Black Student Leaders speak out on police in schools

By Melissa Baca

“They make me feel really uncomfortable,” Chaya Davis said of police at Logan High School. 

Davis was speaking to The La Crosse Independent on Monday, a day after Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, in front of his children, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down and fighting for his life.

“And you want me to go to school and you want me to feel comfortable with these same people, and these same badges and these same uniforms that are killing my people every single day,” said Davis, who is a sophomore at Logan and a member of the Black Student Leaders group at the school.

The police at Logan are known as School Resource Officers (SROs) and are part of a program that places five officers in middle and high schools at a cost to the La Crosse School District of $250,000 a year. The program also includes one district-wide DARE officer.

“I don’t want them around any kids of color. I don’t want them around kids with disabilities,” Davis said. “How am I supposed to feel safe when they follow us around, hands on their guns? I can’t feel safe like that. They make these kids feel worthless. I feel that to make kids of color safe, they have to go. We can’t feel safe around people who want to kill us.”

La Crosse School District Superintendent Dr. Aaron Engel is currently conducting a review of the district’s contract with police, which runs until June 2021. The school board directed Engel to investigate the program and interview people impacted by it, including teachers, students and the police themselves, as well as other community stakeholders. Engel is expected to return with a recommendation in November for the board to vote on.

Mia Davis, a freshman at Logan, is also a member of Black Student Leaders, which she said acts as a support system for Black students at the high school.

“It feels good that we actually have something, and people know about us,” she said of the group. “It’s not just a thing at the school, people in the community know our name.”

Black Student Leaders has organized demonstrations and is attempting to raise awareness around the SRO program, which many in the group support defunding. 

Brianna Washington, a sophomore at Logan and another member of the group, said she also does not feel comfortable with police being present at her school, based on her own experience.

“I got into this altercation with one boy, he called me the n-word four times when I was walking home,” she recalled. “I ended up pushing him and it got physical. I had been dealing with this same group of juniors since the beginning of the school year. It was the wintertime by the time of the altercation and [SROs] still hadn’t done anything. So I took it into my own hands, I ended up getting an OSS (out-of-school suspension), they said that they were gonna take proper action, but he came to school the next day bragging about it. They just gave us false promises, he never got in trouble.”

For Black students in the La Crosse School District, the out-of-school suspension rate is five times higher than that of white students, according to district officials, and students who have had a suspension face a much higher risk of dropping out of school.

The three students are determined to continue advocating for police to be removed from school. They said in their experience, the police are used too often to deal with disciplinary issues at the school, sometimes leading to physical confrontations. As the debate around the SRO program continues, they want the wider La Crosse community to hear their stories.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the police department is hoping the school board does not vote to remove police from La Crosse schools and insists the SRO program helps police build positive relationships with students.

 “The La Crosse Police Department believes strongly that our School Resource Officer program is a vital component of our ‘relationship-based policing’ approach,” a statement from police chief Shawn Kudron released last month said.   “Early in my career I worked in the schools and know the connections we make with kids are real. Unfortunately, there is no chart, graph or study that can show the lives that have been changed or things that have been prevented.”  

In July, Kudron released a series of proposed adjustments to the SRO program, after the school board began discussing its possible termination, and in the face of criticism from students and other community members. The changes suggested by the chief included requiring SROs to wear a “plain clothes uniform” and concealing their firearm “on person and out of sight.” SROs would also “no longer cite for truancy.”

The impact the proposed changes will have on the school board’s decision remains to be seen. But the three members of Black Student Leaders interviewed by The La Crosse Independent remain convinced their school is no place for police.

Mia Davis said one SRO recently called her and other students “stupid” for protesting about police in schools and told them they were wasting their time. But Davis and her friends have no plans to stop raising their voices anytime soon. You can find out more about Black Student Leaders on their Facebook page here.

Top image by Melissa Baca of Mia Davis, Chaya Davis and Brianna Washington. Melissa Baca is a senior at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse where she’s studying Women and Gender Studies. She’s also the Social Justice Reporter at The Racquet Press.

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