On my first day of kindergarten, I walked into the school building and a police officer greeted me. I was too young to see any issue with this and thought it was completely normal until I went to a private school in the seventh grade and saw a security guard instead of a cop. Why is it that a young child can go into a place of learning and the first person they see is a member of law enforcement?
According to Harold Jordan, senior policy advocate at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, 1.7 million students are in schools with SROs (school resource officers), but no counselors and 3 million are in schools with no nurses, but they have an SRO. Why is it that having a police officer in our schools is more important than having a counselor or a nurse?
This is a problem. And although it affects everyone, the kids most affected by having police officers in schools are Black disabled boys.
My little brother has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). I will never understand what he goes through, but I have seen him lose control many times. His emotions are always very intensified, so when he gets angry or upset, it’s very, very bad. Yelling at him or getting angry only makes it worse. My parents and I have learned techniques to calm him down, but not everyone has the patience or knows how to deal with him, so I understand when teachers get frustrated with him. However, I would never consider him to be a danger to the classroom. He’s 11 years old. But the thing is, SROs will view him and other disabled kids as threats. In 2015, an SRO in Kentucky handcuffed an eight-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl.
Both of them had ADHD. Can you imagine being arrested at eight years old? Seeing your classmate get arrested in third grade? The trauma and fear that those kids faced is unimaginable, and yet many kids experience this every year. At the time of this incident, the Department of Education in 2014, disabled students represent 12 percent of the students’ population in public schools, but 75 percent of students are subjected to physical restraints during school. According to End Zero Tolerance, a site curated by the ACLU full of resources and studies about the school to prison pipeline, Black boys with disabilities were more likely than any other demographic group to be arrested in school.
Physical restraints do not solve problems, they only serve to escalate the situation. According to Jordan, 91.2% of police officers in schools carry physical restraints, 70.4% carry chemical aerosol sprays, 91.1% carry a firearm, but only 32.6% wear a body camera. Why are SROs carrying weapons in a school full of children?
These officers are not trained to deal with kids, especially ones with disabilities. I don’t want my brother to be in a school system where he could be arrested simply because he can’t control his emotions or because he acts differently from other kids. When you treat students like criminals, they begin to think they are criminals. And that is how the school to prison pipeline begins for many Black kids. According to Teaching Tolerance, an organization that provides free resources for educators, Black students constituted only 18% of all students, but 46% of students suspended more than once. Suspending kids doesn’t help with their behavior. On the contrary, this takes away time from their education and increases the likelihood of them winding up behind bars. Our schools are sending a message that they no longer have hope in our Black boys, and that is a hard burden for them to carry.
The purpose of SROs is to keep kids safe, but they are doing the opposite. When Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, spoke to NPR, he said, “There is no evidence to show that expanding law enforcement by adding SROs actually results in safer schools.”
Because of years of media stereotyping, Black kids are already seen as more aggressive. It scares me to think that my little brother getting overstimulated could be seen as dangerous in the eyes of a school cop clouded with implicit bias. The use of SROs and violence sends a clear message to these kids. It sends a message that our schools don’t care about helping kids. We would rather arrest them.