In testimony submitted today to a Senate committee reviewing militarization of state and local law enforcement, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (“LDF”) called for structural reforms to ensure police accountability and the demilitarization of local law enforcement, including in America’s public schools.  The presence of military-style weapons in K-12 public schools, LDF said, poses “significant danger” to students of color who are already the most vulnerable to overly punitive discipline. 

Today’s hearing, chaired by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) comes in the wake of the police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri and the disturbing images of a SWAT-style police response to public protests that shocked the nation and the world.

“Our criminal justice system has reached an intolerable level of injustice. We can and we must act to fix it,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of NAACP LDF.  “The police shooting of Michael Brown and so many others like him is the inevitable result of misguided attitudes and racial stereotypes that criminalize African-American youth. Adding military weapons to the mix – especially in a school setting — only makes things worse.”

Ifill noted that LDF is calling upon the Committee to ensure that the federal agencies overseeing the program make publicly available all data regarding school districts participating in the program, including the type of equipment received.     

The LDF testimony cites news reports that school districts in at least eight states have received military weapons such as AR-15 and M-16 rifles under the federal government’s “1033” program, which provides military hardware to local law enforcement.  Some of the school districts reportedly participating in the 1033 program — including those in California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, and Texas — have documented histories of discipline disparities involving students of color.

Although Black students comprise 16 percent of student enrollment nationwide, they make up 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 31 percent of students arrested, often for minor “discretionary” offenses, such as “disrespect.” This funneling of students out of school and into the juvenile correction system perpetuates a cycle known as the “School-to-Prison-Pipeline,” depriving children and youth of meaningful opportunities for education, future employment, and participation in our democracy. 

According to today’s testimony, “Research shows that the police presence in schools already negatively impacts school climate, fueling distrust and anxiety among students, despite doing little to improve safety.” Instead, the testimony concluded, “Adding military weaponry will only exacerbate tenuous climates and further intimidate and alienate students.”

LDF today also reiterated its ongoing call for structural reforms to curb biased policing at all levels, and urged an end to the militarization of all state and local police departments – including school police — under the 1033 program.

“The events of the last month in Ferguson highlight the persistence of police abuse and excessive force levied against African Americans and other communities of color,” said Leslie Proll, Director of LDF’s Washington office.  “Congressional oversight of federal government programs that fund state and local law enforcement is always essential, but it is particularly critical now.  We believe the federal government has the moral, legal and financial authority to undertake the reforms necessary to ensure police accountability at the local level. Today’s hearing is a significant first step toward that goal.”

Last month, in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, LDF called on the Justice Department to take four specific actions in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting:

  • undertake a comprehensive review of police-involved assaults and killings of unarmed individuals, with a focus on killings of unarmed African-Americans;
  • provide strong incentives for racial bias training and avoiding the use of force in the DOJ grant process;
  • hold police officers accountable to the full extent of the law; and
  • encourage the use of police officer body-worn cameras.

Click here for LDF’s report “Police in Schools are Not the Answer to the Newtown Shooting.”

The LDF testimony is available here: