By Letter to the Editor on November 25, 2020.
With this week’s announcement from the UCP banning carding (which I applaud), my thoughts turn to another infringement on the privacy and rights often perpetuated by law enforcement: the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. It’s time to have a conversation about the role of uniformed and armed police officers in our schools and its impact in the lives of young people.
As a longtime youth worker I have seen how young people, particularly Black, Indigenous and Arab high school students, are subject to over-observation and over-discipline directly related to having police in our schools. I believe they are deserving of more educational and supportive experiences of justice than they are receiving through the SRO program.
All kids (and adults) make mistakes and break rules; but when Black and Brown kids make or are perceived to make mistakes – they are often disproportionately reported to police (African Canadian Legal Clinic, Canada’s Forgotten Children, 2012). SRO programs, often despite the best intentions and goals of all involved, have been found to have an anti-Black and anti-Indigenous systemic bias. Students observed more often by law enforcement have their information put on file, and have their identity known to police through forced familiarity.
Policing in our schools escalates issues that could be resolved peacefully with proper investment of resources for prevention and conflict resolution. The continued collection of information of young people by police should be up for review, in line with the recent ban on unnecessary collection of people’s information through carding.
Edmonton and Toronto have addressed these challenges and ended their SRO programs. They are instead working to create other supports for the safety of children, staff and families that would come without the heightened risk of charging or even incarcerating individuals via schools.
More information can be found in Robyn Maynard’s excellent book “Policing Black Lives,” which provides evidence about the harm caused by having this kind of surveillance in schools. As does the work of Bashir Mohamed and Desmond Cole (who has an upcoming online talk, Nov. 26, sponsored by the Lethbridge Public Library).
We can create institutions of learning where harms are prevented and addressed, and where the privacy, safety and education of all young people remain central tenants of our practices.