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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Activists Demand Removal of Police Officers from Wake County Schools

Posted by on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 11:41 AM

A few weeks ago, a harrowing  Wake County story dominated national headlines. Jasmine Darwin, a fifteen-year-old student at Rolesville High, was savagely slammed to the floor by the school's designated police officer. The incident, which was captured on video, quickly went viral. An attorney for Darwin's family claimed the high school student was “slammed on the ground like a rag doll” and suffered a concussion. As is par for the course, the police officer was placed on administrative leave.

The graphic video has galvanized local activists, who have long argued that school police officers engage in discriminatory disciplinary practices. In 2014, a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of a handful of black students contended the Wake County Public School District strongly relied on "unregulated school policing practices," resulting in "routine violation of students' educational and constitutional rights."

In response to the officer's behavior, parents and activists are calling on the district to remove all police officers from schools, beginning with a fifty percent reduction over the next year. That would mean removing at least thirty of the district's sixty-plus SROs.

"This has been going on for too long," Geraldine Alshamy, the executive director of the grassroots education advocacy group Magdalene Ministries, told the INDY. "What we've seen over forty years is an arbitrary use of policy when it comes to poor children, black children, and brown children. And I believe that when resource officers come into that system, they carry that bias and the expectation that our children are criminals."

At a news conference held Tuesday, speakers from the Education Justice Alliance said the district should remove the officers and instead invest in school counselors, psychologists, and other trained community workers, to de-escalate conflicts between students. (The officer who threw Darwin to the ground was apparently trying to break up a fight.)

"We'd like to see a replacement with more counselors and restorative justice programs put into the schools," Letha Muhammad, a parent organizer with the Education Justice Alliance, told the INDY. "We'd like to see something like peacekeepers, which is a community-based model to help resolve conflict within the school system."

Muhammad said the school district should handle Darwin's medical bills and offer to cover the cost of therapy should she need it. They also asked the district to provide reparations to all students "assaulted, arrested and disrespected by law enforcement in schools for the last five years."

But other members of the education community say that the removal of SROs from schools would force teachers to handle student fights and violence. As Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educator, told the INDY, "we would never encourage teachers to put hands on students."

Still, Muhammed and others at Tuesday's news conference insist the students would be just fine without the officers in the schools 24/7. Ramiya Robinson, a high school senior, told the INDY she would likely feel more comfortable in school without the presence of police officers, who often respond to incidents between students in an aggressive manner.

"They are more harmful than helpful," she said. "We don't necessarily see a school resource officer and go, 'Oh, this friendly guy is here. I feel so safe.' School resource officers honestly don't have a place in schools. The school is not a prison or a criminal area. I'd feel more comfortable with mediation happening, talking through issues. The issue is that they don't know how to de-escalate a situation without using force."

The Education Justice Alliance plans to submit the list of demands to the school district's superintendent today.

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