A North Carolina Black student group is evoking the Uvalde, Texas, elementary massacre to argue against the presence of school resource officers on campuses to keep students safe.
Leaders of the Wake County Black Student Coalition recently told The Associated Press that they believe "police don’t make us safer" and officers on school campuses "do more harm than they do good," especially for students of color who the claim are disproportionately arrested or disciplined.
As elsewhere around the country last week, police presence was increased outside schools across North Carolina to provide reassurance to families in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas shooting.
But the move slated to increase the safety of students instead drew ire from Wake County Black Student Coalition President Malika Mobley, a senior at Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh, North Carolina.
"We don’t see police presence as part of the solution," Mobley recently told the AP. "If you really think about why police don’t make us safer, you can draw connections to all types of tragedies that impact the most marginalized among us."
Wake County Black Student Coalition has advocated since 2020 at the height of the defund police movement following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis for eliminating police officers from school buildings in favor of investing in counselors and support staff for students.
In Uvalde, the 18-year-old gunman, Salvador Ramos, spent roughly 80 minutes inside Robb Elementary school during the May 24 attack that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo has since faced calls for his termination over his slow response, as officers waited outside the building and Tased parents who sought to rush inside to their children.
Wake County schools have 75 school resource officers, drawn from several local law enforcement agencies.
Police officers have a regular presence at schools across the country in recent decades, often in the form of school resource officers, who are tasked with building relationships with young people to promote trust of law enforcement, providing security, and enforcing laws.
In a statement issued on best practices for school security in the wake of the Uvalde shooting, the National Association of School Resource Officers emphasized the importance of having "a carefully selected, specifically trained SRO on its campus whenever school is in session."
The nonprofit group has rejected criticism that officers contribute to a school-to-prison pipeline. Officers who follow its best practices, it says, do not arrest students for disciplinary issues that would be handled ordinarily by educators.
The Wake County Black Student Coalition’s campaign to remove the officers stemmed partly from student accounts of bad experiences with officers, including a 2017 incident where a school resource officer was filmed picking up a Black girl and slamming her to the ground, Chalina Morgan-Lopez, a high school senior who is co-president of the student group, told the AP.
"I think it’s a reasonable response to want more officers in schools, especially from people who genuinely do feel protected by law enforcement, even though that’s not my lived experience," Morgan-Lopez said. "But I think people need to take into account that officers do in fact do more harm than they do good."
Last summer the school system made several changes to its school resource officer program, including a new process for fielding grievances involving officers and adjustments to training to prepare them better for the school environment, Lisa Luten, a spokesperson for the school system, told the AP.
The review was based on community feedback the district sought in the wake of the killing of Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Luten said.
In 2018, after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the state legislature passed laws mandating public schools to have either law enforcement or armed personnel present on campuses.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.