As Vice President Joe Biden’s gun violence task force readies its recommendations to curb gun violence, youth advocacy and civil rights groups have spoken out against an idea that’s been floated to prevent future school-based mass shootings—using federal dollars to send more police officers to schools. On Monday the ACLU sent a letter to Biden cautioning him against repeating past mistakes in responding to school shootings.
The ACLU wrote (PDF):
This tragedy has sparked a long overdue national conversation about gun safety generally and school safety in particular. However, it is important to note that gun violence occurs everywhere, and what happened in Newtown was not the result of school-specific problems. We understand that you are considering proposals to increase federal dollars available to schools that want to hire police officers and install surveillance equipment. … While well-meaning policymakers might assume that adding police, metal detectors and surveillance necessarily makes students safer, experience demonstrates otherwise. In practice, most school police spend a significant portion of their time responding to minor, nonviolent infractions—children who have drawn on desks or talked back to teachers, for example—rather than behaviors that seriously threaten school safety. … Criminalizing minor misbehavior that should be handled by teachers or school administrators has serious consequences for kids and only contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline - that is, pushing kids out of classrooms and into jail cells. When students are arrested just once, their chances of graduating drop dramatically and they face lifelong repercussions as a result.
The overpolicing of schools not only does not improve the safety of those schools, advocacy groups say, they also have the impact of creating hostile learning environments, experts have warned.
The ACLU has urged the federal government instead put its resources toward creating more supports for young people and creating enriching learning environments by providing more counselors, health professionals and training for teachers. The ACLU is not alone in its calls. Communities of color are well familiar with the toll constant police presence in schools takes on kids’ lives, and have spoken out against further militarization of public school campuses. Those who live with heavy police presence in their lives know, more police do not actually automatically make schools safer.