How do we feel about police in schools? An antiracist exercise

by Jonathan Krall

Like many people, I’ve joined an antiracist study group[1]. We slowly read books like White Fragility or The New Jim Crow, spending months on each book. We study systemic racism and interrogate our complicity. We share the stories we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel like “good people” and ask ourselves, out loud, if these stories are lies. It is one thing to study antiracism; still another to practice it. Antiracist study requires self-questioning. Antiracist action also requires self-questioning, but with different questions. The results are more than worth the effort.

Below we present the exercise and suggest an action. If you aren’t feeling introspective, you can scroll down to the Requested Action below (thanks!).

Anitracism, like politics, is a practice. Like an exercise practice or a spiritual practice, it keeps us healthy. At our August 4 meeting, we in Grassroots Alexandria discussed the issue of police in schools. We led ourselves through a discussion and decided on an action. Below, as an antiracist exercise, we invite you to consider this same issue.

An antiracist exercise:

1. Please imagine that you are learning antiracism. Now imagine that you have been informed that Tenants and Workers United (TWU), a group that advocates for black and Latinx youth in schools, has launched a campaign to get police out of Alexandria City Public Schools.

2. Please imagine that you have already learned that we should seek to elevate the voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) folks. You have already learned that police in schools tend to “police” BIPOC people more than others and that the cop in the Parkland shooting ran away from the shooter, waiting outside for more cops arrive. Keeping in mind that deliberate inaction is an action, what action do you take?

3. Here are some questions to consider.

A. Who is affected when police are removed from schools? What are the opinions of the affected people? More specifically, how do teachers feel about police in schools? Students?

B. If this is such a great idea, why didn’t we do it already? Why now? What changed? The police? The schools?

C. Did I ever support police in schools? Why or why not? What story was I telling myself to support my belief? Has that story changed?

D. Do I support police in schools now? If I changed my view, what changed? The police? Me?

For question A, we began by focusing on the teachers. Two teachers were on our zoom call, both of whom were comfortable with the thought of getting police out of schools. Based on the assumption that TWU could be trusted to represent students, we didn’t focus on the students.

For question B, we discussed changing community attitudes towards policing. Because vulnerable communities are both over policed and under policed, many community members have supported the police (vulnerable communities are under policed in the sense that crimes against BIPOC folks are taken less seriously). On the other hand, many activists (some quietly) have long since expressed a desire for reduced policing or outright police abolition. We in Grassroots Alexandria have been pushing ACPS to rely more on Restorative Practices and less on school suspensions to solve discipline problems. We concluded that we should support our allies in TWU.

Because Grassroots Alexandria is an activist group, we focus on action rather than introspection. We as a group didn’t address questions C and D. However, I will add that I personally became comfortable with the idea of police defunding over the past few years, as I heard from activists. I recall my surprise the first time I heard a call for outright replacement of policing with supportive community building. “Wow,” I thought, “This woman is serious.” Over time I heard more and, eventually, it all made sense to me.

Requested Actions:

1. Please sign the petition: https://www.tenantsandworkers.org/petition_acps_accountability

2. Please write to the school board: https://acpsweb.wufoo.com/forms/m15ihgzj1ffvsg9/

Here is a sample message “I am an Alexandria resident who wishes to see fewer black and brown children treated with discipline instead of love. Please remove police from our schools and please expand staffing and support for Restorative Practices instead of punishment. Let us please spend our money on building up communities instead of tearing down individual students.”

Thanks!

[1] Actually I’m a member of two such groups. One works like a normal book club, reading one book each month. In this case, “normal” is perhaps too much, but I’m trying to keep up.

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