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Coalition Warns that Armed Police in Schools Lead to Unintended Consequences

1/11/13

Increasing the presence of armed police officers and guards in public schools in response to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut will bring unintended consequences, a coalition warned today. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) joined Advancement Project, the Dignity in Schools Campaign and the Alliance for Educational Justice in releasing an issue brief that urges President Obama and Vice President Biden to embrace other options instead as they consider proposals to address safety.

"Enhanced police presence in schools is not a panacea for preventing the violence we saw in Newtown, Connecticut. Instead, adding police and armed security to schools often means that normal student behavior becomes criminalized.The negative consequences of increased police activity is felt most sharply in schools with large numbers of African-American and poor children,” said Damon Hewitt, Director of the Education Practice Group at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and a leading expert on the civil rights implications of school discipline policies. Hewitt is co-author of the 2010 book The SchooltoPrison Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform.

The coalition recognizes the need for greater protections on guns, as well as other tactics to address the root causes of violence.

“School safety is absolutely our highest priority,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “It’s important to note that police in schools do not necessarily increase safety, nor do they catch early indicators of mental health needs, identify root and underlying causes of violence, or use the resources of law enforcement in an effective way,” Browne Dianis added. “Instead of addressing infrequent, serious threats to safety, police in schools often respond to minor student misbehavior by handcuffing, arresting and criminalizing the young people they were intended to protect.”

“A police presence makes us feel unsafe and unwelcome in our own schools,” said Tanisha Dennard, a youth leader with the Youth Justice Coalition, a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign. “Police are trained to stop and prevent crime on the streets, not to mediate problems that may come up between young people in a school. When we go to school, we go there to learn, to be students, not to be treated like criminals.”

According to the Department of Education, 42% of students referred to law enforcement and 35% of students arrested in school are AfricanAmerican. Many of these children are left with records that follow them into adulthood as they apply for jobs. According to the new issue brief, many young people are being pushed out of school and into the juvenile and criminal justice system. 

The issue brief highlights some examples of overzealous enforcement:

  • In April 2012, a kindergartener from Milledgville, GA was handcuffed and arrested for throwing a tantrum. 
  • In May 2012, an honors student in Houston, Texas was forced to spend a night in jail when she missed class to go to work to support her family.
  •  In 2008, a student at a Florida school has been arrested after authorities said he disrupted the classroom environment by "passing gas".

Other examples include:

  • In 2005 an African-American kindergartner in St. Petersburg, Florida was handcuffed and shackled for throwing a temper tantrum.
  • In October 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against officials in Meridian, Mississippi regarding their practice of arresting students for non-criminal behavior, such as violatinga school dress codeand talking back to teachers.

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The issue brief is available at http://www.naacpldf.org/publication/police-schools-are-not-answer-newtown-shooting

For more than seventy years, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) has dismantled barriers to access and opportunity and advocated for high quality, inclusive education for African Americans and other students of color.  LDF coordinated the legal challenge to public school segregation, including the historic case Brown v. Board of Education.  LDF’s “Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline” initiative is a logical continuation of this work, addressing contemporary obstacles to access and inclusion that undermine educational opportunity.  Capitalizing upon institutional expertise in both education and criminal justice, LDF staff members engage in strategic legal advocacy on school discipline issues, designed to dismantle the pipeline to prison. And its staff provides leadership in several significant national efforts to reform school discipline, including the Dignity in Schools Campaign and the School-to-Prison Pipeline Legal Strategies Collaborative.