The death of George Floyd at the hands of police heightened the scrutiny of school resource officers and so far, some schools across the United States have started cutting ties with police or disbanding their police forces.
CNN spoke to students from across the country about school resource officers, or SROs, and the changes they want to see at their schools.
Salem Hailu, 17, a soon-to-be senior at Byers High School in Denver, Colorado, says students of color are treated differently and in a more punitive way than others by their school resource officers.
Most of the times police are called to her school it’s for incidents or reports involving students of color and mostly Black students, she says.
“It makes me feel not wanted in my own school. It makes me feel like students of color aren’t valued,” Salem said.
While SROs are encouraged to have positive interactions with students and tasked with building relationships with them, Salem thinks schools should put more resources elsewhere.
“They (students) should be having relationships with social workers and people who could actually help their future and their mental health,” Salem said.
They’ve seen SROs using excessive force
Jasmin Benas, 18, was in the parking lot of Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, when she watched as a group of SROs held Black students to the ground and arrested them.
“Our immediate reaction was just like take out your phones and record. So something can hold these SROs accountable,” Benas said.
“I can understand discipline in terms of having a meeting with the principal if something happened but this wasn’t discipline. It was excessive force and it wasn’t appropriate,” she added.
‘We should have counselors and less cops’
Amir Lumumba, 12, an eighth grader at Montgomery County Schools in Maryland, says he’s seen some SROs quickly taking students to the principal’s office, which leads to unnecessary suspensions.
“I feel like if they had a way to express themselves or tell a person what happened, or if they had a safe place to let a person know what they are feeling or why they acted that way, I feel like that would be better than getting taken to the office to get suspended for three or four days,” Amir said.
“We should have counselors and less cops in school or no cops at all,” he added. “Cops they’re there for emergencies not to be walking around in schools with guns.”
They are afraid of going to school
Autumn Vultao, 17, a soon-to-be senior at Denver Public Schools, doesn’t trust SROs to intervene in mental health incidents at school.
When she was a sophomore, SROs were called to check on her and “were gaslighting me and using my prior hospitalizations as fuel for them to be angry even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Autumn said.
Ultimately, a counselor at school stepped in and talked to her but Autumn says it’s possible that it could have escalated further if she just had talked back to them.
“I’m still afraid of going to my school and speaking to somebody about anything regarding mental health because I’m afraid that will happen again or even worse this time,” Autumn said. “At the same time, it’s also made me more outspoken because it can happen to other people.”
‘We need to re-imagine the idea of school safety’
Reagan Razon, 16, a student at Enloe Magnet High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, says many of her classmates have grown critical of SRO’s role but others, especially White students, still support their presence.
“They feel like school resource officers are there to protect them from drama or like different dangers. But on the other hand, there’s Black students who are really traumatized by the experiences with these officers,” Reagan told CNN. “The White comfort is not worth the trauma of your Black students.”
“We need to re-imagine the idea of safety because for many, it’s not actually protecting them or getting them to feel safe,” Reagan said.