A coalition of civil rights leaders and heads of advocacy groups voiced their strong objection with the prospect of an increased police presence in schools, particularly in urban areas.
In the aftermath of the killing of elementary school students and staff at in Newtown, Connecticut, the National Rifle Association called for more police officers to be placed in schools and that school administrators be trained to use guns. Those suggestions were strongly condemned by the members of the coalition.
“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,” said Judith Browne Dianis the co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights group based in Washington.
“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,” she said.
In the weeks following the Newtown killings, Vice President Joe Biden has established a task force on gun violence that has been developing policy recommendations o methods to reduce gun violence.
The group pointed to research that indicated that the increased police presence in schools has led to a dramatic increase in school-based student arrests, particularly youth of color. “During the 2011-2012 school year alone, the state of Florida reported 13,870 student arrests and referrals to law enforcement,” the group said, in a statement.
The coalition held a press conference by telephone to urge elected officials not to increase the number of armed personnel in schools.
“Armed guards cause many students to feel unsafe and unwelcome in their own school," said Tanisha Denard, a youth leader with the Youth Justice Coalition and 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,” she said. “School is a place for learning. It shouldn’t be an introduction or pathway to the criminal justice system.”
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(Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)