Why The Call For Police-Free Schools Remains Urgent
In 2020, cities like Minneapolis, Denver and Oakland, California, eliminated police from schools. It can be done in more cities this year — and it must.
February 04, 2021 at 3:04 pm
Recently, videos of yet another police assault of a Black student surfaced on the internet. A Black student at Liberty High School in Kimmessee, Florida, was body-slammed to the ground by a school resource officer (SRO) employed by the Osceola County Sheriff’s office. While Blavity reported, as per Osceola County Sheriff Marcos López, that the student was fine, this was the typical “copaganda” spin to downplay the vicious act of an officer. In fact, the assault was so aggressive that the girl’s mother says the 16-year-old is “traumatized,” and currently “suffering from memory loss, headaches, blurry vision and sleep deprivation.” The #AssaultAtLiberty can be added to a long list of egregious attacks on youth that bring to light the continued maltreatment of Black and brown people at the hands of police, even in places of learning.
According to a 2016 study by the National Black Women’s Justice Institute, Black girls are seven times more likely to be suspended from school and are four times more likely to be arrested on school campus than their white peers. These disparities are not due to behavior but instead are the result of racism. A 2020 study by Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, “Girlhood Interrupted,” indicates that perceptions of Black girls as less innocent than white girls may contribute to harsher discipline in school and treatment by SROs.
In 2019, my organization, Advancement Project National Office, launched the #AssaultAt map in partnership with the Alliance for Educational Justice. The digital map displays assaults, caught on video or reported in the news, that have occurred in schools across the country since 2009. The reality is that while we’ve been able to track many of these assaults for the public to see, there are many that continue to go under the radar. The stories are outrageous and the impacts on Black youth are significant.
The consequences of being viciously assaulted by the police at any age are profound, but particularly at such a young age. Beyond the physical harm, victims of police violence experience trauma that includes a distrust of police in the future. This is why emotional, social, and mental health support and resources should be provided to the students involved, including those who witnessed this assault, and their families.
In addition to mental health supports, other immediate actions that should be taken include repealing the Florida law that at least one police officer must be present in every school, firing the officer involved in the incident, and ensuring that no suspensions are made and no charges are filed against any of the students involved in this incident, including those who recorded and shared video on social media. Young people and their communities deserve repair, but in a state like Florida, that seems like a pipe dream.
It had not even been 48 hours since the #AssaultatLiberty, when another incident of police violence was reported on Thursday, January 28, that occurred in a different part of Florida. A police officer of Lake County, Florida, tased a Eustis High School student in her classroom, which could have resulted in severe and lasting injuries. The student assaulted, also a young Black girl, has been arrested and remains in custody, while the officer has received no consequence.
Those of us who have been fighting to get police out of schools for decades understand how crucial it is to have police free schools, and have been urging this kind of radical movement across school boards for years. We know that the same police who assault, harass, and kill Black and brown people in the streets are the so-called School Resource Officers assaulting our young people in their classrooms and in school hallways.
Just weeks after the murder of George Floyd last May in Minneapolis, the Minneapolis School Board made the necessary decision to end their contract with the Minneapolis Police Department in June, which energized Black and brown organizers who have been advocating for the removal of police from schools for years. Both the Denver School Board of Education and Oakland Unified School District terminated their contracts with the local police departments as a result of pressure from organizers, proving that “safety” in schools can absolutely be reimagined for our children. Similar actions to move toward police free schools have happened in San Francisco, Madison (WI) and Rochester (NY). Florida could follow the lead of state’s like Massachusetts, where Governor Charlie Baker signed a police reform bill into law, officially ending the requirement that schools have police.
However, Florida, with a long history of police assaults on children and youth, is not budging. The culture is ingrained. Following the #AssaultAtLiberty, even after the young lady appeared to have lost consciousness, Sheriff López did not soften. Instead, he continued to advocate for police in schools and said that “we need our students to be able to trust them.”
With a long history of police violence against Black and brown children in school hallways and classrooms across the country, trust cannot be built on such a faulty foundation. And in the midst of COVID, police in schools have doubly deadly consequences.
We must follow the bold and powerful lead of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council of Chicago, Illinois, Freedom Inc., in Madison, Wisconsin, Power U – Center for Social Change in Miami, Florida, Philadelphia Student Union and many others, in advocating for the possibility of another world for our youth by calling for an end to policing in schools. A society that relies on policing and excuses assaults on youth does not value human life, and it is those who are marginalized that experience this the most. Despite #PoliceFreeSchools wins in cities like Minneapolis, Minnesota, Denver, Colorado, and Oakland, California, in 2020, there is still much work to be done and accountability to be taken.
As the leader of a national civil rights organization that has worked on education justice issues for over a decade, we will continue to support parents, students and educators in campaigns to eliminate racial discipline disparities and dismantle institutional racism within our nation’s schools. We will fight to protect young Black and brown students from state violence.
We know that a #PoliceFreeSchools future where young people are nurtured is possible, so now we must do all we can to make it so across every single school district.