There is a widespread and justified fear of shootings in schools. The problem with this fear is that the American imagination often conjures up a disgruntled teenager as a shooter. Instead, most of the people bringing guns to middle and high school campuses are uniformed officers paid for “”patrol“schools. During the 13 years that the Long Beach Unified School District employed me as a social science teacher, I witnessed the effects of their armed presence.
School security guards create a militarized atmosphere. They also create a feeling of imprisonment. This conflictual dynamic increases the stress of the students. At best, a militarized environment makes learning difficult. At worst, it makes learning impossible. When these agents use lethal force against young people, learning stops terrifyingly, transforming campuses and their surrounding neighborhoods into combat zones.
On the afternoon of September 27, a meeting with a Long Beach school security guard near Millikan High School sent 18-year-old Manuela “Mona” Rodriguez to the hospital. The officer arrived as youths were arguing near the corner of Spring Street and Palo Verde. The children involved in the argument jumped into a car; Rodriguez was a passenger. The officer approached. As they walked away, he fired two shots that hit the car.
In a video captured by a student, we hear witnesses screaming.
Rodriguez was punched in the head, leaving his brain dead. Her family announced on Friday that she would be withdrawn from life support. Rodriguez’s 5-month-old son will be motherless. At a press conference, Oscar Rodriguez, Mona’s brother, noted: “What happened to my sister is not good. And we all know it. … She didn’t deserve this. … I don’t even wish death on the person who killed my sister.
According to their job description, SSOs are expected to “think clearly and logically, use common sense. However, in the face of an everyday situation – teenagers behaving rebelliously – an SSO chose to unload his gun at a moving vehicle full of young people. This officer not only made the situation fatal worse; he did also the spectacle of running a child.
A message sent by this murder is that young people risk death if they engage in ordinary teenage activities. He suggests deadly stakes to challenge authority. Most teens will, at some point in their teens, challenge and disrespect adults. Psychologists call this process individuation. During individuation, children struggle for autonomy, often through predictable and relatively harmless acts of rebellion, such as name calling or disobeying instructions to stay put.
No child should be terrorized and threatened with deadly violence for engaging in developmentally normal behavior.
Teachers are unarmed and we are regularly confronted with unpleasant behavior from adolescents. In fact, we expect it and defuse it. It is up to caring adults to support young people in learning to negotiate limits, assert autonomy and self-confidence. Such orientation only occurs in environments where young people feel safe and cared for. When teachers are seen as enemies with the power to summon armed officers, confidence wanes.
The social justice group Black Lives Matter Long Beach recognizes that the militarization of the school degrades the learning environment. In May 2020, representatives of the group met with District Superintendent Jill Baker. They demanded that “LBPD and SSO officers should be removed from schools because they… carry weapons that could be potentially dangerous for students. “The education council agreed to remove three LBPD officers from the schools, but allowed the school security officers to stay.
The “physical and psychological safety of more than 68,000 students”, according to Black Lives Matter, remains “in clear danger. “
BLM is right. I have seen officers behave in a way that students saw as potentially fatal. For example, on two occasions I observed officers telling students to put the phones away. When challenged, the officers reached out for their weapons, as if they were about to fire. I listened to a student plead with his classmate: “Put your phone away, man! Not worth it! “The officers’ gesture sounded violently absurd. Phones are a nuisance I have dealt with countless times. I never looked for a weapon to facilitate compliance.
Such threatening interactions with agents traumatize students. We have seen their effects for decades, tragically. Since at least the 1950s, a disturbing police presence has been a tool for repress racial justice movements and enforce school segregation.
The militarization of schools today extends far beyond Long Beach. Scholar Chelsea Connery describes the problem as nationwide: “In 1975, only 1% of schools reported having police officers on site, but in 2018, around 58% of schools had at least one sworn law enforcement officer present during the school week. Some school districts even have received military equipment as part of a program from the Ministry of Defense.
Parents rightly want to know how they can keep kids safe on and off campus. Lobbying school boards to demilitarize campuses and redirect funds to mental health resources will dramatically improve learning environments. Armed officers do not protect children. While teens rarely bring guns to college and high school campuses, adults often do – with the government imprimatur. They use them to intimidate and kill.
Myriam Gurba, writer and former teacher in Long Beach, is the author of “Mean. “