-and-order, a practice mirrored in the larger society that has resulted in the U.S. globally having the highest percentage of its population incarcerated.
With this most recent nationally circulated video and the growing research on the unproductive presence in of police in schools, we may begin to see policies that lead to the removal of all police from schools except under exceptional circumstances.