The Naked Truth/Jamala Rogers
No Cops in Schools
and Detroit.) Why did we allow our schools to get militarized like our communities through the Department of Justice’s 1033 program? How is
a cop looking like a soldier in Fallujah, Iraq a healthy visual for students?
The seeds were planted some twenty years ago when then-President Bill Clinton proposed his infamous legislation on crime. Propelling the
juvenile component of the crime bill was the alarm of the young, Black super-predator. The reality is that the coming of the super-predator
never materialized. The term soon faded from public discourse but much of the attitudes, policies and program remained intact —even in the
face of tons of research that discounted the original premise. Like the decrease in crime in the broader society, incidents of individual acts of
school violence have also decreased. Yet the message that we keep getting bombarded with is that violence is rampant and that we need
Then came the mass shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 which resulted in increased federal funding for hiring police in schools
through programs by the Department of Justice like ‘COPS in Schools” or “Safe Schools/Healthy Students.” Predominantly white or affluent
schools like Columbine pretty much rejected the concept of cops in their schools. Jim St. Germain, co-founder of Preparing Leaders of
Tomorrow, echoed the sentiments of communities where those schools are: “Kids from suburban white America — they don’t get arrested for
cursing out a teacher, throwing a book,” St. Germain says. “These are the things they go to a counselor for.”
Next came the Zero-Tolerance policies adopted by many school districts as their desperate and ineffective response to school behavior that
reflected normal kid stuff or other behaviors that were symptomatic of deeper emotional and psychological issues. Even groups like the
American Federation of Teachers bought into this flawed response to school violence although it has since rejected the failed policy. ZT is
where suspensions and expulsions —the biggest motivators for school drop-outs —have skyrocketed.
Studies by independent and respected sources conclude what those doing the advocacy work in the schools and in the community already
knew: more interactions with police lead to more violations, more violations lead to more interactions with the criminal injustice system. This
is where the concept of a “school to prison pipeline” is born, rooted in real experiences and solid facts.
The shift to cops in the schools dealing with school discipline is ominous because it takes the discretion and power away from teachers and
administrators and puts it into the hands of police who often lack the training and clear standards to respond appropriately. They also bring in
their racial and gender biases from dealing with street crime. That’s how you get someone like deputy Ben Fields in Columbia, SC who’s
captured on cell phone video lifting a black girl out of her desk and body-slamming her to the floor. It was later report that the juvenile’s
mother had died recently and she had been put into foster care. Unbridled brutality was the response Fields meted out to a grieving student
coping with life-changing circumstances. That’s how you get an autistic student at East High being wrestled to the ground, hand-cuffed and
arrested. In an approved agreement, the student could sit in the school’s Atrium when she needed emotional and physical respite from her
classroom. All the cop knew is that he barked and order and the student didn’t comply.
Black students in Wisconsin high schools are suspended at a greater rate than any other state in the country. My home state of Missouri had
the highest suspension rate for Black elementary school children in the nation, but Wisconsin wasn’t far behind. Where there are high rates of
suspensions and expulsions, you’ll find big achievement gaps. These racial disparities in discipline — or more accurately, punishment — are
the same attitudes documented in police racial profiling. It becomes no great leap to treat Black and Brown students as criminals in the
school building because that’s how they and their families are perceived on the street.
An action like #NoCopsInSchools should remind us of the work we must do as a civilized society. Let us commit to the elimination of the
educational injustices that are becoming normalized despite their harm in both the short and long terms. Our civic assignment can start with
assessing the new policy of the Madison school district on suspensions and expulsions. Is it working and if not, why not? Sometimes these
policies mean teachers are told not to send a rowdy kid to the office, but the student still doesn’t get the intervention services that behavior is
calling out for.
Today’s students in urban school districts are dealing with a lot of issues that impact their learning and behaviors. Issues like sex abuse,
drug and alcohol abuse, hunger, homelessness, violence. These are all traumatic factors for developing children. Addressing their
psychological and social needs should not be met with criminalization and punishment but with compassion and humane solutions.
Jamala Rogers is a long-time organizer based in St. Louis, MO. She is the spring Havens Center Social Justice Fellow at the University of
Wisconsin-Madison. She is a freelance writer and author of two books. Her latest work is “Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion” which is
available at Room of One’s Own Bookstore in Madison.
National attention was recently put on police in public schools and the negative impact it has on school
environments. A #NoCopsInSchools action took place in Madison by students and other allies of children and
public education. There is little research to show positive effects of police presence in schools because police
posing as School Resource Officers (SROs) are mainly put in schools where impoverished students of color
attend. Research has proven cops don’t add to a safe environment and their presence is likely to lead to
negative encounters with student acts of disrespect and non-compliance by criminalizing them. Changing
attitudes of police that Black and Brown people—and their offspring—are criminal may be more challenging than
trying to get the much-needed resources for students and their families to ensure a holistic and successful
How did our society get to a place where children, as young as those in kindergarten, have been vilified? How
do we justify the numbers of cops in urbans schools as rational? (NYPD’s School Safety Division is the tenth
largest police force in the country — larger than the police forces of major cities like Washington, D.C.,