The national reckoning over police violence has spread to schools, with several districts choosing in recent days to sever their relationships with local police departments out of concern that the officers patrolling their hallways represent more of a threat than a form of protection.
School districts in Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland, Ore., have all promised to remove officers, with the Seattle superintendent saying the presence of armed police “prohibits many students and staff from feeling fully safe.” In Oakland, Calif., leaders expressed support on Wednesday for eliminating the district’s internal police force, while the Denver Board of Education voted unanimously on Thursday to end its police contract.
In Los Angeles and Chicago, two of the country’s three largest school districts, teachers’ unions are pushing to get the police out, showing a willingness to confront another politically powerful, heavily unionized profession.
Some black teachers and students, in particular, say they consider officers on campus a danger, rather than a bulwark against threats like mass shootings.
There has been no shortage of episodes to back up their concerns. In Orange County, Fla., in November, a school resource officer was fired after a video showed him grasping a middle school student’s hair and yanking her head back during an arrest after students fought near school grounds. A few weeks later, an officer assigned to a school in Vance County, N.C., lost his job after he repeatedly slammed an 11-year old boy to the ground.
Nadera Powell, 17, said seeing officers in the hallways at Venice High School in Los Angeles sent a clear message to black students like her: “Don’t get too comfortable, regardless of whether this school is your second home. We have you on watch. We are able to take legal or even physical action against you.”
During student walkouts to protest gun violence and push for climate action over the past two years, some officers blocked students from leaving school grounds or clashed verbally with protesters, she recalled. At Fremont High School in another part of Los Angeles, where the student body is about 90 percent Latino, police used pepper spray in November to break up a fight.
“All people who are of color here are looked at as a threat,” Ms. Powell said.
For years, activists have called on districts to rein in campus police. They cite data showing that mass shootings like those in Parkland, Fla., or Newtown, Conn., are rare, and crime on school grounds has generally declined in recent years.
The presence of officers in hallways has a profound impact on students of color and those with disabilities, who, according to several analyses and studies, are more likely to be harshly punished for ordinary misbehavior.