Most of the misbehaviors are non-violent, such as cursing at a teacher, or physical scuffles that don’t involve weapons. Minorities and children with disabilities are disproportionately affected; black children in the school district of Bryan, Texas, are slapped with criminal citations at four times the rate of whites.
Yet many districts are lining up to put more officers in schools.
It’s worrisome not just because there’s no evidence that officers in schools improve school safety. It’s worrisome because this clamor for officers in schools has shades of the same elements that led to the drug war.
That war has led to prisons being filled with people convicted of possession and minor offenses. That situation, in turn, has led to the rise of private prisons and a profit motive for locking people up.
So think about it.
If schools begin to be filled with officers who wind up arresting students for minor scuffles versus full-blown assaults, and if prison profiteers begin to dangle promises of prosperity by building detention centers, then that creates the risk of someone, be it greedy, unscrupulous judges or other law enforcement officials, wanting to fill those centers by getting more students charged with minor crimes.
The profit becomes the aim. And the risk is that misbehaving students can begin to be seen as commodities, not as kids in need of counseling or time to get through growing pains.
Think it can’t happen? Well, it’s already happened in Pennsylvania.
And it’s not too early to be aware of ways in which it could happen again.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her @tonyaajw. Or like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonyaajweathersbee.