After the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, schools pledged to boost security measures and increased the presence of law enforcement on campus, partly to reassure parents and students. Police inside schools can make some students more uneasy, not less. Especially for Blacks and other students of color, their personal experiences with policing can leave them feeling unsafe and alienated from school when they see officers on campus, the Associated Press reports. High school senior Malika Mobley has seen three different school resource officers patrolling a campus in Raleigh, N.C. Once on the way home from school, Mobley saw officers detain a visibly distraught classmate and push the student into the back of a police vehicle. “They were crying, ‘Why are you doing this to me? I didn’t do anything,’” said Mobley, co-president of Wake County Black Student Coalition. “I was just forced to stand there and couldn’t do anything.” Since 2020, the student group has advocated for eliminating police officers from schools in favor of investing in counselors and support staff.
Police officers have been a regular presence at schools across the U.S. for decades, often in the form of school resource officers, who are tasked with building relationships with young people to promote trust of law enforcement, providing security, and enforcing laws. Critics say having armed police on campus often results in Black students being disproportionately arrested and punished, leading to the "school-to-prison pipeline." Researchers say Black students report feeling less safe around police officers than their white peers and that officers in predominantly Black school districts were more likely to view students as threats. Black students and other students of color also are disproportionately likely to have negative interactions with police in schools, ranging from referrals to law enforcement to being arrested or restrained, said Katherine Dunn of the Opportunity to Learn program at the Advancement Project. Since 2007, the Advancement Project has documented at least 200 instances of officers at schools assaulting students.