Police in schools ‘not the answer,’ says NAACP Legal Defense Fund

January 11, 2013

A coalition of advocacy groups including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is pushing back against the idea of upping the number of armed police officers in schools, a suggestion being considered by the White House in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting tragedy.

The groups – which include the Advancement Project, the Dignity in Schools Campaign and the Alliance for Educational Justice – released an issue brief Friday in which they warn of the “unintended consequences” of a greater police presence in schools, such as increased criminalization of students.

“Enhanced police presence in schools is not a panacea for preventing the violence we saw in Newton, Connecticut,” Damon Hewitt, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s Education Practice Group, said in a statement. “Instead, adding police and armed security to schools often means that normal student behavior becomes criminalized. The negative consequences of increased police activity is felt most sharply in schools with large numbers of African-American and poor children.”

Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the civil-rights group the Advancement Project, argued that rather than address safety threats, “police in schools often respond to minor student misbehavior by handcuffing, arresting and criminalizing the young people they were intended to protect.”

The groups pointed to cases of “overzealous enforcement” in which students were arrested after throwing “temper tantrums” or violating the school dress code. They also cited Department of Education statistics showing that 42 percent of students referred to law enforcement and 35 percent of those arrested in school are African American.

Their report comes on the same day that the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the groups that has been meeting with Vice President Biden’s task force in the wake of Newtown, released its own list of recommendations to the White House, including a call for more comprehensive background checks for gun purchasers.

“Our top policy priority is closing the massive hole in the background check system that enables 40% of all gun sales to take place without background checks, not only at gun shows, but also with the added anonymity of the Internet,” the Brady Campaign report said. “As a result convicted felons, domestic abusers, the dangerously mentally ill and other prohibited purchasers can easily purchase guns with no questions asked. Calling it a ‘gun show loophole’ trivializes the problem.   ‘Universal background checks’ on all gun sales would have a clear positive impact on public safety, and is also clearly compatible with the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns.”

President Obama may address the gun control issue later Friday when he takes questions at a 1:15 p.m. joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

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