I have a very clear memory of the first day I walked into my public school building. It was February of my freshman year, and I had just spent 6 months at an elite private boarding school in New Hampshire, with a beautiful, sprawling campus decorated with large, collegiate style buildings, lakes, trees, and not a single police officer in sight. However, that day, I walked up to the main entrance of my new school building and hit the buzzer at the front door. The secretary came out and told me I needed to walk around and enter from the gym. I was confused as to why she couldn’t have just let me in from the main entrance since it was my first day, but as I approached the gym doors, I understood why. There was a line of students in front, each one putting their bags on the white folding tables to be searched, walking through a metal detector, and every few of them being individually searched with a wand. Once it was my turn, I no longer felt I was entering a school, but rather a government building, or even a prison.
Over time, I started to realize that the individual Student Resource Officers (SROs) were not bad people themselves; I began greeting them when I walked in the building while they searched me, or even talking about my weekend. This is not usually the case for most SROs; I was lucky to attend a school that had ones who did what they could to make me feel more like a human than an inmate, despite their job being designed to do the opposite. However, I noticed that they never seemed to apply as much scrutiny to searching my bags versus other students. It was almost as if they glanced up and saw a transfer student from a boarding school wearing a sweater over a button-down shirt and figured it wasn’t worth the effort to check every pocket like they usually would.
It wasn’t difficult for me to understand why my new school had SROs and my old school did not. My new school had about 4 white students in my grade and the rest were Black and/or Latino. My old school had the same proportions, but reversed. Over time, the media has vilified people of color and portrayed them as criminals, so it only made sense to have SROs stationed at the schools they predominantly attended. Studies have proven that there is not only a direct correlation with the overall socioeconomic status of a school and the presence of SROs, but also with race. A Vox article on this topic states, “there is a correlation among all public schools between students’ race and the presence of an SRO or security guard. The more nonwhite students a school has, the more likely it is to have a full-time SRO or private security guard on campus.”
Although I never personally witnessed it, there are many instances across the country of SROs disproportionately targeting students of color and often using unnecessary physical force with them. The mere presence of these officers, no matter how nice they are, immediately detracts from fostering a healthy and educational environment. The root of this issue lies with society’s negative attitude towards people of color, and using punitive (and often violent) methods of dealing with any problems that come up. The reality of the American police state and its desire to criminalize poor people and people of color is intentionally perpetuated in schools like mine to remind the students that our justice system is rigged against them, even before they become adults.