I am a senior in college awaiting graduation this summer. I was a violent child. From pre-school on through middle school and even early high school I suffered from outbursts of aggression. I would attack my peers, teachers, parents and counselors; anyone who came into my vicinity. I had more anger than I knew how to articulate. I would not be on this successful path if there had been a police presence in my elementary, middle or high school.
The Oakland Unified School District employs six times as many police and security officers to patrol the schools as they have counselors for students. There were 36,180 students, 2,008 teachers, 115 police and security officers, and 20 counselors during the 2012-3 academic year. Black youth in Oakland are being targeted by police, arrested and referred to probation at two and a half times their percentage of the population. Black youth make up around thirty percent of the youth population in Oakland but eighty percent of youth who are arrested are black.
Raheim Brown was sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car outside of a school dance when he was shot by a school police officer in January 2011. The officer claimed that Raheim attempted to stab him with a screwdriver. The Oakland School District failed to take any action against the officer, Sgt. Barhin Bhatt, who was later made Interim Chief of the Oakland School Police. His successor, Pete Sarna, was put on paid leave due to racist epithets yelled at a black officer. The Black Organizing Project, a community organizing and advocacy group in the Oakland African-American community, took action against Raheim’s killer’s promotion and Barhin Bhatt was replaced by James Williams, the current Interim Chief of the Oakland School Police. Sergeant Barhin Bhatt still patrols Oakland public schools.
Some Oakland students report that school feels like jail as a result of the police presence and that they feel intimidated and unsafe. They feel that the money spent on policing would be better spent providing more opportunities for student work and recreation, keeping them safe by keeping them occupied. Teachers are underpaid and overworked and ten percent of students exhibit chronic absence. A survey conducted by the Black Organizing Project found that sixty-four percent of Oakland public school students don’t like the police presence in their schools and feel that they could have safe schools without police.
In 2012, the Oakland Unified School District, citing exhaustion and conflicting demands, hired 25 extra police and security officers to patrol Ralph Bunche High school, Frick, Roosevelt and Elmhurst Middle schools and Lockwood and Parker Elementary schools.
A review of Oakland School Police policies shows that the Oakland School Police have no special training or criteria for dealing with youth. They treat students as though they are adult criminals, arresting them for minor infractions without regard to the problems they may be dealing with in their lives. No school counselors have been hired by the Oakland School District in recent history.
The police are interfering with children’s lives at their most delicate stages of development. I understand fears about gun violence and bullying in schools as well as drug use, but teachers and counselors are trained to deal with kids whereas police are not. Sometimes all a kid needs is the proof that some people care about them in order to make a positive contribution to her community.
Oakland students are not getting the opportunities I had: once they get into trouble with their school, they get into trouble with the law and face juvenile detention and court appearances. Studies show that an arrest at a young age doubles the student’s chances at being pushed out of high school and a court appearance quadruples those chances.
Oakland School police data reveals that forty nine percent of contact the police make with students is for non-criminal behavior such as classroom disruption. Even the brightest and most talented of our children are known to screw up at some point in their development. By subjecting them to arrests in their schools we are nullifying their chances at success. Involvement with the juvenile justice system makes youth far less likely to obtain future employment, go to college or even graduate from high school.
The information for this report was drawn from the Black Organizing Project’s Report, “From Report Card To Criminal Record, the Impact of Policing on Oakland Youth” and from the Oakland Unified School District website.