When there’s a debate on the table – especially one involving law enforcement or other influential forces – it can be incredibly difficult for a community to make its voice heard. Recently, an entire community stood together, bringing truth to power, and the results were astounding. Along with the leadership and participation of the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) team, the Salinas community accomplished a major victory for our youth, stopping the placement of School Resource Officers (SRO’s) in our high schools and elementary schools.
Our victory took shape at the Salinas Union High School District board meeting on August 8, where we watched members unanimously vote against a proposed School Resource Officers (SRO) program for our high schools. The Salinas Police Department approached the School Board with the proposal to place SRO’s in schools earlier this summer, sending a memorandum that left many questions unanswered and little room for schools to negotiate.
Youth speaks truth to power at Salinas Union High School District board meeting.
Healthy communities rely on positive relationships between the police and its residents – since its inception, BHC has worked to forge these community relationships with law enforcement. We understand the intention behind early interaction with law enforcement, and we know that some people believe that SRO’s can build trust. This sounds productive in theory, however in reality, our communities do not exist in a vacuum; they exist at the intersection of politics, poverty, race, immigration, and so many other factors that can make interactions with law enforcement pivotal in a young person’s life. Data shows that the presence of SROs increases expulsions and suspensions in public schools, especially among minority students – not to mention the effects this has on the rest of their lives. All it takes is one disciplinary action to introduce a child to the school-to-prison pipeline.
At the hearing, we heard testimony and support from a wide range of community members. Members of MILPA – Motivating Individual Leadership for Public Advancement – effectively shared their stories of being previously incarcerated, and explained how a program like this could have unintended consequences. Speakers from the Padres Unidos and the Central Coast Movement Building Coalition expressed their opposition in solidarity. We heard speakers from multiple contingencies, as well as students and teachers who themselves have had concerning interactions with SROs in the past.
A school’s purpose is to focus on academic success, not to reconcile police-community relationships. SRO proponents argue that preemptive action reduces future arrests and crime in schools. While this may be true in part, in Salinas, it has been resources like school counselors and homeless liaisons that have helped decrease arrests and punitive action beyond any other means. SROs are not trained in mental health issues or equipped to deal with at-risk students as a counselor. Driving the conversation in this direction is something we can achieve.
This win in Salinas is just one of many battles. We have repeatedly seen how the BHC sites can come together with the community to be Drivers of Change: the sheer numbers of community members (People Power) and the valuable partnerships we’ve forged (Leveraging Resources and Partnerships), along with engaging youth and minority communities (Youth leadership Development) – are all tactics we will continue to implement in promoting these small victories like this all throughout California.
If we want to create programs that benefit our students, we must do so not only with the community’s best interest in mind – but with an interest in the minds of the community, and what they have to say.