This blog post was written by a JUFJ leader in Baltimore City, Ben Sax.
My name is Ben Sax. I live in Baltimore City and am a JUFJer from district 45. I attended the Intersession Interest session on police-free schools on June 30, 2021. The salient thread connecting the three presentations: placing police officers in schools exacerbates many of the structural inequalities and inequities facing people of color in Maryland, especially Black students. If your child is poor and a person of color, the data shows that they are less likely to have the presumption of childhood as well as a caring and empathetic educational experience, nor are they likely to attain the resources necessary for life, work, and active citizenship. This is not simply a problem in policy, but rather is, I learned, a basic and urgent human rights issue.
The presentations were powerful. I was struck by how deeply racism envelops so much of our policy justifying the presence of school resource officers (SRO) in our schools. I learned about how the troubling phenomenon that the “adultification” of Black children plays in supporting the presence and activities of these officers. Using policing tactics designed for adults to respond to children’s mental health or behavioral issues is not simply a failure in policy, but also stands against our Jewish values which, as we learned from Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah, calls us to uphold a space of peace and safety during a child’s education. “The education of the young,” he wrote, “must not be interrupted even for the purpose of rebuilding the Temple.” The data points to children feeling less safe in school because the police who racially profile also excessively punish children or use excessive force on them. It became clear to me how this policy issue is inexorably related to the already pernicious school-to-prison pipeline. I learned that by all quantifiable measures, police should be removed from our schools.
While I understood by the end of the session that removing police officers from our schools is not a panacea to the many structural problems facing children in our country regarding inequality and the inequities present in racism, poverty, and mass incarceration, it is still a necessary step. This is why I am committed to working with JUFJ and our partners to further the campaign to remove SROs from our schools.