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Kelsey Reyes's picture

October is Juvenile Justice month and to kick off the month, the Youth and Family Justice team held a Facebook Live event to educate folks  on the issues of police free schools and the school-to-prison pipeline. One our main objectives was to have a group of panelists who would bring a wide array of perspectives to the conversation. In the end, we found six amazing organizers and leaders from across the country to speak on the issues of police free schools and the school-to-prison pipeline.


Our brilliant list of panelists included:

  • Breya Johnson, Deputy Director of Organizing with Girls for Gender Equity.
  • Ghadah Makoshi, Community Advocate with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
  • Essence-Jade Gatheright, Youth Organizing Fellow of the Chicago Freedom School.
  • Gavriella Roismen, Deputy Legal Director of the The Juvenile and Children’s Advocacy Project of Texas.
  • Courtney Neubauer, Chair of the Klamath County Social Justice Committee.
  • Deseree Rodriguez, Youth Fellow from Make the Road Nevada.

The conversation centered on four questions that highlighted the work of these groups. Our first question, are all students impacted by the presence of police in schools in the same way, demonstrated the various layers of impact and how different groups of students are affected. Breya Johnson, from Girls for Gender Equity, spoke specifically on the discrimination of black and brown girls. Brown and black girls are subject to higher rates of arrest than others for acts that are remedial but result in jail time. There is often a lack of emphasis on gender that needs to change because data shows that within the scope of police abuse, other factors such as sexual assault and abuse occur at higher rates to black and brown girls. Gavriella Roismen continued the conversation by speaking about her work in Texas and the discriminative laws that tries children who are 17 years old as adults. By trying them as adults, students who commit remedial offences will often face longer and harsher sentences. This places those students at higher risk for not finishing their degrees and setting them further back in life. Country Neubauer rounded out the question by speaking about her state of Oregon and the problematic nature of the police and the high rates of militia groups. She stated that instead of automatically referring problematic students to the police, programs need to be developed to address the root causes of students' anger and violence. Programs should focus on peace building instead of resorting to a system of violence.

To highlight the daily experiences of youth and police in schools, we developed the second question for Deserre Rodriguez and Essence-Jade Gatheright, both youth organizers in their respective communities. We asked them about their own personal experiences and the experiences of their peers with police in their schools. Essence-Jade spoke of her own privilege of going to a wealthier school in Chicago that had a police presence and an academic culture that often referred students to suspensions and expulsions for minor or fixable offences. Desiree noted that her own school employed police officers that often used scare tactics and pepper spray to force students to stay in line. Both commented that neither schools emphasized an importance of counselors or health works in relation to the amount of police hired. These stories are important because they highlight the daily relationship between school and police systems and how the systems prioritize fear tactics over the mental health of students . When we talk about police in schools, it is often looking at the system and laws, but it is important to remember that our youth are impacted heavily on a daily basis and these experiences will shape their futures; physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Ghadah Mokoshi answered the third question and spoke to the specific data in relation to gun violence and police in schools. She stated that there is nonconclusive data to prove that SROs lower rates between gun violence and students. The data shows that the presence of police makes students more anxious and hostile towards teachers and administrators because they are viewed the same as the police. Students make the association that teachers cannot be trusted because any minor offence can lead to arrest. Ghadah makes the point that there needs to be a re-evaluation in what Americans expect for school safety. More often than not,officers are hired to specifically find potential threats, which in turn, makes the students the threats and officers treat them as such.

Our final question to close the conversation directed our panelists to speak on the accomplishments of their organization and the changes they are bringing to their communities. It was wonderful to end the event by hearing about the powerful and healing work these organizers and leaders are enacting their communities. The impact of police officers in school affects children mentally, physically, and emotionally. These experiences have the potential to change lives in a multitude of ways, ranging from hostile relations to authority figures to resorting to gun violence. Students of color are impacted at a disportionately higher rate than other students for trivial acts that should be resolved by school administrators instead of the police. Introduction into the criminal justice system at a young age has the potential to have detrimental effects for their futures. Children should not be treated as criminals for childish acts. There needs to be a reimagining of school safety to properly help students and provide the proper care needed.

A huge thank you goes out to our panelists who took the time to support MomsRising and who continue to work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and help reimagine school safety.

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