Policing and Schools with Majority-Minority Populations

Ever since the storming of the United States Capitol Building on January 6th, there have been ongoing debates about how much security to have at the building, and how much to force members of the United States Congress to be subject to certain security regulations. Some of these debates and disagreements have even resulted in some members of Congress defying security regulations put into place…or at least attempting to do so.[1]

My initial thought when reading about the actions of some of the aforementioned defiant individuals: “This shows how privileged they are—openly defying some of the very same security measures that many kids in schools across the United States have to experience and have no choice in experiencing.” But lately, as drastic as this sounds, my thoughts this issue have turned to other questions.

Why do we have things like police officers, metal detectors, and locked gates at our schools? And why do we need bodyguards in the same space where students learn math, social studies, and science?

I used to assume that it was because school shootings are unfortunately a risk in the United States, and that these measures were an attempt to keep such heinous tragedies from happening.

My assumption was wrong.

As it turns out, the biggest predictor of which schools receive such stringent security measures is not crime in the neighborhood or anything crime-related, but skin color.[2] Evidence of this fact is how majority-minority schools are two to eighteen times as likely as schools with small nonwhite populations (under 20% nonwhite) to have metal detectors, school police and security guards, locked gates, and random sweeps.[3] A blunt way to summarize the current scholarship on security measures at schools is that it’s disproportionately used to treat students of color like suspected criminals.

But if school security measures are used in such problematic and even racist ways, what are the implications? Where do we go from here?

On a practical level, it means that there needs to be an honest answering of two questions:

  1. Should we even have security measures, such as bodyguards and metal detectors, at schools? Interestingly, it is not even a given that said measures even work at accomplishing the supposedly intended goal of keeping schools safe.[4] If the measures don’t even accomplish the goals they are supposed to, they are a huge waste of time for the people involved in keeping things “safe,” as well as a waste of money.
  2. If the answer to the previous question is yes, how can such security measures be better targeted so that we don’t continue to disproportionately treat students of color like suspected criminals?

On a political level, especially in relation to the increased security for members of the United States Congress in the wake of the attempted January 6, 2021 insurrection, I wish that the same energy dedicated to figuring out what level of security is appropriate for members of Congress were also dedicated to figuring out what level of security is appropriate for schools, and particularly schools that serve large populations of students of color. Security at the United States Capitol is important and should be deliberated, but so should the security of students going to school every day, and making sure that the way we implement security measures at schools is not based on the racial makeup of them. In the wake of mass school shooting tragedies in the last few decades ranging from Columbine to Sandy Hook, we know that the solution is not to completely ignore the issue of school security, but at the same time serious questions should be asked about the way school security is currently approached.

On the big-picture level, in terms of racial issues, the implication is that the issue of security measures in schools is yet another manifestation of racism in the way majority-minority populations are policed (something I’ve talked about in a previous blog post, by the way). While a fair bit of attention on racism and minority populations is focused on the shootings of unarmed people of color, some attention should also be dedicated to the policing of schools where most of their students are people of color.

[1] https://www.denverpost.com/2021/01/12/lauren-boebert-guns-congress-security-stop/

[2] https://stateofopportunity.michiganradio.org/post/metal-detectors-and-strict-policing-schools-criminalize-minority-students-study-says

[3] The paper that has these findings can be found here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2830885. If you want a summary of the findings, you can read them here: https://stateofopportunity.michiganradio.org/post/metal-detectors-and-strict-policing-schools-criminalize-minority-students-study-says

[4] Ibid.

10 Replies to “Policing and Schools with Majority-Minority Populations”

  1. Yes, Brendan, I have seen other articles, and my own lived experience, showing that we people of color are in fact policed far more. I agree that it is the height of hubris for Members of Congress to refuse to obey security protocols, but I somehow do not find it surprising.
    I think that much boils down to a need for empathy, and for a security or safety net in terms of the basic needs of life for everyone and also for working toward genuine safety protocols for everyone.
    Stay safe,

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Very good point, Brendan: I think that it at least starts with something that doesn’t let people have to sleep in the streets, as that is where many fears and much desperation start from.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Absolutely! A safety net that ensures a basic human standard of living would be a start. Of course, that is criticized by some as being “welfare state.” I call it ensuring the basic dignity of every human being.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Not to mention ensuring the safety of every human being, since vast disparities that leave many people starving are also sources of violence.
        (And also not to mention that the very people decrying the so-called welfare state are the descendants of people who created this situation, by colonizing areas to suck dry, creating these pits of despair, and then blaming the people left in those pits for our own poverty and trauma, with nearly no bootstraps to pull ourselves up by!)

        Liked by 2 people

  2. The fact that members of congress think they can flout or attempt to flout rules that are a norm for some people everyday is galling to say the least. I agree that security is something that needs serious consideration, I think it might be a good idea to take each case as it comes. It can’t be a one size fits all and just because a school serves a minority population does not mean it is in need of higher security. The school shootings have happened in areas that are not in that demographic. Policing issues in different neighborhoods vary widely and I can’t speak to the fact of it working. I think some of the safety measures taken might just give people a false sense of security that was not needed to begin with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Of course, I agree that a one-size-fits-all approach would not be wise with policing and schools; to the contrary, the needs of each school and each community need to be considered. You also raise the good point that schools shootings have happened in areas that often aren’t majority-minority.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Lily! And I hope to take you up on that suggestion–reading up on the school-to-prison pipeline again, I talk about an issue here that’s considered to be part of the larger school-to-prison pipeline without mentioning the phrase “school-to-prison pipeline” per se.

      Liked by 1 person

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