Melissa Katz is a student at The College of New Jersey enrolled in the Integrated Bachelor’s and Master of Arts in Urban Elementary Education Program. She is also a coordinating committee member of Young Teachers Collective. Promoted by Rosi.
This morning I came across an article titled “New proposal would put armed, retired cops in N.J. schools.” This bill before the state Legislature, Senate bill 2983, “would create a new category of police officer, stationing armed, retired cops under the age of 65 inside New Jersey schools.” As NJ.com notes, “The designation would be open to retired officers under the age of 65 who left a police department in good standing. They would be required to meet the same firearm qualifications as active-duty police officers.” Further, the bill “establishes ‘Class Three’ special police officers designated to provide security at both public and private schools. They would not replace school resource officers, who are specially trained full-time police officers stationed at some schools.”
This bill will only further criminalize our youth, especially our youth of color. And what does “keep them safe” mean for students of color when practices such as increased police presence does the very opposite of “keep them safe” by, for example, contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline? The school to prison pipeline, as defined by the ACLU, refers to the “policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems (“What Is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?“). While schools that implement zero-tolerance policies are aiming to make their environments safer, research has concluded “schools with excessive discipline tend to be and feel less safe than schools that have developed rich cultures of support, dignity, and evidence-based discipline policies” (“Restorative Practices: Fostering Healthy Relationships and Promoting Positive Discipline in Schools, A Guide for Educators“). Often in schools using and implementing zero-tolerance policies, police are involved in small, minor incidents as opposed to intervention by staff or school personnel who could then offer students help or support services. Police involvement in minor incidents leads not only to arrests but also potentially to juvenile detention referrals and even criminal charges or incarceration. Zero tolerance policies were originally intended to deal with the most serious situations of violent behavior, but have become commonplace in many schools to handle non-violent incidents and behavior. More on this can be found here and here. Again, how does this make schools “safer”?
Most of all, this begs the question: what does “safe” even mean in a system that criminalizes Black and Brown bodies?