Not Only Newtown


Students at Roosevelt High School in Seattle. (Manuel Valdes/AP)


Jonathan Smith is executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.


We have witnessed extraordinary advocacy and leadership from the students of Parkland, Fla., and from schools across the nation calling for politicians and the adults in their lives to do something about gun violence. Their demands are straightforward and direct: Ban assault weapons and enact meaningful, constitutional gun-control measures.

The response of adults has been to deflect the argument and distract from the basic fact that gun violence is the product of too many guns that are too lethal and too readily available. President Trump has called for arming teachers, “hardening” schools and institutionalizing people with mental illness. Not only will these measures have little or no effect on gun violence, but they pose significant social hazards.

In 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 13 people at Columbine High School. In response, the federal government created the COPS in Schools grant program and invested more than $700 million to hire police to patrol schools. By 2014, there were more than 43,000 security officers in schools across the country.

But putting police in schools has not stopped school shootings. Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2014, more than 400 people have been shot and 138 killed in 200 school shooting incidents, according to a New York Times report based on the Gun Violence Archive.

What the increased police presence in schools has done, however, is criminalize young people of color. Though the Columbine shooting was in a predominantly white, wealthy Denver suburb, schools that are primarily black and brown, located in urban centers, are the most heavily patrolled. According to data compiled by the Education Week Research Center,

a black student is more likely to attend a middle or high school patrolled by police than a white student is.

This disparity contributes to the criminalization of youths of color and is an essential component of the school-to-prison pipeline. Misconduct on school grounds is far more likely to be referred to police if an officer is on site, so adolescent misbehavior that should be addressed as a school disciplinary matter is increasingly becoming a function of law enforcement.

In 2012, the Justice Department found that one Mississippi school had African American students arrested for: “dress code infractions such as wearing the wrong color socks or undershirt, or having a shirt untucked; tardies; flatulence in class; using vulgar language; yelling at teachers; and going to the bathroom or leaving the classroom without permission.” Consent injunctions have since been entered in federal court against the school and the police to cease these practices as a violation of students’ rights.

Even though Justice Department guidelines say that school resource officers should not be involved in addressing noncriminal conduct, police involvement in ordinary classroom management has been reported across the country. In fall 2016, a black South Carolina high school student refused to surrender her cellphone to a teacher. The police officer stationed at the school was called, and the student was flipped from her desk and dragged across the floor. A cellphone video of the incident went viral, but the officer was not punished, nor was the policy changed. Such incidents have a devastating effect on the education of black and brown youths.

Blaming mental illness for gun violence is equally misguided and grounded in the false and prejudicial assumption that people with mental illness are dangerous. We don’t know the mental-health status of the Parkland shooter or whether it had anything to do with the shooting. We do know, however, that there are plenty of mass shooters who are sane. Dylann Roof shot to death nine people at a Bible study class at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015 out of racial hatred.

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Source : https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dont-turn-schools-into-a-police-state-that-will-only-make-the-gun-problem-worse/2018/03/23/404af6ee-294a-11e8-874b-d517e912f125_story.html

Don’t turn schools into a police state. That will only make the gun problem worse.
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