Tuesday, 20 May 2014


Forty years ago police were almost unknown in Canadian schools and rare in American schools.  In the early 1990s following several high profile shootings police started to be present on a daily basis in American schools located in the poor areas of major cities.  John Paul Jones in Philadelphia was a typical school located in an inner city slum.  It was nicknamed Jones Jail by its students and was typified by metal detectors, barred windows, windows that open only a crack ostensibly to keep objects or people from being thrown out of them and militaristic security staff that roam the hallways demanding documentation from students not in the classroom.

After Columbine the inner city slum model for a school rapidly spread across the U.S.  In the wake of the 1999 shootings at Columbine, high schools in the United States rushed to adopt strict policies and filled the hallways and entrance ways with armed guards, surveillance cameras, metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs. These are now almost standard features of the modern American school. Yet for all these extreme measures, public fears over student safety remain high.  

The policing of schools was accelerated further by the Sandy Hook tragedy. The NRA had a solution to Sandy Hook - it certainly wasn’t restricting the civilian ownership of military level weaponry.  It was the arming of the other side - armed police officers, security guards and staff members in every American school, including allowing trained teachers and administrators to carry weapons.

This inspired various arming proposals across the country.   For example, rural Northern Colorado's Thompson School District plan was to put reserve deputies in the halls of six elementary schools.  The principal of one of the schools welcomed the development saying that “it is very difficult to go to bed at night if you don't think you've done absolutely everything you can to keep your kids safe, and when Sandy Hook happened and we realized even elementary schools are vulnerable, it was a very difficult time,"  Marlboro Township, a leafy, well-heeled New Jersey suburb was one of the first jurisdictions in the aftermath of Sandy Hook to station a permanent armed cop in each of its nine schools.  Mayor Jonathan Hornik said “With this new evil, you can’t just sit there and hope that it doesn’t happen in your town. We must protect our kids.”  A small school district in rural Arkansas proposed arming the teachers. Clarksville High School, planned to take this step under a state law that allowed licensed, armed security guards on campus. Teachers in the program would, after undergoing 53 hours of training, function as security guards as well as educators. 

Now America’s schools are being redesigned with a single electronically controlled entrance with cameras, metal detectors and invariably a guard.  Back in Marlboro the council is planning to fortify school entrances with steel doors and bulletproof glass and installing surveillance cameras “all over” to feed to the local police department.

In addition to armed guards at the front door the numbers of police assigned to public schools have soared. An estimated one-third of all sheriffs' offices and almost half of all municipal police departments assign nearly 17,000 sworn officers to serve in America’s schools and nearly half of all public schools have assigned police officers.  In the 2008-2009 school year, there were 5,246 law enforcement officers in New York City’s public schools but only 3,152 guidance counselors.  

The nice name for these policemen in the classrooms of America is school resource officers or SRO’s.  One of the primary consequence of the battalion of SROs in America’s schools has been a surge in criminal charges against children for misbehaviour that used to be handled in the principal's office.  As can be expected the very presence of these police officers in the schools results in greater numbers of students being arrested or charged with crimes for nonviolent, childish behaviour.   

In 2010, the police in Texas gave close to 300,000 "Class C misdemeanour" tickets to children as young as six for offences in and out of school.  Misdemeanours include swearing, misbehaving on the school bus, scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers.  Children have even been arrested for possessing cigarettes, wearing "inappropriate" clothes and being late for school.  The result is that every day hundreds of schoolchildren, who have received Class C tickets. appear before the courts. These charges result in fines, community service and even prison time.  Texas records show more than 1,000 tickets were issued to primary schoolchildren over the past six years.  It has been described as a school-to-prison pipeline" with a high proportion of children who receive tickets being arrested time and again because they are marked out as troublemakers or find their future blighted by a criminal record.

Most schools do not face any serious threat of violence and police officers patrolling the corridors and canteens are largely confronted with little more than boisterous or disrespectful childhood behaviour.  "What we see often is a real overreaction to behaviour that others would generally think of as just childish misbehaviour rather than law breaking," said one observer. Tickets are most frequently issued by school police for "disruption of class", which can mean causing problems during lessons but is also defined as disruptive behaviour within 500ft (150 metres) of school property such as shouting, which is classified as "making an unreasonable noise".

Accompanying the policed school are zero tolerance programs.  Zero tolerance policies lead to the inevitable idiocies.  Several years ago a first grader student in Delaware was suspended from school after bringing a Cub Scout-issued fork-spoon-knife tool into his classroom.  Under the school's zero-tolerance weapons policy, he was suspended for 45 days and forced to attend an alternative school.  Then there was the honors student who spent a night in jail for skipping class and the 9-year-old boy who was suspended for sexual harassment for remarking that his teacher was cute. The charge against Sarah Bustamantes on the police docket was "disrupting class". The crime; she sprayed two bursts of perfume on her neck in class because other children were bullying her with taunts of "you smell".

When her teacher called the policeman, he did not have to come very far since he patrols the corridors of Sarah's school.  That is the thing about zero-tolerance policies.   They do not apply just to deadly weapons and drugs but to fighting, prescription drugs, Scout’s knifes, perfumes, harmless comments and anything else deemed bad in the closed mentality of certain administrators and teachers.  If a student is caught violating these broad rules, there is no discussion and no elaboration  and no investigation. There is just a one-size-fits-all punishment.

The reality is that America’s schools taken as a whole are really not any more violent or dangerous than they were forty years ago.  More than 98% of youth homicides do not occur in schools; in the 2009-2010 school year there was approximately one homicide or suicide of school-age youth at school per 2.7 million students.

America’s school children, however, are being taught a lesson about civil society; namely, that they must accept authority without question and that they have absolutely no rights to question punishment. If a kid wants to participate in an organization they learn that he or she should expect to be drug tested.  Furthermore guards and metal detectors at the “reinforced” entrances, police officers in the hallways every day and omnipresent security cameras including in washrooms are all part of normal life.  Don’t challenge these security features if you want to avoid a police record that will affect you the rest of your life.  In fact don’t do anything including saying anything which someone in authority might consider out of line.

John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute asks “How do you persuade a nation of relatively freedom-loving individuals to march in lock step with a police state? You start by convincing them that they're in danger, and only the government can protect them. Keep them keyed up with constant danger alerts, and the occasional terrorist incident, whether real or staged. Distract them with wall-to-wall news coverage about sinking ships, disappearing planes and pseudo-celebrities spouting racist diatribes. Use blockbuster movies, reality shows and violent video games to hype them up on military tactics, and then while they're distracted and numb to all that is taking place around them, indoctrinate their young people to your way of thinking, relying primarily on the public schools and popular culture.”

If the schools are going to be mini police states how long is it before the rest of society is going to be restructured along the same lines.  Perhaps not very long.  Government offices are now heavily “fortified” with guards at the entrances, employees (all with identification badges) working in locked rooms and the (greatly feared) public largely excluded.  And like heavily  policed schools nobody really even questions this super-security environment any more.

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