This is in response to the letter written by Mr. Thomas Russo, former chief of police for Montclair Township.
I want to start disclosing that I am against police presence in schools. Police officers should never be inside the school building and they must not interfere with school discipline, unless there are weapons involved. I am for more mental health and social services in school that guarantee the safety of the students and make sure that all students’ needs (educational, economic, nutritional, mental health among others) are covered. In NJ we have 585 children in juvenile detention (63 white, 381 black, 139 Hispanic) from 13 to 18 years of age. Children do not belong in prisons and the presence of police in schools put them closer to being arrested for behavioral problems that should be solved by school authorities, parents, and students only.
I must highlight that mass incarceration is a huge problem in the US, 2.8 million incarcerated people and about 7 million people are under some type of correctional control. Also, as Angela Davis says: Prisons don’t disappear social problems they disappear human beings.” We need to stop feeding the system. Police departments and police officers have a huge responsibility, they are the “gatekeepers”. Police departments can be part of the solution on the reduction of prison population.
You said, “Armed police officers in the school should not be considered a threat, but instead as the first line of defense against an armed person terrifying and killing students and teachers.” We have to start recognizing that schools shootings are a huge challenge, but it would be naïve to think that a school resource officer would be able to stop a crazy person with a military weapon that can kill many students per round. Instead police departments should accompany the efforts of pushing gun control legislations that, for instance, propose that gun owners register their weapons in Police departments or ban civilians to purchase military style weapons.
Regarding your last paragraph “The public has the power to make law enforcement accountable for their actions.” No, we DO NOT have that power. Not until we get rid of qualified immunity or give subpoena power to Civilian Review Boards in charge of investigating police misconduct, which is being fiercely rejected by police unions around the country and here at home in Newark.
Lastly, we, as a community have the right to choose how our tax money is invested and decide to rethink, reimagine, and reshape public safety to fit our needs and our wishes. I want to remind all that racial and educational disparities in the school system and criminal justice system is immense. If we are committed to racial, economic and social justice, we have the task of moving away from punitiveness and entering a new era, where solidarity and community investment takes the lead.