Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Police to set up shop within high schools

It was reported today in the Toronto Star that steps are being taken to bring police into many of Toronto's high schools, in a low-key, dressed-down capacity. John Campbell, Toronto District School Board (TDSB) chair said that this would only mean “guys in blue slacks and golf shirts meeting with kids.” The move to physically introduce a police presence into schools is in response to a report on school safety commissioned by the TDSB that called for "positive police interactions with students".

Immediately after the story was uploaded to the Toronto Star's website people began, and continue, posting comments, many in disagreement with this move. Despite earlier assurances of dressed down police occupying inner city schools there was subsequently a response from Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, that affirmed that police will, in fact, be in uniform and armed.

This past weekend, representatives of the Ryerson Free Press attended the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. One of the workshops focused on a partnership between high school students from Brooklyn and youth in Palestine. The students from Brooklyn identified with those in Palestine because of similar experiences of repression from the police state.

While the students recognized that the oppression of an occupying force is somewhat different from state repression, many of the students talked about how heavy police presence negatively affects their education. They talked about dealing with daily backpack searches, metal detectors and a police force that is outwardly racist and aggressive toward students. Other students from Detroit and Chicago chimed in and agreed that they too face similar experiences.

The TDSB’s weak efforts will likely not be enough to quell Torontonians’ legitimate concerns that establishing police outposts in Toronto schools is the first step toward United States-style school lock-downs. At best, this move sends a message to Toronto’s students that their schools have decided to monitor them, rather than giving them the opportunity to empower themselves.

It is time that the provincial and federal governments step up and provide the resources necessary to combat youth crime. This should be done, not through more security, but through programs that can engage and empower youth, with curricula that reflect students' realities, by elimination of the Safe-Schools Act and by addressing the real issues of poverty. A greater police presence may make the TDSB and Toronto Police feel better, but the long-term impact on students themselves is the most important consideration when opposing this policy.

No comments: