Hundreds March to Get Police Out of Milwaukee Schools
Lena Scheibengraber, 29, holds sign that says "bullets are not school supplies" Wednesday at a rally calling on the Milwaukee Public Schools Board to cancel its contract with the Milwaukee Police Department. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

School board votes Thursday night on MPD contract.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Milwaukee Public Schools district office Wednesday to call for “counselors, not cops” and “schools, not jails” the day before the Milwaukee Public Schools Board was set to decide whether to cancel its contract with the Milwaukee Police Department.

Calls to remove police from schools have been heard nationwide in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by Minneapolis police. The Minneapolis Public Schools Board already canceled its police contract, St.Paul’s School Board will consider the same, Chicago aldermen have joined demonstrators’ calls to kick cops out of schools there, and protesters want to defund the Los Angeles School Police Department.

The Madison Metropolitan School Board also is considering ending its police contract.  The teachers’ union, Madison Teachers Inc., said they would support the move if counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and mental health specialists are simultaneously hired for all four Madison high schools to the staffing levels recommended by the national American Civil Liberties Union.  

Demonstrators in Madison painted ‘Police Free Schools’ in from of the Madison Metropolitan School District building on West Dayton Street. (Photo by Eric Tadsen)

While adding police to schools sounds reasonable in practice given the unfortunate prevalence of high-profile school shootings, research has shown that school resource officers, or SROs, do not provide any demonstrable safety increase. 

In fact, SROs decrease high school graduation rates, disproportionately discipline and arrest students of color, and contribute to an oppressive atmosphere that makes kids feel less safe, according to two academic studies.

“Threatened. I feel emotional. I don’t even have words,” said Journee Harrington, a 14-year-old MPS student, when asked to describe how it makes her feel to have police in her school.

Protesters marched around the Milwaukee Public Schools district offices Wednesday to call on the School Board to cancel its contract with the Milwaukee Police Department. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Harrington, who is Black, said in middle school she was wearing a hoodie to commemorate Trayvon Martin, a Black teen gunned down by a vigilante in Florida in 2012. An SRO pulled Harrington aside, she said, and began searching her and her backpack. She said the incident made her feel profiled in her own school.

“It’s a negative vibe with them in our schools,” said Kris English, a 15-year-old Black MPS student. “Having MPD in our schools doesn’t do any better for our kids.”

English said two of his friends were arguing once, and a security guard called the SRO to handle the situation. The SRO took one of the friends and locked him in a room with the lights off, English said.

SROs handcuffed or isolated students more than 1,100 times in the 2016-17 school year, according to a study by Leaders Igniting Transformation, or LIT, a youth- and young-adult-led advocacy group.

“In prison if you do something wrong, they take you to the hole (solitary confinement),” English said. “That’s pretty much how they did him. No students come to school to get that treatment.”

Protesters marched around the Milwaukee Public Schools district offices Wednesday to call on the School Board to cancel its contract with the Milwaukee Police Department. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

The protest, organized by LIT, included speakers both young and old. All spoke of the need to end the school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately affects students of color. In the 2013-14 school year, Black children were 55 percent of the MPS student body, but accounted for nearly 85 percent of referrals to law enforcement, according to LIT.

“Our Black and brown boys and girls don’t go to college, they go to prison,” said the Rev. Darryl Seay of Liberty and Truth Ministries, a church in Milwaukee. “That’s not right.”