. Youth Violence: Britain’s schools need greater support and investment, not more policing | Ceasefire Magazine

Analysis | Youth Violence: Britain’s schools need greater support and investment, not more policing

Plans for greater police presence in UK schools may prove electorally lucrative but are part of the problem. The normalisation of police presence in British schools will irreparably transform them from places of learning and growth into sites of hyper-surveillance and trauma, argue Remi Joseph-Salisbury and Roxy Legane.

Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Wednesday, August 28, 2019 16:43 - 12 Comments


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Last month, the Home Affairs Select Committee released a report on Serious Youth Violence. Among the range of various suggestions it featured, the committee called for an increased police presence in schools, and a dedicated police officer in ‘all schools in areas with an above-average risk of serious youth violence’.

The committee’s desire to reduce youth violence is laudable, and one that we share not only with the committee, but with nearly all of society. Like the committee’s members, we are deeply moved by the harrowing stories of lives lost to violence. However, we want to urge caution against knee-jerk ‘crime and order’ responses.

The report comes at a time when Boris Johnson has vowed to introduce 20,000 more police officers and enhance ‘Stop and Search’ powers; Priti Patel has expressed her desire to make the Tories the ‘party of law and order’, and the Labour party seem unwilling to articulate a bold response to this increasing authoritarianism. Coupled with the relative absence of critical voices in the media, this lack of political opposition seems to suggest a broad consensus over the need to increase the role of the police in our society, and in our schools. Evidence given by Cressida Dick, the current Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, reveals that there are already 280 officers in London schools, and clear impetus to increase those numbers to 500 officers by 2020.

The widespread political consensus around introducing more police in schools is premised upon an entrenched, albeit massively distorted, view of the police as a benign institution interested only ‘in serving the people’ and keeping us safe. As Professor Alex Vitale argues, however, ‘the reality is that the police exist primarily as a system for managing and even producing inequality by suppressing social movements and tightly managing the behaviours of poor and non-white people’. Looking through such a lens casts a markedly different light on the prospect of police in schools, as do the perspectives of young people of colour.

Take Kids of Colour, a Greater Manchester-based community project which aims to support young people from racially minoritised backgrounds to challenge issues of racism and inequality. In stark contrast to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Kids of Colour positions young people (of colour) as the experts of their experience, and provides a platform for their voices to be heard.

At a Kids of Colour event earlier this year, attendees heard from young people whose interactions with the police — including those on school grounds — only worked to, quite inevitably, amplify existing mistrust. Attendees heard from a young Black boy who — after officers attended his school in response to an altercation over a £1 coin —  was told by an officer that they would ‘lock him up’ if they so much as saw him on the street. A young woman, educated in Chester, shared her experience of being interviewed by police at school, aged 13, without parental consent, while another young person recalled being stopped and searched for merely fitting the description of a ‘Black high schooler in a hoodie’. Kids of Colour has also heard worrying accounts of police restraint being used on school grounds.

These perspectives point towards some of the dangers inherent in placing more police in schools. Black and Brown youth — as well as (always overlapping) working class communities — are already subject to the over-encroachment of police into their lives and communities, and the committee’s intervention seeks to extend over-policing into schooling. The normalisation of police in schools threatens to irreparably transform school dynamics, turning what should be a place of learning and growth, into a place of hyper-surveillance and trauma.

From stop and search statistics, to school exclusions, all the evidence suggests that Black and Brown students will be most harshly impacted. This is exacerbated further when we realise that those areas most likely to meet the ‘high risk’ criteria are the ones where young people — disproportionately from racially minoritised groups — are already subject to over-policing. As with the rebranding of youth jails as privately managed ‘secure schools’, this is a further step towards the solidification of a (racialized) school-to-prison pipeline. Whilst the prison-industrial complex ensures that many have vested economic interests in the maintenance of this pipeline, it should be seen as an affront to the liberal values Britain allegedly holds so dear.

Whilst many tout this intervention as having the potential to improve ‘community relations’, young people’s negative interactions with the police, both within and beyond the school gates, will not be rectified by something as simple as a police presence in schools. The relationship between the police and over-policed communities cannot be changed by the presence of one ‘good’, ‘relatable’ police officer in schools: ‘such an intervention would be fundamentally misdiagnosing the problem: treating the symptom, not the disease’. It would be to misunderstand and elide the true nature of a police force that is institutionally racist, and fundamentally concerned with the maintenance of an unequal status-quo. As grassroots activists have long argued, community policing, despite its liberal appeal, acts only to further entrench policing, seeking to gain trust for an institution that — particularly for marginalised communities — remains deeply untrustworthy.

Investment elsewhere is imperative. For example, when pupils are having to wait an inordinately long time on Children & Adolescence Mental Health Services (CAMHs) waiting lists, it is abundantly clear that significantly greater focus on improving mental health provision would be one of the more beneficial approaches. Investment in this area would, in turn, work to break the cycles of trauma that are a consequence of living in communities where young people are more likely to be exposed and desensitized to violence, loss and the multiple forms of distress now caused by austerity (as well as over-policing). Yet mental health provision receives far less attention in the report. Sadly, mental health support is a discussion so often ignored in regard to these young people, whose demonisation rarely allows for them to be viewed as victims of state violence or deserving of empathetic solutions.

Calls for more police in schools rely on an assumption that criminalisation is a useful and effective way to tackle social ills. Whilst there is political currency in these knee-jerk ‘tough on crime’ responses, the reality is that they are — like chicken boxes — inadequate in tackling the roots of serious youth violence. Looking at the root causes would turn our gaze to the role of the state: decimating cuts in education, in youth and social services, and an ideological assault on working class young people.

The solutions lie not in the expansion of the police, but in investing in schools to increase the teaching force, to reduce class sizes, to increase the provision for extra-curricular activities and pastoral support, and to support (rather than criminalise) young people. The solutions lie not in prison expansion, but in investing in youth services, in community centers, and libraries: the solutions lie in repairing communities that have been under attack for far too long.


Remi Joseph-Salisbury

Remi Joseph-Salisbury is a Research Fellow in Ethnicity and Inequalities at the University of Manchester, and a trustee and organizer with the Racial Justice Network charity. He contributes regularly to mainstream media outlets and writes a ‘race and resistance’ column for Red Pepper. He tweets at: @RemiJS90

Roxy Legane

Roxy Legane is the founder of Kids of Colour, a Manchester-based project for young people of colour to challenge everyday and institutionalised racism. She is a steering group member of Northern Police Monitoring Project and recently completed a masters in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University. You can follow her work on Twitter at @RoxyLegane @KidsOfColourHQ


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