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How Police Became Part of the Public School System and How to Get Them Out

The unfair treatment received by disadvantaged students in the classroom has only been reinforced by law enforcement agencies that also have records of unfairly targeting members of disadvantaged populations in their communities.—GS Potter

A "police officer" launches an attack on a female student (while a student seated behind her shields her eyes from the terror). The student under full frontal assault "refused to follow the teachers instructions" and was flipped, thrown, dragged and then arrested. She now has a criminal record to contend with for the rest of her life — for acting up in class.
A "police officer" launches an attack on a female student (while a student seated behind her shields her eyes from the terror). The student under full frontal assault "refused to follow the teachers instructions" and was flipped, thrown, dragged and then arrested. She now has a criminal record to contend with for the rest of her life — for acting up in class.

By GS Potter
Charges have yet to be brought against Ben Fields, the white police officer in South Carolina who slammed a 16-year-old Black student to the floor of her classroom at Spring Valley High School, injuring her face and neck and breaking her arm.

Nearly a month has passed since the video of the October 26 incident went viral, and while Fields was fired from his job on October 28, he has not been arrested or charged with assault or battery under South Carolina law.

Fields had previously been sued for use of excessive force and currently faces a federal lawsuit in which attorneys claim that he "recklessly targets African-American students." A federal investigation to determine whether or not any federal laws were violated during the incident is underway.

While questions regarding what charges can and should be brought against former deputy Fields are being investigated, there are other questions that deserve attention. Under what authority were the teacher and administrator allowed to call the police in response to a nonthreatening behavior in the first place? Why are police in classrooms anyway? And how do we get them out?

A Brief History of Law Enforcement in Public Schools

There is no law stating that schools are required to hire law enforcement. The relationship between police and schools has largely been an initiative of local and state authorities. In recent decades, though, this relationship has found significant support at the federal level.

Between the founding of the first recognized school resource officer program in 1958 and the 1980s, police involvement in schools was adopted by only a handful of school districts and largely supported by local and state funding. In the 1990s, though, police presence in public schools nationwide grew exponentially. During this decade, both the National Association for School Resource Officers was formed, and the US Justice Department developed their COPS in Schools grant program. This federal support dramatically increased the number of law enforcement officers in classrooms across the country. For example, according to a report published in Justice Quarterly, "As of July 2005, COPS has awarded in excess of $753 million to more than 3,000 grantees to hire more than 6,500 SROs through the CIS program and more than $10 million to hire approximately 100 SROs through the Safe Schools/Healthy Students program."

Momentum is still gaining at the federal level to increase the number of police officers in schools. For the 2014 fiscal year, the Obama administration called for an additional $150 million to add up to 1,000 new school resource officers through the Comprehensive School Safety Program. The administration also announced that the Department of Justice would develop a model of best practices for using school resource officers. Funding is also provided through state formula grants under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. This increased support has facilitated the placement of over an estimated 17,000 police officers in schools nationwide. This support has not increased monitoring or regulations of numbers or behaviors of police in schools, though. Policies surrounding school resource officers are largely still left up to the discretion of the police force, the school district and the state. This lack of regulation has ushered in system-wide abuses against students, especially disadvantaged students, across the country.

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