Thursday, November 05, 2009

Northern Students Stage Walk-Out

Hundreds participate in walk-out after student arrested at No
BASICS #16 (Nov / Dec 2009)
by Noaman Ali

Two hundred students gathered on either side of Roehampton St. south of Northern Secondary School at 11:30am on Thursday, October 22 to protest the arrest of a 16-year-old male on October 2 and also to protest the very presence of the police officer in their school. The “School Resource Officer” (SRO) Initiative, started by the Toronto Police Service and the executive of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) in 2008-09 and expanded in 2009-10, has led to the presence of uniformed and armed police officers in fifty high schools across Toronto. The demonstrators demanded the immediate removal of the SRO from Northern and a “fully-open, publicized public community consultation regarding the SRO Initiative at Northern.”

The SRO Initiative was implemented in response to issues of safety in schools, but it effectively ignores the recommendations made in actual inquiries into the problem. In January 2008, a report on safety in schools commissioned by the TDSB and led by human rights lawyer Julian Falconer made several recommendations, most specifically increasing the number of youth workers and programmes available for marginalized youth. Since the implementation of the SRO Initiative, Falconer has explicitly stated that police in schools is not the answer. Indeed, it does little to address the marginalization of youth that results from overall social and systemic neglect.

But instead of making the funding for proper programmes available, politicians have instead increased funding for the police even as crime rates drop. This has led to the adoption of the SRO Initiative, which doesn’t cost the TDSB a thing. Alok Premjee, an organizer with NOCOPS, the Neighbourhood Organized Coalition Opposed to Police in Schools, argued that putting police in schools is an “intensification of the police state.” Premjee remarked that it was a way for the government to increase its surveillance of the population at large and to keep them in check, rather than improving people’s lives.

Protesting students at Northern agree with Premjee, one of them holding up a sign stating, “This school is not a police state.” “This is very much a grassroots movement; students are outraged and our questions are not being answered,” said Max Naylor, a grade eleven student and one of the organizers of the protest. Safety concerns at the school have been dealt with by installing cameras and requiring all members of the school community to wear lanyards with identification cards, as well as by hiring hall monitors, thus calling into question the need for police officers. “The main issue is that students feel uncomfortable with an armed officer in the school. It makes us feel like the school belongs not to students but to the police,” he said.