Salem Keizer Coalition for Equality stands with our sister organizations and with members of the Salem community who want social justice in urging the Salem Keizer School District to disband their SRO program and remove police officers in official positions from district schools. This is not a difficult thing to do – it’s already been put in motion in the largest school district in the state. In early June, the Portland Public Schools (PPS), as well as David Douglas and Park Rose school districts, announced plans to disband their entire school resource officer unit – called the Youth Services Division – to remove police from their schools. If PPS, the largest school district in Oregon, can find a way to do this, so can Salem Keizer Public Schools (SKPS).
It’s especially important for Salem, as SKPS is not only the second largest school district in the state, but it is the most diverse. Less than half of SKPS students last year were white. 40% were Hispanic. 28% of them speak a language other than English at home. Also, 70% of SKPS students are considered “economically disadvantaged”, or, to put it simply, they don’t have enough money to live on. When you consider how many of our students are both non-white and live below the poverty line, they should not have the additional burden of being confronted with police officers in their school hallways.
The issue of Police officers in schools is not about the individuals. It’s not about “good” or “bad” officers. There are many great police officers who have helped many children and serve our community well. Some of our SRO’s have made many positive contributions to their schools and changed some students’ lives.
This issue is about systems and how they are set up, to either function with complete equity, or with common, even traditional, barriers and traps, however unintentional, that historically decrease chances of success for certain groups of kids more than others.
Police Officers have a sworn duty to uphold and enforce the law. Their decisions are the conduit for offenders to face punishment for disobeying the law. This is a simple cold equation. Society needs laws and enforcers to function. Schools do not. Schools are places for children to grow and flourish and learn.
Research proves beyond any doubt that most of our public institutions and systems are set up to unequally benefit some more than others, and are biased against certain cultures and races. We must rebuild our education systems to eliminate bias and any danger of unintended consequences at every possible turn, and that includes removing police officers in official paid positions from schools.
As Latinos Unidos Siempre Director Sandra Hernandez-Lomelí stated in the LUS demand to remove police from our schools, “Police violence towards Black and Brown communities is not just an interpersonal racial issue, it is a system and institutional issue that must be ended. By ending funding that goes into police in our school district, our school district will show that it prioritizes the safety of students of color and their education. Current funding that goes into policing students, can be invested to improve education.”
With or without SRO’s, police have been called by school staff to arrest students and take them away in handcuffs for many years, which is abhorrent to us as parents and community leaders. How students of color are perceived and treated in our schools by people in authority is already a hot-button issue. Normalizing interaction between children and police officers regarding any behavior issue is counter-productive in the child’s life.
Everyone in the circle of interaction around a behavior issue becomes party to contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline if children’s behavior and criminality are seen as related. Our society equates getting in trouble at school with getting in trouble with the law. Watching children interacting with SRO’s frequently has to affect the perceptions and conclusions of school staff and administrators, making it a common occurrence for children of color. This contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline, which helps Oregon be part of the system that makes the U.S. have the highest per capita imprisonment rate of any developed country in the world.
While many, many changes both in our schools and in our society in general need to happen to make a more equitable and just society for everyone, an immediate positive action we must take is to remove any systemic relationship to law and enforcement from our schools, removing one of many factors that contribute to taint our students as potential future criminals. We can start by taking the police out of our schools.