Over the weekend there were marches advocating for the removal of police from Chicago Public Schools. I think a few things are important to understand about how we got here.
Although there were sporadic instances of Chicago police involvement with Chicago Public Schools, the first formal relationship between CPS and the Chicago Police Department began in 1966, when off-duty cops began being hired as high school security guards. This decision came in the wake of a 1963 school boycott protesting segregated schools, and amid the continuing civil rights conflicts happening in Chicago at the time.
I think it’s important to understand in the wake of years of civil unrest in cities across the nation, President Lyndon B. Johnson commissioned a group of moderate white dudes, led by a Senator from my home state of Illinois, to investigate the causes of the unrest and recommend remediation strategies. This group, the Kerner Commission, provided a nearly 800 page report. The report recommended MASSIVE investment in creating social equity. The report recommended reparative justice.
But President Lyndon B. Johnson felt like he’d already done enough to appease Black folks by passing the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. So, instead of following the commission’s recommendations, LBJ made massive investments in policing and prisons. The War on Crime and its investments in policing also greatly increased policing in schools.
LBJ, with the help of supposedly “small government conservatives,” created a whole new government body to transfer federal tax dollars into local policing. Including, creating funding specifically for putting police into urban schools. The police were not put into schools to keep Black and Brown kids safe. They were added as a control measure to keep Brown and Black kids from demonstrating against the social conditions that harm them. While this particular government body was phased out in the 1980s, the false idea that Black and Brown children need additional social controls, including policing, has persisted.
From Nixon’s launch of the War on Drugs to Reagan’s reinvestment in it, to the “superpredator” and “zero tolerance” rhetoric of the 1990s and early 2000s, the notion that police are required to keep our schools “under control” has continued to hold sway. It is only in the last decade that a sustained effort to change the narrative and change policy has emerged. You can read all about this here.
Mounted Officers Learn about Horses Yet Cops in Schools Get No Training in Children
Historically, Chicago police officers assigned to schools have received no special training to work with children and little oversight, as documented here. Public outcry and advocacy sparked new policy effective last August, but it’s unclear whether the new policy has made real change in how officers are trained and how they do their work.
Officers who work in the mounted division get training for working with horses. Officers who work with children get nothing. There is also no special test or measures used to decide that an officer has the skills or demeanor for being in an environment with children. When we talk about adultification and criminalization of Black kids, this is what it looks like.
We Must Study Best-Practice Alternatives to Policing in Schools
Even as debate heats up over defunding police departments and removing police from schools, our city has done NOTHING to talk about what the alternatives to policing could look like. Last summer, high school Local School Councils were asked to vote on whether they wanted police officers in their schools or not. But no education was provided regarding what other districts, professionals and scholars suggest are the best ways we meet the unmet needs of children who have crises or act out violently at school.
Organizations like The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments have been contracted by the US Department of Education to create a comprehensive pilot program that sits in the public domain for schools and districts to enact. Yet Chicago Public Schools leadership continues to insist that we can only choose between policing or no policing. Trauma-informed practices like these create alternatives to continuing the school to prison pipeline. Trauma-informed practices are how we respond to communities and students that have suffered trauma.
The implementation of trauma-informed practices requires the level of investment the Kerner Commission proposed. We need investment both in proactive approaches to young people to ensure needs are met so trauma is less likely, and reactive responses to conflict in schools that center healing and not harm. This requires investment in social workers, therapists and ongoing professional development.
At the same time we request police be removed, we must also ask for trauma-informed practices to be fully-funded, fully-implemented and appropriately analyzed and measured across the district. Too often the district lets each principal and school decide what to implement and how. This needs oversight and transparency. We can have safe schools that support all our students, especially our Black and Brown youth, but we must put political will and dollars behind doing the work.
Photo credits: Banner Photo–above post–by Chris Brown. Post photos courtesy Chicago Teachers Union.