Marching from City Hall to the NYPD’s Headquarters, there’s no indication yet their chants will sway the mayor’s approach to school safety.
Singing chants and bearing signs that read “Counselors Not Cops” and “Students Can’t Read If Students Can’t Breathe,” more than 200 students, parents, teachers and City Council members rallied outside City Hall on Wednesday, before marching a few blocks to New York Police Department headquarters at 1 Police Plaza. Their demand: remove all police from public schools.
Mayor Eric Adams’s proposed budget for fiscal year beginning in October includes $400 million for hiring almost 1,000 additional police to patrol schools, according to a press release by the Urban Youth Collective, one of the groups that organized the demonstration.
Meanwhile, the education budget will be cut by just over half a billion dollars, mostly due to a reduction in federal funding offered during the pandemic.
While the NYPD school safety agents in question are not technically police officers, they “provide security and ensure the safety of students, faculty and visitors in the New York City Public School buildings and surrounding premises,” according to the NYPD’s website. This includes patrolling and operating scanning equipment, verifying identity and escorting visitors and by challenging unauthorized personnel.
Indeed, rising gun violence is a major issue afflicting the city at present. For the month of February 2022, New York City saw a 58.7% increase in overall index crime compared to the same month last year. Last week saw a mass shooting at a subway station in Brooklyn, injuring 23 New Yorkers.
A core theme of Adams’ mayoral campaign was public safety, which has been put at the center of his first budget. “The NYPD is our first line of defense against gun violence,” he said in a speech announcing the budget earlier this year. “We will make new efforts to strengthen and reinforce it, while continuing our mission to involve the community.”
The demonstrators Wednesday made several demands for alternatives to police in schools. They included $350 million in investments for student support networks, such as social workers, mental health counselors and restorative justice coordinators. Demonstrators also called for the elimination of the NYPD’s School Policing Division and a halt to funding for new or existing student scanning and surveillance equipment.
Last month, Adams announced he was testing new advanced weapon detection technology at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, created by Evolv Technology, and hinted that it may be installed in schools if successful.
The mayor hasn’t indicated any openness to acceding to the demands of demonstrators. In January, after being shown an image of a backpack of weapons found at a Manhattan school, Adams said: “When people attack me for having school safety agents in our schools they need to see this. I’m not removing my school safety agents. We’re going to do an analysis of the needs and I’m going to protect my children.”
Speaking at the rally, Jocelyn Palafox Díaz, 17, a student from Staten Island, recounted an experience from the sixth grade, when two of her peers, both 12, had an argument that resulted in one of them being handcuffed. “We need to have more security in the sense that you feel like you’re being treated with loving hands, instead of feeling like you’re gonna get criminalized for normal teenage behavior once you go inside of schools,” she said. “We have to redirect our notions of safety to police to being teachers and trained professionals that can help de-escalate situations.”
City Council members Sandy Nurse, Shahana Hanif, Tiffany Caban and Kristin Richardson Jordan each attended the rally and expressed support for the aims of demonstrators, while voicing concerns about funding of police officers over pastoral staff in public schools.
“We know that safety is hiring more counselors and social workers,” Jordan said. “We know that children don’t need to be policed, they need conversations with trusted staff.”
Critics of school safety agents say it encourages a “school-to-prison pipeline” where students become formally involved with the criminal justice system because of school policies that use law enforcement, rather than discipline, to address behavioral problems.
And research into consequences of police in schools has mixed results, further confusing the debate. One national study in 2016 found that school leaders reported slightly lower rates of criminal incidents — particularly violent ones — in schools with more police.
However, in New York City, school policing disproportionately impacts students of color. Black and Latino youth represent 91 percent of all school arrests, despite being only two-thirds of the student population, according to a 2021 survey led by nonprofit Center for Popular Democracy.
The same survey found that more than two thirds of students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that police should be removed from schools, and almost a third have felt targeted by police based on an aspect of their identity, such as race or religion.
“Being an undocumented, female student of color, having the police presence in schools is definitely a very scary feeling,” Díaz said.
“When you see how police treat people like you outside of schools, and you see those same police officers inside your schools, is definitely an off putting feeling.”