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More Police in Schools Would Be Bad News for Black and Hispanic Students

February 1, 2013


Along with several gun-regulating proposals, President Obama recently called for an increased presence of police officers on the streets, and an increased budget for law enforcement, in order to quell gun violence. Additionally, several groups, including the NRA, have expressed support for increased militarization of public schools. There is scant evidence that law enforcement has historically played a big role in stopping shootings. A study done by the Secret Service and the Department of Education following the Columbine shooting found that “[d]espite prompt law enforcement responses, most attacks were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.” Increased police presence, however, has shown correlation to increased arrest of students, especially students of color.

In 2011, a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics showed that due to implementation of zero-tolerance policies and increased militarization of schools, 68 percent of U.S. schoolchildren said police officers patrolled their school campuses, and more than half of students reported that locker checks were used as a security tactic.

“What we know is that when you put police in schools they arrest kids. And what they arrest them for is not the things which necessarily go to school safety.” (Jim Eichner, managing director of programs at Advancement Project)

More police  means more locker checks and heightened security; this leads to more arrests for drug crimes. Because African American and Hispanic students tend to “look suspicious,” these students are more likely targeted, especially for minor misbehaving. What’s more, the ACLU found that students of color are far more likely to be expelled or arrested for the same bad behavior as white students, and are punished more severely for behaviors that are less serious.

Getting arrested or expelled from school can have devastating consequences for a person’s future, and this is an issue that most white students just don’t have to deal with. African Americans make up 16 percent of the nation’s overall juvenile population, but the ACLU found that they accounted for 45 percent of juvenile arrests in 2003.

Why does this issue continue to remain unaddressed? Are we so afraid of young black and Hispanic men that we can’t face the truth that the data clearly shows? Despite the fact that the majority of habitual drug users are white, 45 percent of inmates in state prisons for drug offenses in 2009 were African American, and only 27 percent were white. The astonishing reality is that African American men have a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison at some point in their lifetime. In fact, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book The New Jim Crow, since 1985, the prison population has increased by over 1000%, mainly because of crackdown on drug crime – the success of which can be traced to unfair targeting of young black and brown men. As though discrimination and profiling for misbehaving in high school isn’t enough, this blatant racism in our criminal justice system continues after high school. No matter where you look, African-American and Hispanic men tend to receive harsher sentences, are detained pretrial at higher rates, and imprisoned at higher rates in every age group, especially from ages 18-34, than whites.

We should applaud the President’s efforts to implement regulations on gun ownership. However, an increase in law enforcement in schools and on the streets is likely to increase the already devastating trend of school-to-prison path for people of color.  Let’s be realistic: Putting police officers in schools and increasing an already bulging budget for law enforcement probably isn’t going to do much to prevent shootings; however, it will ensure that our already unacceptable trend of unfair racial profiling continues.

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