Over the past 50 years, our schools have become sites of increased criminalization of young people—a disturbing fact that is even truer for poor Black and Latino communities. Today, police officers assigned to patrol schools can legally use physical force on students, arrest and handcuff them, and bring the full weight of the criminal justice system to bear on kids who are simply misbehaving. The primary role of police in schools is to enforce criminal laws, and virtually every violation of a school rule can be considered a criminal act if viewed through this police-first lens.
This new ACLU white paper, “Bullies in Blue: Origins and Consequences of School Policing,” explores the beginnings of school policing in the United States and sheds light on the negative consequences of the increasing role of police and links it to both the drivers of punitive criminal justice policies and mass incarceration nationwide. The report traces a line back to the struggle to end Jim Crow segregation during the civil rights movement, and challenges assumptions that the function of police in schools is to protect children.