By Mea Aitken
In August 2020, Kids of Colour and the Northern Police Monitoring Project published the report ‘Decriminalise the Classroom – A Community Response to Police in Greater Manchester’s Schools’. This report is part of our No Police in Schools campaign which was founded following an increase in reports from community members, including young people, about police presence in schools.
Examples of concerns raised by communities we surveyed included, but are not limited to: the over-policing of young people who are working-class and/or people of colour, damage to young people’s mental health – including other marginalised students such as LGBTQ+ young people – and a hostile school environment.
In recent news, we have seen a reconsideration regarding the structure of the school-based police officer role in the borough of Manchester. Manchester City Council decided to pull officers out of Manchester schools, which is a decision that we recognise as a win for the campaign.
The issue of police in schools was not recognised as a concern by local authorities before this campaign, so it is important that we take this time to celebrate the work our communities and organisations have done that has led to this decision being made.
That being said, the removal of police from schools does not mark the end of our campaigning. While the removal of police from schools has been a large focus of the No Police in Schools campaign, the wider issue that our organisations are concerned about is the encroachment of police into the lives of young people, and particularly the persistent over-policing of young people of colour.
Unfortunately, the removal of police from schools will not prevent this. We are aware from this announcement that the intention of Manchester City Council is to maintain a form of policing within communities. So while police officers may not be directly stationed in schools, they will still be in neighbourhoods surrounding schools, and working with schools. We must ask the questions about which communities these officers will be placed in and which groups of young people will be subject to policing from these officers.
According to the data that was collected in the ‘Decriminalise the Classroom’ report, from 554 people, students reported that they felt “more on edge and anxious about police being within the school, especially as a black [student]” and that the “officer was petty and vindictive, treated black kids harsher, and relied on intimidation”. It is likely that these officers will also display this behaviour and invoke these feelings for young people even if they are not directly based in education settings.
So while this decision does show that we, as a community, have the ability to come together and make changes, we have to seize this moment to carry on fighting against the over-policing of marginalized communities, rather than taking a step back, otherwise the cycle of criminalising people of colour and working-class people will continue.
Our campaigning has been a long and at times difficult process but it has been amazing to see the power that we have when we all come together and even though there is still such a long way to go, hopefully this win marks the beginning of us dismantling the structure of policing and challenging the over-policing that marginalised communities are facing.
Mea Aitken is Project Officer atKids of Colour, a community interest group that provides support to young people of colour in Manchester and beyond.
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