New York, NY - Youth backed by student, parent and educator-led groups and civil rights organizations will participate in the national You Can’t Build Peace with a Piece Week of Action beginning on April 1st to urge elected officials and school districts to fund counselors, community intervention workers and mental health professionals instead of placing armed guards and other law enforcement in schools. The Week of Action will include events in California, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Washington D.C., and more.
“When we arrive at our school, we are greeted by a security guard or police officer, we are made to go through metal detectors, and then gates lock behind us when the bell rings. The police can enter classrooms, at the principal’s discretion, to do random searches of our belongings, use metal detector wands, and even drug-sniffing dogs to go through our lockers. These prison-like conditions are what make us feel unsafe, not our fellow classmates,” said Leslie Mendoza, a high school student and organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition in Los Angeles.
The call to invest in counselors, community intervention workers and proven approaches, like restorative practices, that create safe and nurturing school environments, is being led by youth of color from around the country, including the Youth Justice Coalition from California and other members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign and Alliance for Educational Justice from around the country.
As the students launch their April week of action, they are prepared to face-off against the National Rifle Association (NRA), which will, reportedly, release a school safety plan this week that is expected to call for an armed guard or other armed personnel in every school. The NRA plan comes in the face of data from the U.S. Department of Education that states that schools remain among the safest places for children.
“Guns, armed guards and police in our schools do not make schools safer. A safe school is one where there are positive and constructive relationships between students, teachers and school staff,” said LaTonya Hawkins, a parent and organizer with Gwinnett SToPP of Gwinnett County, GA. “A safe and positive school is one where students feel at home, not like inmates in a prison,” she added.
On Monday, March 4 youth of color from around the country held a rally on the NE corner of the U.S. Capitol Grounds in Washington calling on congress to reject school safety policies that promote an increase in police, school resource officers (SRO’s) and armed guards in our nations’ public schools. Youth organizations and allies presented a “Statement by Youth of Color on School Safety and Gun Violence in America” and launched the “You Can’t Build Peace With A Piece” social media campaign to mobilize students of color from around the country and raise awareness about the policies that transfer school discipline issues to the criminal justice system.
In January, the Dignity in Schools Campaign, together with the Advancement Project, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and the Alliance for Educational Justice released a joint issue brief outlining the problems already experienced by stationing police and armed guards in schools, and offering alternative recommendations.