Politicians always like to say that a budget is a statement of values.
Mayor Adams and the City Council have made clear with their final FY24 Budget that they value the NYPD more than Black and Brown students like me. New York City already has the largest school police force in the country. With around 4,000 school cops, it is the 6th largest police force of any kind in the United States. By funding more school cops than counselors, social workers or restorative justice coordinators, our elected leaders are further militarizing our schools when they should be funding the practices that actually keep us safe instead.
As a junior in a primarily Black and low-income school in Brooklyn, I have seen first-hand how ineffective, harmful and unnecessary police officers are in my school. Every day I am greeted by officers coldly staring at me as if I have done something wrong for simply walking to class. The cops at my school only serve to escalate problems instead of working with us to address the root cause. It is terrifying to see nearly 10 police officers rush in when two students are fighting, or watch a cop drag a young kid out of a classroom for talking back to a teacher. I have personally been pushed against the wall because my earrings set off the metal detectors I have to go through every day. These aggressive tactics are not used in wealthier, whiter schools.
The facts make clear that school policing is racist. Even though Black and Brown students only make up nearly 66 percent of New York City’s schools, we represent nearly 90 percent of school policing incidents in schools. We are also more likely to have to go through metal detectors than white students. Being so heavily policed and surveilled have real, long-term consequences for students of color. Being arrested doubles the odds of a student dropping out; and students who dropout are three times more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system within a year. Even just seeing police in our schools has a negative affect on our mental health.
After the pandemic, elected leaders said they would get students the mental health support we need and deserve—but that has not been the case in many schools like mine. Students of color are crying out for help, but are instead being met with force instead of care. Recent reporting has shown that New York City schools have handcuffed and called 911 on thousands of students experiencing a mental health crisis, with Black and Brown students representing the overwhelming majority of those handcuffed. There are better, proven ways to help students in need.
While there are some restorative practices and mental health support in my school, they are outnumbered and stretched thin. These tools have started to help us learn and grow from our mistakes. The teachers trained in restorative justice practices help us understand the issues behind conflict instead of rushing to judgment and punishment. But in order to meet students’ needs, we need more social workers and counselors in schools to provide students personalized guidance to discuss our issues, and how best to resolve them.
Police do not make our schools safe, even in the most extreme circumstances. A study of school shootings found a higher mortality rate in schools with police. Young people have also made clear that the police do not make us feel safe in school. According to a survey of students in highly policed schools in NYC, most students feel safe with their friends and teachers, not police. More telling is that nearly 70 percent of students surveyed think that police should be removed from schools, and that funding should be increased for resources like teachers, nurses, social workers and mental health support over police.
The City keeps on investing in school police, while underfunding the supportive programs we need and expecting it will produce a different result. Instead of fully funding the mental health and restorative justice programs to reach more students in need, our elected leaders are keeping $50 million to fund more than 600 vacant school cop positions with the goal of targeting more Black and Brown kids like me. It’s a misguided and cruel decision that will impact our lives for years to come.
The bottom line is that the safest schools have the most resources, not the most police. I will keep fighting until we have a budget that puts student needs above the NYPD.
Darlette Borbon is a Junior from Brooklyn and Student Leader with Urban Youth Collaborative