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Change Needed When Policing Youth, D.C. Police Reform Commission Says

With the recent release of the D.C. Police Reform Commission’s recommendations comes the opportunity to engage the D.C. Council about the degree of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)’s involvement in District residents’ daily affairs.

For young people of color, one issue of concern centers on the presence of MPD and school resource officers in District public and public charter schools. However, if these recommendations are implemented, that may become a remnant of the past, much to the relief of at least one D.C. charter school graduate.

“We need to thrive in environments that are supposed to nourish us, and the schools are doing the opposite. Resource officers and MPD shouldn’t be there,” said Helisa Cruz, a student at Marymount Manhattan College in New York and alumna of BASIS DC Public Charter School.

Cruz said she believes her alma mater prepared her for her profession but two incidents in her schooling raised her awareness about the intersections of race and policing on school campuses.

In the fifth grade, for example, she saw school officials call MPD on a Black peer and later suspend him for bringing marijuana to school. Cruz said years later, a white peer who committed the same infraction didn’t suffer any consequences. During another incident Cruz mentioned, BASIS DC, located downtown, went into shutdown mode upon a teacher’s misinterpretation of a student’s plans to shoot some hoops after school.

Cruz said those experiences, in tandem with her family’s encounters with MPD during her developmental years, inspired a crusade to speak about policing issues before the D.C. Council and in other venues.

“There aren’t a lot of resources in schools east of the Anacostia River,” Cruz told The Informer. “Money should go to mental health resources, recreation centers, community buildings and other things that would help community members instead of criminalizing them.”

Gun Recovery, Jump-Outs Targeted

Research shows that youth arrests lead to loss in instructional time and housing, separation from families and the enhancement of psychological barriers.

In addition to removing MPD and school resource officers from schools, the D.C. Police Reform Commission also recommended downsizing the department, prohibiting the arrest of young people on school campuses, investments in mental health and other crime prevention measures and suspension of the gun recovery unit and jump-out squads.

Schools in the District currently employ one officer for every 165 students, compared to one social worker for every 254 students, and one psychologist for every 529 students. Legislation approved by the D.C. Council in the wake of last year’s social uprising relinquished MPD’s control over the hiring of school security guards, much to the chagrin of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and policing stalwarts.

That milestone culminated years of advocacy carried out by young public and public charter school students who’ve made appeals to council members, spoke before various audiences and rallied in support of the funding for mental health resources.

On April 1, Samantha Davis, a member of the D.C. Police Reform Commission, spoke about some of these young people in presenting the recommendations for pulling MPD and resource officers out of schools.

She said that District officials must keep in mind that D.C. youth need safe spaces in order to thrive academically and socially.

“The time for this change is now given the past year with the pandemic and racial injustice,” said Davis, also executive director of Black Swan Academy.

“Even the viral videos of police killing young people is detrimental to the health of Black youth, especially Black girls,” she continued. “Our hope is to reduce the footprint of police in our communities, eliminate them from schools, and make sure young people are supported and treated in dignity and respect.”

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