Denver Post Teen Columnists on policing in Colorado schools | #students | #parents

Jim Carr, Special to The Denver Post

Young Coloradans are incredibly passionate about this election, but many can’t vote themselves. So we asked teens what they wanted voters to keep in mind as they cast their ballots this November.

Here’s what they have to say about the police’s role in local schools.

Read what teens have to say about the presidential race, Colorado’s senate race, COVID in schools and climate change.

Myriam Alcala, 18, University of Southern California

I vividly remember the day I made my way to the school resource officer’s office at Rangeview High School. I took two steps into the room before I stopped in shock. In front of me hung a “blue lives matter” flag. As a Latina, I no longer felt safe; I shut down. In schools like mine, Black and Latinx students make up the majority of the student body meaning that the amount of police presence is significantly larger when compared to a predominantly white school. Not only is there a negative stigma of police in our black and brown communities due to the history of police brutality, oftentimes these officers are trained to deescalate any altercation in our student body by any means necessary. I’ve seen officers slam students to the ground, reach for their waistband, and treat students as though they were inferior. In the eyes of these officers, our streets are prone to gang and drug violence. It was in my hometown that Elijah McClain’s life was taken.

To a white student, that “blue lives matter” flag in the SROs office may just be an expression of free speech; that is definitely the justification our administration used when I expressed my discomfort. But to me, to black and brown students, that flag is a reminder of the power complex that oppresses our community, that flag screams “look at me, look at my power … I have the power to kill you.”

I cannot fathom that police departments have larger budgets than schools when it’s the teachers who are preparing us to enter society. The police in our schools just serve as a reminder that no matter how educated we are, the color of our skin makes us a “threat.” Surely police presence in low income, Black communities is linked to high drop out rates … I’ve seen it with my own eyes. All it takes is one misunderstanding, a bad experience with a police officer or a “no tolerance policy” for these students of color to never step foot in a school again. How can school be a safe space when you put us in the same cage with our biggest predator? I hope that “blue lives matter” flag in my school gets taken down, that Aurora Public Schools follows the lead of Denver Public Schools and School Board Member Tay Anderson and removes police from schools. Hopefully, one day the life of students of color will be more important that this power complex perpetuated by police presence in schools.

— Myriam Alcala, 18, University of Southern California, graduated from Rangeview High School

The debate of how to best keep students in school safe is a decades-old argument. In many schools, the answer has been police. An officer in charge of maintaining security in the school, often called the SRO, can be found in many schools across the state and country, including my own. However, with the extreme scrutiny that police officers are facing lately, many of these positions may be on the chopping block. But I believe this should not be the case.

Dylan Sharrock, 16, Coal Ridge High School

Security in schools is essential. We have seen it time and time again, schools without security are most at risk for tragedy. Colorado’s own Columbine High School massacre is evidence of this, and it goes to prove another point: those who intend to do evil will not be stopped by laws. A Tec-9 automatic pistol was used in the Columbine massacre, despite the fact that such weapons were, at the time, illegal under the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban.

Once a person has made the decision to inflict such harm upon students, a “Gun-Free Zone” sign will not stop them. In fact, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, since 1950, 94% of mass shootings have occurred in gun-free zones. That being the case, laws alone are demonstrably not a deterrent. So then, it is only logical that we have immediate protection from evildoers.

The 2018 FBI Active Shooter Report found that a mass shooting attempt was stopped 75.8% of the time when an armed citizen was present, and lives were saved 94% of the time. Had an officer been immediately present during the Columbine massacre, the lives of 13 innocent people could have been saved. Regardless of your opinions of police, student safety must come before politics. And if having police in schools is the most effective option for student safety, we must act on that.

— Dylan Sharrock, 16, Coal Ridge High School

In 2015, police were called to a school in Texas after his teacher confiscated the clock he had reassembled, believing it resembled a bomb. The police then handcuffed him and took him into custody. According to local police, the reason behind the arrest was the belief that he may have intentionally caused a bomb scare.

Brendalynn Toni Scott, 15, Homeschool

In 2020, around two-thirds of students in America attend school with a police officer. At first glance, this seems to be caused by a goal that many people share—keeping schools safe in an education system that has become increasingly dangerous. But looking beyond the surface reveals a dark truth, one including cases of excessive force, racial bias, and the aptly named School To Prison system.

In many cases, interrogations of students are done without the presence of a parent or legal guardian. Even when, as in the case of the “brownie” incident that is best described as infamous, the culprit is as young as nine years old.

Time and time again, evidence has proven that schools and communities that are largely populated by POC and the poor—who, oftentimes are the same demographic—are more overpoliced than richer and whiter ones.

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