The Barriers Between Black Students and School Resource Officers

By Keonte R. Turner

7:30 am: After a long bus ride to the south side of Milwaukee I arrive at the Lynde and Harry Bradley Technology and Trade High School. 

Most mornings I remember having to go through metal detectors, met by security guards who also had handheld detectors, and after meeting the second line of defense and having to implore: “It’s my belt making that thing buzz, I have nothing,” I was then graced by the presence of Milwaukee Police Department officers who always greeted me with the friendliest of smiles…You understand sarcasm don’t you?

 After waiting in a long line with a bunch of confused and perplexed high schoolers, when we all finally got through, we had missed breakfast and had to get tardy passes to our first periods. A question to the reader: How long do you think it took me to focus and actually feel like I was ready to learn? One, with an empty stomach and secondly, having underwent a process that people going to visit inmates have to go through?

Are you ready for the answer?

I was ready to leave. I absolutely didn’t feel like my school was a safe environment to learn with the chatter from police walkie talkies playing out in the background and just their mere presence in the hallways.

Growing up in Milwaukee I did not have a great relationship with white people outside my teachers. I mean, we barely saw them where I lived. Milwaukee is one of the most segregated places I have ever experienced in my short 30 years.

Our encounters with the police were not pleasant.

I remember my little brother being stopped after coming out of a convenience store by a cop who grabbed him because he seemed “suspicious.” I remember my brother telling me he remained composed, “yes sir, no sir,” as the policeman grabbed him and taunted him to try and provoke a reaction. This was an example of the “the talk” guidelines we as black kids are briefed about at a young age. The cop twisted my brother’s wrist with so much force, he thought the cop might break it. When he told me this, I grabbed my own wrist and rubbed an absent pain away. Do you believe after that experience he had a relationship with the SROs (School Resource Officers) at his school? 

Our experience with cops was not the same as those of little white boys and girls. It is still not the same. Calling the cops where I am from can lead to your death. As children we did not look at policemen as help or protection because they did/do just the opposite for people with my skin tone.

There has got to come a time when we as leaders shut up and listen. Especially during challenging times. This is happening all over the country to our children. In a time where students can log on to YouTube and see SROs, usually white males, body slam and punch little black children…they are supposed to foster healthy relationships with them? 

From my experiences, I believe students should have relationships with social workers, mentors and people who could actually help their future and their state of mental health. Especially ones that look like them. 

Educate, Collaborate, and Elevate, La Crosse. 

Keonte R. Turner is the founder of the youth group RISE, a member of B.L.A.C.K., and a member of the School District of La Crosse Board of Education.

Questions? Email Top photo: A School Resource Officer’s vehicle in Santa Monica, California by Tomás Del Coro/CC BY-SA 2.0 

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