The NRA is not the only group calling for armed cops in every school.  http://www.schoolsafety911.org/ the School Safety Advocacy Council is a group looking for more law enforcement in our schools.  Find an excellent debate between Sean Burke of SSAC and Damon Hewitt of the NAACP here http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/16/debate_on_armed_police_in_schools .  The basic issue is, cops in schools tend to arrest kids for things that kids (especially boys) do – fistfights, abusive language, low-hanging pants, etc.  As you might guess, this does not happen much at suburban, predominately white schools.  Consider the case of Meridian, Mississippi;  http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/11/school_prison_pipeline_meridian.html .

A recent photo of Hogg Middle School, now, it seems, a much better place than in my day.  While the neighborhood has certainly gentrified, I hope the system has improved, as well.

A recent photo of Hogg Middle School. Now, it seems like a much better place than in my day. While the neighborhood has certainly gentrified, I hope the system has improved, as well.

I attended Hogg Middle School in Houston, Texas, a notoriously rough school back in 1984ish.  The year before I went there, a kid had been stabbed to death on school grounds.  It was by all accounts a horrible school, though I certainly got a good education (and I don’t just mean academically) there.  Back then, corporal punishment was the norm in Houston schools.  Every Assistant Principal (never the Principal, of course) had some sort of wicked stick, referred to as a “board,” often a modified baseball bat or similar, with which to hit children on the legs or bottom.  Many teachers had their own boards, each one unique – if there were district standards for these devices, I was not aware of them.  My mother signed a thing saying that she should be called instead of me being paddled, but when it came time for the “pops,” as they were called, I was always given a choice.  I could take my licks or they would call my mom at work.  No-brainer, especially since ducking out of the pops would make my shaky relationship with the tough Chicano kids (who assumed, correctly, that the teachers favored me) even worse.  I took my licks like a mannish boy.  They hurt quite a bit, but not for very long.  Some of the best, kindest teachers I had employed this practice, because that was just what was expected, and they wanted the kids to respect them.  Some teachers pointedly refused to engage in corporal punishment.  The worst, most psycho teacher I had at Hogg bragged about how he never used a board, because he didn’t need to.  He did far more damage in other ways.  Needless to say, corporal punishment was completely ineffective as a disciplinary tool.  The tough kids just sneered about the whole thing.

At Hogg, we did have a resident armed cop, Mr. Roberts.  He was a mustachioed black guy who proudly drove a Corvette and favored three-piece suits (usually brown), under which he wore a .45 auto in a shoulder holster.  I’m not sure what Mr. Roberts did to get in trouble with the Houston cops and therefore be sent to police Hogg, but he was, from my standpoint, a friendly and benign presence in the hallways.  He would calmly intervene in fights, and seemed to be always talking to the “bad” kids, trying to prevent trouble before it started.  I never heard of him pulling his gun, but I guess that would have been kept on the DL, if it happened.

The one time I witnessed Mr. Roberts in his law-enforcement capacity, it was my doing.  There was this kid, Patrick, who bullied me relentlessly in gym.  Nothing too overt, just looked like boys horsing around, but he was much bigger and stronger than I was, and a master of the headlock Dutch rub, the twisted arm, and the rabbit punch to the solar plexus.  I tried to steer clear, but he sought me out.  One day at lunch he approached a group of us and pulled a joint out of his sock with a flourish “Check it out, votto!”  He carefully tucked the joint back down into the top of his Chuck Taylor high top and swaggered off.  I worked in the counselors’ office next period (yeah, I know), and somehow let it slip that I’d seen a kid with a joint.  The counselor insisted I go tell the assistant principal, which I none-too-reluctantly did.  I didn’t care one way or the other about pot, I’d certainly been exposed to it plenty as a kid, but I wanted Patrick to suffer.  As we were changing after gym (Patrick had left me alone for once, probably because he didn’t want any extra adult scrutiny), Mr. Roberts came in and took Patrick aside.  The contraband was soon discovered and Patrick lead away.  I was trying to feel righteous, and not having much luck.

As I was heading home after school, Patrick saw me and trotted up.  I did my best not to cringe.  “Somebody narced on me!  You know who it was, man?”  His look was completely guileless.  It didn’t even occur to him that it might have been me.  I told him I had no idea.  “Man, when I find that pendejo….” he smacked his fist into his palm for emphasis.

Turns out Patrick’s “joint” was a hand-rolled cigarette he’d filched from his dad, and he didn’t get in any real trouble.  But what if it had been a joint?  This was at the height of the Nancy Reagan drug hysteria.  Would Patrick have gone “downtown?”  Patrick wasn’t really a tough kid, he just happened to be higher in the pecking order than I was, which is not saying much.  I’m sure other kids picked on him.  The real thugs didn’t even come to school half the time, and when they did, nobody messed with them.  Keep your eyes down, prison yard rules.  Their drug of choice was sliver spray paint, their pusher the neighborhood auto parts store.

My problems with Patrick sorted themselves out.  Maybe I got tougher, maybe he just got bored with beating up on me.  We were never friends, but we got along.  I actually saw him when I was home from college years later, behind the counter at the auto parts store where the bad kids bought their spray paint, which had since been locked in a glass case and required I.D.  I don’t think he recognized me.

With a lot of Democrats getting on board with the idea of a cop in every school, we’d better think very carefully about all of the implications.  A lot of schools already have a police presence, and maybe it’s not always a bad thing, but in a lot of poor, urban neighborhoods, the cops are viewed, with very good reason, as an unwelcome occupier.  Having an armed officer on campus may improve the physical safety of some kids, but sending marginal kids into the “System” for offenses that could be dealt with by school officials does incredible long-term damage, to individuals and ultimately society.  In a lot of states, juvenile detention facilities are privately run institutions, rife with physical and sexual abuse.  Kids who end up in the juvenile system are likely to end up in the adult system.  It truly is a school-to-prison pipeline.

Also consider that police are expensive – decent salaries, super benefits, high workers’ comp costs, early pensions.  For the cost of each cop, I bet you could have a child psychologist and a social worker, people with whom kids could speak confidentially.  Having these visits mandated for kids with problems gives the kids cover for any stigma attached to seeing the shrink.  “Dude, I gotta go see Ms. Shrinky Pants again…”

Schools have made a lot of progress since I was at Hogg.  Bullying is recognized as a problem.  I don’t think teacher enforcement alone can solve the problem, but it creates a lot of social pressure.  Kids can get together and tell the offender that it’s really not cool.  This seems to be how it works at my daughter’s school.  The bully can only pick on individuals, so if kids have the awareness to unite, the bully is kept in check.  At Hogg, kids were left to their own devices in these matters, unless it really went to fist city, in which case the paddle came out, hardly a good moral lesson.  I got in trouble a couple of times because I lost it and went ballistic on a much bigger kid who had been steadily messing with me for days.  It was my reaction, not the bullying, that brought the attention.  I was bullied a lot, for being small, for being white, for being the smart kid.  I also had access to guns at home.  It never in a million years would have crossed my mind to bring a gun to school.  My vengeful fantasies were unarmed, though martial arts prowess may have come into play.  Now, it’s different, or maybe not so much.  I had friends.  I was sometimes miserable, but I had people to listen to me.  It seems that most of the boys and young men who go completely off the rails are “loners.”  Nobody’s listening.  I think a professional listener would do a lot more for those would-be school shooters than a cop.

 

2 Responses to “Police in Schools – Confessions of a Teenage Narc”

  1. April says:

    Yep, Nat, I’m with you on this one. Though I am a supporter of the 2nd amendment, the conversation should be mental health. More trained listeners, not gun carriers. Treat the root cause not the symptoms.

    Sorry for encouraging more posts.

  2. nathaniel says:

    April, thanks. I wish more 2A types (and I am a 2A type) were like you. Mostly, they’re sort of looking for armed conflict, like if everyone had a gun, it would be Mayberry. Guns are not a solution, but a last resort. A last resort that we should all have legal access to.

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