At the March for Our Lives event, eleven-year-old African American Naomi Wadler gave a speech. She stated, “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news. I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential” (Wadler, March for Our Lives speech). As society navigates through what to do about gun violence in schools, the reality is that students of color do not get heard. Not only do students of color not get face-time on news stations or get articles published about them in local newspapers, but the very concerns they have about their safety often gets brushed to the side. In 2017, there were 50.7 million students enrolled in public schools in the United States. 8.0 million of those students are African American (Education Statistics). So, if 8.0 million students are not being heard, one must wonder: If their voices were heard, what would they be saying? How are the responses of society impacting them?
One of the key responses that the Trump Administration has, outside of “thoughts and prayers” in response to the shootings, the view that officers should be present on school grounds to increase school safety. “School-based policing is considered one of the fastest growing areas of law enforcement. After the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., many people—including the President Trump—said there should be school resource officers inside every school” (Corley, NPR). There has been much debate about if school resource officers (SROs) are helping with school safety. The biggest debate in the argument is that government funding for every school to have SROs is more detrimental than helpful because of the consequences this has on students of color (Corley, NPR). What are the students themselves trying to say? What are African American students wishing they could verbalize?
According to recent surveys, “black students tend to feel less safe in schools with SROs, while white students tend to feel [safer]” (Washington Post). There are a couple primary reasons why African American students are being negatively impacted by the presence of SROs. First, a higher number of SROs causes an increase in unnecessary, extreme discipline in schools. We have seen this in our nation before. After the Columbine shooting, schools increased the number of SROs and higher disciplinary action. “But they did it all in the wrong schools, targeting schools with predominantly students of color. So now, the more students of color there are in a school, the more likely there is a police officer in that school. The result? Increased arrests for non-violent offenses, not increased safety” (NWLC). Even further, some research indicates that the presence of SROs can exacerbate the school-to-prison pattern, which occurs when students are forced out of the school system into the criminal justice system. This impacts student of color the most (Huffington Post). Lastly, in addition to the disciplinary effects SROs have on students of color, police in our day-to-day society have an impact on this. Because African American children are taught to fear the police, for their own safety, this causes them to distrust SROs. One African American student puts it this way, “…yeah, we see police officers, but who’s going to go to police officers when they’re scared of being shot by one” (Destani Nwanze, NPR interview)? For many students of color, the presence of SROs on school grounds is just as terrifying as an active shooter. Seeing the individuals they fear most on their school grounds automatically makes the school not a safe place.
When it comes to most things in American society, white individuals have the platform to speak and share thoughts about issues. In the issue of school shootings and SRO presence at schools, again it is mostly white students who have space to share their concerns and what makes them feel safe. However, while society only listens to white students, 8.0 million students are feeling unsafe, unheard, and trapped in the decisions being made while not considering the consequences for them. In the March for Our Lives movement, some students are trying to create space for students of color to be heard. However, there is never enough space created, never enough questions asked, and never enough people listening. For the sake of our nation, African American students must be heard.
Balko, R. Putting more cops in schools won’t make schools safer, and it will likely inflict a lot of harm. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2018/02/22/putting-more-cops-in-schools-wont-make-schools-safer-and-it-will-likely-inflict-a-lot-of-harm/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b0aa925e194b
Corley, C. Do Police Officers in Schools Really Make Them Safer? NPR. https://www.npr.org/2018/03/08/591753884/do-police-officers-in-schools-really-make-them-safer
National Center for Educational Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372
Parkland School Shooting Survivors Meet with D.C. Students to Discuss Gun Violence. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2018/03/24/596218664/parkland-school-shooting-survivors-meet-with-d-c-students-to-discuss-gun-violenc
Patrick, K., Fellow, N. Evans. When Police Enter Schools, Black Girls Pay the Price. NWLC. https://nwlc.org/blog/someone-tell-marco-rubio-when-police-enter-schools-black-girls-pay-the-price/
Sanchez, R. and D. Gallagher. Black Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School want to be heard. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/29/us/parkland-school-black-students-trnd/index.html
Why School Cops Won’t Fix School Shootings. The Huffington Post. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/school-cops-shootings_us_5a8715c8e4b05c2bcaca7c29