Restorative justice. Restorative circles. Equity in education. College and career ready. These are all buzz phrases about initiatives high on education’s lexicon list. They sound good but, without any action taken towards their actual fruition, they are words that mean absolutely nothing. Just saying them or writing them surely isn’t doing much to change the landscape of our biased educational system. What about the students whose lives school is meant to help?
Before I can even delve into answering that question, I’m forced to yet again address a facet of the school-to-prison-pipeline that I witness and am psychologically affected by every day. It is a facet that I truly believe ushers Black and Brown students from communities of a lower socio-economic echelon directly from the classroom to the jail holding cell: School Safety, aka the New York Police Department’s hefty police presence in our schools.
I think I speak for many Black people when I say that I don’t feel safe when I see a police officer. As a community, our interactions with police have not historically been positive or particularly beneficial. Having to walk through a metal detector, to have your bags checked, to be body scanned all prior to entering your first period class does something internally detrimental to a student. It does something internally detrimental to me just witnessing it. It feels wrong. It’s not something that appears or that is felt all at once. It’s a gradual stripping away of students’ sensitivity, their personal space, their privacy. Students’ sense of humanity is desensitized when it is the norm rather than the exception to be searched and considered suspicious on sight, to walk through metal detectors each day.
Furthermore, because of the overwhelming police presence in public schools, what were once considered minor infractions that were handled in-house by deans, counselors, and other support staff and which usually resulted in a phone call home and an after-school or lunchtime detention, are now referred straight to the police.
According to an article this week in The Observer,
Donavon Taveras, a 17-year-old member of the group Make the Road New York, blasted what he called “a racist system that pushes black and brown students out of school rather than empowering them and supporting their academic journeys.”
“I want to emphasize the systemic racism of this dangerous and vicious cycle,” Taveras said. “Youth from Make the Road New York and Urban Youth Collaborative believe that we must remove all police officers and metal detectors from schools and summonses and arrests for non-criminal violations and misdemeanors and replace it with restorative practices.”
Somehow, police and school just don’t mix. They seem as if they should be mutually exclusive. Instead, one is feeding the other in the most unhealthy and unnatural of ways. I understand that in the crazy world in which we live, there will be times when the need for law enforcement’s presence in school will arise. However, I believe that having them already there in our schools is in some ways asking for trouble. Their presence surely isn’t a deterrent, if that was a school of thought. I just really think that the millions of dollars spent on funding the militant police presence in our public schools would be better spent on hiring more support staff. We need to get tot the root of why students are acting out in such aggressive ways in school. They need help. They don’t necessarily need punishment, and if they do, it should not be a first recourse.
But what do I know. I’m just a teacher.