South Bend community advocates against police in schools // The Observer


At September 20 meeting from the South Bend Community Schools Corporation (SBCSC), the school board discussed a Washington High School drive-in, district-wide professional learning, and a two-language immersion grant .

Not on the agenda, however – the presence of armed police officers in South Bend schools, also known as School Resource Officers (SROs). Due to a 2012 contract between the St. Joseph County Police and the South Bend Police Department, there are four officers in South Bend Schools.

The district spends about half a million dollars each year on the contract, according to advocates. Police allege differently, claiming in a Press release that the “average repayment split for our ORS was between $ 290,000 and $ 330,000 when we had six ORS in schools, now we only have four,” and that SBCSC only pays half.

Advocates and community members who had gathered to discuss this issue had a chance to speak for an hour and five minutes, when Council heard comments from the public on issues that were not relevant to the issue. ‘agenda.

“It was definitely a little tense,” Noemi Toroczkai said. “But it was tense for a good reason.”

Toroczkai, a Fulbright Fellow from Granger currently working as a Fulbright Enforcement Advisor at Notre Dame, was there with groups such as the South Bend NAACP, the South Bend Chapter of Black Lives Matter and the Michiana Alliance Against Racism and Repression Politics.

As an anthropology student at the university, Toroczkai became interested in racial issues in South Bend schools, hearing anecdotes and experiences during the summer 2020 protests after the police murder of George Floyd. .

For supporters seeking the SBSC to terminate its contract with the police, the issue of armed officers in schools is just the tip of the iceberg, according to Paul Mishler, professor of work studies at the ‘Indiana University South Bend (IUSB).

Mishler, whose IUSB department is a sister department to the Higgins Work Program at Notre Dame, has been an activist since the days of the Vietnam War. He helped organize the coordinated presence at the school board meeting and subsequent protests on the issue.

For Mishler, the police presence has problems off school campuses.

“Part of the experience of blacks in America is the police as an occupying force in their communities,” he said.

Advocates like Mishler argue that the SROs sprang up in places like South Bend as a result of desegregation efforts, as white families grew uncomfortable and advocated armed presences on campus.

During the meeting, among the public commentators who came to the podium to express their thoughts on SROs, only one woman spoke on their behalf, arguing that SROs keep the community safe.

“Our side of the room got very loud and responded negatively to this woman’s comment,” Toroczkai said.

Mishler and Toroczkai argue that SROs don’t make schools safer, but the presence of an armed police officer does the exact opposite.

But police say they have been attending schools for decades, bonding and interacting positively with students in South Bend.

“It takes a special person to interact with kids,” said St. Joseph County Sheriff William Redmond. South Bend Grandstand. “I’m not just going to put somebody in schools who’s aggressive, who’s just going to arrest everyone. I want our officers to engage with children and show them that they are also human.

Mishler doesn’t disagree that officers can be good people who make a positive impact.

“I’ve met some of these cops, and they’re really worried, Mishler said. “They really want to help the kids. But it is not about their individual characters. If they want to do more than carry a gun, quit the police, go become a social worker, go become a teacher. But don’t bring your guns to school where you can terrorize kids. It doesn’t help.

He and other speakers at the meeting consistently offered to spend funds on social workers, counselors and other support staff to help students, rather than keeping the contract with the police.

For activists, the idea of ​​a pipeline from school to prison is embodied by the SROs. As Mishler argues, “The police academy teaches mastery, correction and arrest.

Speakers during the meeting described anecdotes and examples of how this could happen. They argued that SROs often go beyond official policy which dictates that they only deal with criminal activity.

For a student who smokes a cigarette, he may be ticketed, Mishler said. And then, if they don’t pay their fees, it can quickly become a warrant, and if they don’t respond to that warrant, they risk a crime on their file.

The SBPD responded to the ticket alleged by saying, “When fighting and smoking started to get out of hand in schools, tickets were issued to deter these students from engaging in these activities. This practice has not been applied for several years.

For now, Superintendent Todd Cummings has said the SBCSC administration is working on preparing a new contract, which will be presented to the board with a recommendation to continue or end the program when a next meeting.

Mishler is not holding his breath, however, saying the city’s opposition to an SRO review panel indicates South Bend politicians want to maintain a close relationship with the police.

“They’re ignoring us right now,” Mishler said. “Part of our pressure is because the school board is desperately trying to avoid bringing it up in public debate.”

Toroczkai is slightly more optimistic, citing a board member who spoke in solidarity with the defenders.

Until the board takes that vote, activists will continue to lobby on this issue. The police will seek to renew their contract, on the grounds that they “[have] proudly served our schools for over 35 years.

The SBPD and SJCP claim to have “mentored thousands of children, helped them with their life and career paths, created groups that help build self-esteem, trained in sports, and built lasting relationships and confidence while helping to keep our schools safe ”.

Mishler sees this as an opportunity for Notre Dame students to step out of the campus bubble and get involved in the South Bend community.

“I think Notre Dame is a difficult place for students to connect with the community, but we find some really wonderful Notre Dame students,” he said. “A lot of [ND students] had a very serious moral education. The group of children I meet from Notre Dame now is much more engaged than it has been for a long time.

Tags: Black Lives Matter, NAACP, school-to-prison pipeline, South Bend Community School Corporation, South Bend Police Department, South Bend Tribune

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