by Linda Green and Karyn Pomerantz
Capitalism uses police as agents of social control in our neighborhoods, jobs, and schools, using their power to put kids on a school-to-jail pipeline. In 2013-2014, school police in 8000 schools arrested 70,000 students with black children overly represented (Ed Week). Detentions and arrests of students can affect college admissions and future incarceration. Criminal justice reformers have been fighting for years to interrupt this pathway by freeing schools of police and punitive policies like the use of metal detectors. Such measures do not prevent violence or its causes, and create an antagonistic climate. Parents, politicians, and teachers take different positions, some claiming School Resource Officers, SROs, are necessary to ensure safety and others protesting the increased risk of arrest and brutality mostly directed to black and Latin students as well as those with disabilities.
Alternate methods to deal with behavioral problems in the schools exist. Researchers have shown that students who face racial discrimination are more likely to feel alienated in schools, disengaging from them by dropping out or not trying academically. Supportive teachers who acknowledge and show interest in students’ cultural backgrounds help mitigate this alienation (Bottiani, Gottfredson). Abolitionists point out that SROs do nothing to prevent mass school shootings, and a simulation study verified this finding (Child Trends).
Restorative justice strategies to bring fighting students together to discuss their issues, mental health programs, and positive youth development can mitigate student aggression. Placing the issue of SROs and school safety in the context of organizing for equity and healthy conditions broadens the issue and addresses solutions, such as housing and health care, that impact many problems.
In November 2020, this blog published an article on abolition, the police, and a local Maryland campaign to remove SROs from the Prince George’s County schools (Abolition). This posting reports on recent activities in the ongoing campaign as of March 2021.
In Prince George’s County, MD, “COUNSELORS NOT COPS!” has been the rallying cry of anti-racist activists since the global uprising after George Floyd’s murder. Antiracist radicals who have helped lead the fight against racist police brutality in the County since the 1970s, jumped into the struggle to get armed police out of our county schools. In August 2020, residents joined a group of young activists in MORE (Mount Rainier Organizing for Racial Equality) to wage a campaign to demand that the Board of Education (BOE) break its contract with the police to have school resource officers (SROs-sworn and armed police officers) in our schools. In a flagrant racist action, the BOE chair unilaterally cancelled the meeting to expel SROs from the schools under the pretense of “investigating contracts.” The chair was trying to intimidate the board members who will vote to remove SROs as well as angry community residents. This is what “democracy” under capitalism looks like. But we are not backing down!
The campaign against SROs kicked off with a virtual program in August featuring speakers who are friends of PLP representing public health and social work, as well as other students and teachers. Public Health Awakened, a group of public health advocates, joined with MORE in launching the program. Public defenders weighed in with national and local data that emphasized the disparate number of arrests of Black students by police in school settings. In past years, such disciplinary problems would have been handled by the school and not the police state. Arrests limit jobs and educational opportunities like college admission, derailing career paths. A university professor who has worked in the Latin community for years highlighted the connections of school policing with ICE.
Police and security outnumber nurses and social workers in our schools. Instead of racist cops, we demanded more mental health resources during the BOE campaign. Still, while these resources are important, additional support staff won’t solve the stresses and racism of capitalism. Replacing capitalism through an egalitarian, collective society of mutual support will eliminate this psychologically damning system.
The Campaign Against SROs Picks up Steam
Following the August program, we deepened our organizing with an online petition, an informational website, and a letter writing campaign to the BOE showing strong support for ousting SROs. However, in an earlier meeting, the BOE voted 8-6 to keep cops in the schools. Alvin Thornton, a Howard professor and “progressive” educational activist who had previously created policy for equity in educational funding, actually voted with the majority to keep the cops. Beware of liberal wolves in sheep’s clothing! The anti-SRO campaign continued into the election season. Two new members who favored removing the SROs were elected and a new chair was appointed. Additional programs and rallies were held during this time by other groups in the county. A letter to the editor written by a MORE member had 26 organizations sign on to the campaign.
In response to the growing campaign, the CEO of the school system created an online survey of teachers and County residents about the SRO program. A MORE member pointed out the intentional bias in the survey, which led to a widely distributed critique of the survey on Facebook and email lists. Three days before the vote we again produced a virtual program on Zoom and Facebook. One speaker, a teacher with 29 years teaching in the County, eloquently explained how she had shifted from believing in Zero Tolerance Policies to supporting Restorative Justice efforts, which treat students with behavioral issues like human beings who are maturing during high school. MORE members worked closely with the advocates on the School Board, holding weekly meetings and working the ban on SROs through committees so that it was ready for a vote on Feb 11. Several of us were signed up to testify when the meeting was suddenly cancelled.
The willingness of the capitalists and their agents among local politicians to use police for social control was evident to our friends, who agreed that if and when the BOE approves this policy, there were many ways the capitalists and their politicians would continue racist repression in the schools. The role of the Black politicians who lead the County is obvious to advocates who work on criminal injustice reform. From County Executive Angela Alsobrooks who blocked the re-opening of the Archie Elliott III case (a young man murdered by cops while handcuffed) to Vice President Kamala Harris, a vicious prosecutor who sought to arrest parents for truant children, the election of “progressive” Black politicians are bittersweet outcomes for this Black majority County.
Bosses’ Racist Propaganda Must Be Defeated
Years of attacking Black and Latin youth have led residents to fear young people. We have to discuss these issues with our friends and neighbors who have accepted the stereotypes on news programs and in the press. Many parents who have bought into this false ideology are afraid of sending children to public schools. This fear is sometimes shared by Black residents as well as white and Latin families. Instead of trusting students, helping them mature, and developing more creative approaches to discipline, the solution arising from racist ideas is to hammer them with police and security officers. Building a different society requires reimagining education and guidance/discipline; providing real learning opportunities, and supporting students who face many pressures outside of the classroom. But capitalism has no interest in the education of the working class. It needs scientists and engineers and medical experts and researchers but otherwise the role of school is training students in the rules of capitalist society and employing the school to prison pipeline for any infraction. Only an egalitarian society that values all children can offer a future that encourages all students to learn and master skills and contribute to everyone’s quality of life.
Jessika H. Bottiani, Heather L. McDaniel, Lora Henderson, Jasmin E. Castillo, Catherine P. Bradshaw. Buffering Effects of Racial Discrimination on School Engagement: The Role of Culturally Responsive Teachers and Caring School Police. Journal of School Health, 12 November 2020 . ttps://doi.org/10.1111/josh.12967
Denise C. Gottfredson, Scott Crosse, Zhiqun Tang, Erin L. Bauer, Michele A. Harmon, Carol A. Hagen, Angela D. Greene. Effects of school resource officers on school crime and responses to school crime. Criminology and Public Policy. 22 July 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/1745-9133.
Child Trends. School shooting simulation studies should not inform policymakers’ safety responses. Child Trends, Feb 25, 2021. https://www.childtrends.org/blog/school-shooting-simulation-studies-should-not-inform-policymakers-safety-responses