A man sits in front of a police line in Oakland, California, October 25, 2011. (Reuters/Kim White)
Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on gun control handed its recommendations to President Obama yesterday, who will announce them tomorrow. This is the first time in recent memory that one of our increasingly common acts of mass violence has sparked such immediate action. It may not bring solace to all of the victims’ families, but it has the potential to start preventing these horrors from happening in the first place.
But as encouraging as it is to see action to curb gun violence, an epidemic in this country compared to our peers, it is still worth pausing to ask what kind of action is being taken and what its consequences will be. Some reforms, like the “guns in every school” approach from the NRA, rightly strike many liberals as absurd. This direction is not just dangerous—it also will likely disproportionately impact the lives of young black and brown children. But other gun control measures that we might feel more comfortable with could have similar unintended consequences if we don’t pay attention to how they are implemented.
Few can forget the absurd news conference held by the NRA in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre called for putting “armed police officers in every school in this nation.” But it’s not as out-of-box as many of us might assume. Some lawmakers have echoed this call; Senator Barbara Boxer introduced legislation that would let governors use federal funds to have the National Guard secure schools and increase the money spent annually on things like metal detectors and security cameras at schools. But many schools already have armed policemen patrolling the halls and using these law enforcement gadgets. As Julianne Hing of Colorlines reports:
As of 2011, 68 percent of U.S. schoolchildren said police officers patrolled their school campuses… In 1999, that number was 54 percent. Last year, 70 percent of schoolkids went to schools where surveillance cameras were used, and more than half of students reported that locker checks were used as a security tactic. More than one in 10 U.S. students goes to a school with metal detectors on campus.
The militarization of school safety and orderliness most heavily impacts children of color. It effectively feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Hing notes, “The rise of police officers and militarized security tactics in schools runs parallel with the rise of zero-tolerance school discipline policies in the 1980s and 1990s.” Those zero tolerance laws entail cracking down on behavior infractions with a heavy fist. As Jim Eichner of the Advancement Project told Hing, “What we know is that when you put police in school they arrest kids,” which means students going to jail for things like fist fights, talking back to teachers or even showing up late or wearing the wrong color socks.