Why We Believe All Security Guards, Including Black Ones, Must Be Removed From Schools
Marlon Anderson should have a job, but Black students shouldn’t have to suffer because of it.
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Co-written by Michael A. R. Davis
Marlon Anderson, a Black security guard from West High School in Madison, Wisconsin, who was disciplined for using the “N-word” when demanding that a student not call him it, has been the subject of much attention. Citing the district's zero-tolerance policy, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) decided to terminate Anderson. This has been met with much public outcry — igniting protest and editorials.
Many have highlighted the lunacy of universally applied “one-size-fits-all” policies when it comes to the usage of the term. Some have even suggested that MMSD should have no role in determining how two Black people negotiate the legacies, histories and implications of the N-word amongst one another.
Regardless, the chaos has somewhat settled and Anderson has been reinstated in his position as a security guard. While MMSD’s decision to fire Anderson exemplifies the ways in which schools and districts perpetuate anti-blackness, there is much more to turn our attention towards. Namely — the inherent celebration and support of Anderson’s job position, security guard.
To defend Anderson’s right to persist in this role without addressing the position itself is to misunderstand the basis on which we should be advocating for him. Marlon Anderson, as an individual, seems to have a good reputation with students, MMSD staff and some community leaders in Madison. He’s also explicitly stated how much he values the opportunity to engage students in the school setting. Therefore, the following is not an attack on Anderson but instead a critique of how celebrating his role as “security” pathologizes, silences and harms Black children. We have to be able to support him without further reinforcing the marginalization of those who supposedly matter most.
Make no mistake, it is true that Anderson deserves the right to take care of himself and his medical needs, contribute to his family’s well-being and engage Black students. However, he does not deserve to do so at the expense of Black children’s well-being. Again, this is not about Anderson’s particular actions or character, but instead how the role of him and all other cops and security guards justifies harassment, disrespect and dehumanization. This has harmful structural roots that seem irreconcilable; Black bodies in the U.S. have been routinely policed since enslavement.
Madison is like every other city when it comes to anti-black school violence — from the hair being ripped out of a Black girl’s head, to a police brutalizing a Black boy in his home after leaving school, to even more implicit forms of violence such as the "Black Excellence" plan, that reifies white supremacist and toxic ideas of “academic success.”
Yet still, the voices of Black students have been silenced in conversations around school safety. There is widespread investment in ideologies and practices designed to surveil, capture and destroy Black students — due to how Blackness is situated in schools and society. For example, schools spend billions on school security each year, especially with high Black populations. While there is a large body of research from the community and the academy that points to the ineffectiveness and danger of heightened school security, school districts across the nation continue to invest in the destruction of Black youth.
What does this look like in MMSD? It is estimated that MMSD spends around 2 million dollars on school police, security and technology. Let’s look at the numbers: while Black students only make-up 18% of the student population, they made up 82% of school-based arrests and 82% of school-based citations during the 2017–2018 school year. During the same year, Black girls received 35 citations while white girls received zero citations. Between 2015 and 2018, Black girls were arrested 40 times while white girls were only arrested six times. Black students are being arrested and cited for “truancy,” “disorderly conduct” and “unlawful trespass” — most of which are discretionary, and the data/research shows us that school personnel sees Black students as inherently criminal. Security guards (and cops) surely make real contributions to this phenomenon, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
This is apparent in the case of Marlon Anderson, as the student who was involved in the incident still remains hidden, silent and absent from discourse that has followed. What is the student’s story? What took place from his perspective? Why was he being “disciplined” in the first place? No one cares or seems to know. Instead, we have simply acted as if these encounters for Black students should be normal and commonplace.
To bring it full circle, how might we understand the declaration “bitch ass n***a” as a refusal of the suffering that Black students face in schools everyday? How might a more critical analysis of “bitch ass n***a” invite those who care about the student to understand what took place from his perspective? After all, his refusal to comply was prompted by the non-consensual hand of Jennifer Talarczyk, the white woman and assistant principal who initiated the encounter with the student and was likely central to getting Anderson removed.
There are many organizations who value youth and their voices when others don't. For example, Freedom Inc. has joined a national “No Cops In Schools” movement to remove police, policing and security out of schools. Through their campaign, young people have developed a series of demands: the removal of police from schools; the creation of accountability policies for school personnel who rely on police, investment in the leadership, wellness and creativity of Black and non-black students of color; control over school safety for Black young people, parents and communities; and the usage of transformative justice as opposed to punitive discipline. Young people work day-to-day through political education, strategy meetings, creative decision making, etc., to sustain the campaign. We must acknowledge their work and labor. We can no longer ignore the practical demands of our young people and we must allow them to define safety in schools and elsewhere.
We should learn valuable lessons from the irony in this scenario. Even Anderson was not offered “security” from white supremacy, as policies and procedures supposedly intended to support Black people ultimately harmed and further marginalized them. We should use this irony to advocate for Anderson and all other Black students across MMSD, as their most pressing issues and needs remain obscured, trivialized and unaddressed. Policing and security guarding must end if we are to truly care for the full range of Black life that exists in schools.
Unfortunately for now, the firing of Anderson gained international attention, while the Black young person has been rendered invisible and insignificant.
This is for you, lil' bro.
Jacques P. Lesure is a Ph.D student and truth-teller at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from the east side of Atlanta. Find more of his work at jplesure.com.
Michael A. R. Davis is a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He loves Black people and strives to positively destroy the world.