Policing

Governor McKee believes student resource officers are needed – Students disagree

SROs enforce a system of violence that criminalizes our black and brown youth, and perpetuates the school to prison pipeline. The bottom line is, no matter his experience as an educator, Governor McKee cannot understand the lived experiences of students of color, who face harassment and assault at the hands of police in their communities and (as long as the city continues to employ SROs) in their schools. How many times must youth be brutalized at the hands of SROs before Governor McKee realizes that police officers have no place in our schools?
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Published on May 24, 2021
By Damon Drury

Since the mid-90s, the Providence Public School Department has employed Student Resource Officers (SROs), which has resulted in hundreds of students being arrested and criminalized nationwide. Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee met by phone with the Providence Alliance for Student Safety, a youth-led coalition of multiple organizations fighting for the removal of SROs. The governor expressed the opinion that SROs should remain in schools, drawing upon his experience as an educator, saying that we need to “bring communities together, not apart.” However, the students he spoke to have been fighting for the removal of SROs from schools through the Counselors Not Cops campaign for years. In fact, the call was full of students currently enrolled in Providence Public Schools who presented the history of the campaign as well as their concerns about keeping SROs in schools.

Governor McKee claims that SROs are needed to protect students, yet students pointed out that the school he founded – Blackstone Valley Prep – has no SROs. Why does the Governor finds it so necessary for “every Providence public student to have interactions with SROs” while his concern for “safety” falls short when it comes to charter schools, asked students.

The concern about SROs is widespread among Providence Public School students. In a survey of students conducted by the Center for Youth and Community Leadership in Education (CYCLE) which was presented to the governor, 50% or more disagreed with the statement: “I feel safe with SROs in schools” and over 70% disagreed with the statement: “I am comfortable with SROs having guns in my school.”

The role of SROs in disciplining students is unclear, because there is no set of guidelines specifying how they are supposed to respond. Often, SROs are used to threaten students when they’re misbehaving. Whether or not a minor behavioral issue leads to a referral to a guidance counselor or an arrest frequently and most often comes down to race and ethnicity. Black students are overrepresented in arrest data. From 2016-2020, black students made up 30% of all arrests despite making up only 16% of the student population, a trend common in arrest data across the nation.

Students of color know the realities of persistent police violence, even in “liberal” Providence. During the meeting Governor McKee referenced “the incident in Minneapolis,” presumably meaning the execution of George Floyd or Daunte Wright, as if these were the latest incidents of police violence, but students pointed out that in the last year the Rhode Island community has been bombarded by incidents of police brutality. There were incidents in which Jhamal Gonsalves was struck by a Providence police cruiser despite driving a street legal moped, Germaine Bruce was surrounded and beaten by Providence officers after stopping to help his friend jump their car, and when Rishod Gore was beaten during a traffic stop with a knee on his neck, immediately before the murder of George Floyd in April 2020.

This violence extends into our schools because of SROs, say students. In 2018, Narragansett High School Junior Michael Blanchette was assaulted by SRO Kyle Rooney. Mr Blanchette is autistic, which puts him in a demographic at an increased risk for police violence, especially in schools.

Students maintain that SROs enforce a system of violence that criminalizes our black and brown youth, and perpetuates the school to prison pipeline. “The bottom line is, no matter his experience as an educator, Governor McKee cannot understand the lived experiences of students of color, who face harassment and assault at the hands of police in their communities and (as long as the city continues to employ SROs) in their schools. How many times must youth be brutalized at the hands of SROs before Governor McKee realizes that police officers have no place in our schools?” asked students.

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