Philadelphia Students Don’t Want Cops in Schools

Image caption: Students with signs and banners surround a speaker.

Content note: This feature discusses death, policing, gun violence, and racism.

Photos by K. Daniel Bryan
Story By Danielle Corcione

Students all over the country walked out of their classrooms for 17 minutes on Wednesday morning to protest gun violence. The action was called by the student survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, which left 17 victims dead.

The Youth EMPOWER Women’s March helped coordinate the morning walk-outs; the Philadelphia Student Union and Juntos helped coordinate a march outside the School District of Philadelphia building on Broad Street, according to a press release by PSU.

A student wears a “BOOKS NOT BULLETS” patch on their grey beanie in a crowd.

Philadelphia students also gathered outside City Hall in Center City. It’s important to note that these young people were not only expressing solidarity with Parkland students, but also rallying against school policing. Teens chanted in unison, “No justice, no peace! We don’t need school police!” and “Whose lives matter? Black lives matter!

The connection between gun violence and the prison industrial complex is often overlooked by mainstream media coverage. In Teen Vogue, prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba describes the school-to-prison-pipeline as a “national trend that criminalizes rather than educates students — and one that disproportionately targets black students — as ‘tough-on-crime’ policy has resulted in millions of mostly black and brown people winding up behind bars.”

Students hold a “#ENOUGH” banner while standing on top of snow, throwing up peace signs.

The demonstration called for the following actions:

  1. Divestment from school police officers: Although school resource officers have been employed in schools since the 50s, Kaba says they have been heavily concentrated in urban schools since the late 90s, especially following the Columbine shooting. (Plus, The Washington Post reports that MSDHS’s armed school resource officer never went inside the school building as the mass shooting occurred.)
  2. Comprehensive mental and emotional health services: Oftentimes, when mainstream news discusses mental health issues, the narrative centers the mass shooter as a “lone wolf” as if white supremacy is a disease you can catch rather than a worldview engendered by systematic oppression. Instead, demands for quality mental and emotional support center those who have been on the receiving end of violence.
  3. More guidance and social workers: Those who favor school policing perpetuate the myth that school resource officers replace guidance counselors by serving as a more informal resource compared to teachers. However, school resources officers don’t receive the same education and training when it comes to providing the academic guidance and social support counselors offer. According to The Notebook, officers outnumber guidance counselors in Philadelphia public schools.
  4. Expansion of restorative justice practices: The restorative justice framework is a relationship-based model for accountability. When students feel supported by a community, they are more likely to become invested in it. When applied to schools, restorative justice can call for peer mediation and peer councils.
  5. Protection for students and families from ICE arrests around schools: Undocumented families are at risk for detention and deportation by ICE. Youth are protected at schools, since they are designated sanctuaries, but parents and other family members are not protected when picking up their children from school.
  6. Gun control that does not result in targeted policing of black and brown bodies: Just like outside school grounds, Black and Brown people are unfairly targeted by law enforcement using racist stop-and-frisk practices. This discriminatory surveillance shouldn’t be ignored when considering alternatives to school policing.

Kaba also mentions that school policing disproportionately criminalizes young Black girls, who are six times more likely to be suspended compared to their white female counterparts. One example of targeted zero-tolerance policing is when Black girls are punished and even suspended for their hair, since many Black hairstyles do not fall in line with white-dominated school dress codes.

Students take the street and hold Philadelphia Student Union and Juntos banners.

Additionally, queer and transgender youth are also at a higher risk for targeted policing by school police officers, explains Rewire News contributor Kieran Alessi. LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to to be placed in juvenile detention centers compared to their straight and/or cisgender classmates. That means trans Black girls are likely to be hit the most by the school-to-prison-pipeline, who face both transmisogyny and misogynoir from overlapping marginalized gender and racial identities.

Parkland students have also called for national “March for Our Lives” demonstrations in Washington, DC and other major cities on Saturday, March 24. According to its Facebook event page, a Philadelphia demonstration is planned at 9:30 a.m. at the intersection of 5th Street and Market Street. The march will begin at 10 a.m. and end at Logan Circle.

Students participate in demonstration in Center City.

Whatever walls we march around, whether it’s hallways, cubicles, or borders to fight back against gun violence, we should absolutely stand with Philadelphia students to oppose school policing.

For further reading:

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