I grew up on Long Island. My entire education from kindergarten through graduate school was facilitated in schools on Long Island. I live on Long Island still. It is fair to say that Long Island, with all of its pervasive racially, socially, and economic-segregated neighborhoods and schools, is not only a part of New York that I know very well, but one that is near and dear to my heart and one in which I have a lifelong vested interest.
Since the recent U.S. presidential election, I’ve noticed that Long Island is being featured in the news very frequently, with regular visits from Mr. Trump to Suffolk County especially. His visits after the election have centered almost solely on the “War on Gangs”, but because he often speaks in such vague, incomprehensible terms, I wasn’t exactly sure of what his mission was. Yesterday the answer to that mystery was revealed when New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that scores of police officers and State troopers would take up permanent residence in ten middle and high schools on Long Island — Suffolk County, to be exact — that have a high gang presence.
According to the Daily News, “Cuomo said school teachers are not equipped to deal with gang violence, which reinforces the need for a police presence that can work with educators to identify early warning signs of gang activity, interact with students, instructors and the community, and serve as a needed resource. The State Police will also release a gang awareness curriculum, Cuomo said.”
I disagree that there is a need for police presence in our schools to begin with; to reinforce this ideology is very dangerous. Is gang violence a real problem on Long Island? Without a doubt. The MS-13 gang has been a notorious presence in neighborhoods like Hempstead, Brentwood, and Central Islip for decades. Something needs to be done to halt them in their tracks — but bringing law enforcement into our schools is not the answer.
I’m curious: How many teachers did Mr. Cuomo consult with about the impact of gangs in the schools before he ordered State troopers there? Has any consideration been given to what such a blatant police presence will have on the students? The school culture? The academic environment? Have police forged positive relationships with the students in the communities where these schools are? Have more police officers of color been hired? Have police officers received cultural sensitivity training to be fully-equipped to identify who is in a gang and who is not without making stereotypical judgements about youngsters based on the language they speak or the color shirt they wear?
I’m concerned — and rightfully so — that this “War on Gangs” taking place in schools on Long Island is yet another strategically-masked way concocted by those in power to feed the ravenous school-to-prison pipeline that unrelentingly preys upon Black and Brown people in the same manner as the “War on Crime,” the “War on Drugs,” and the “War on Poverty” that came before it. These are wars on our sons and daughters. Wars on our families. Wars on our future.
School is supposed to be a safe zone, a safe space, a caring environment where students feels that they belong. I know that gangs are disrupting that peace. Having police in schools does too.