Since the mid-90s, the Providence Public School Department (PPSD) has employed Student Resource Officers (SROs), which has resulted in hundreds of students being arrested and criminalized. Governor McKee recently met with the Providence Alliance for Student Safety, a youth-led coalition of multiple organizations fighting for the removal of SROs, to discuss their potential removal.
McKee expressed that SROs should remain in schools, drawing upon his experience as an educator to state that we need to “bring communities together, not apart.” However, the communities most impacted by SROs have been fighting for the removal of SROs from schools through the Counselors Not Cops campaign.
The call was full of students currently enrolled in Providence schools who presented the history of the campaign as well as their concerns for keeping SROs in schools. Governor McKee claims that SROs are needed to protect students, yet the school he founded and which his children went to—Blackstone Valley Prep—has no SROs. We must ask ourselves why the Governor finds it so necessary for “every Providence public student to have interactions with SROs.” Meanwhile, that same concern for “safety” falls short when it comes to charter schools, this hypocrisy must be pointed out.
This concern about SROs is widespread among PPSD students. In a survey of these students conducted by the Center for Youth and Community Leadership in Education (CYCLE) which was presented to the governor, 50% or more disagreed with the statement “I feel safe with SROs in schools,” and over 70% disagreed with the statement “I am comfortable with SROs having guns in my school.”
The role of SROs in disciplining students is unclear, because there is no set of guidelines specifying how they are supposed to respond. Sometimes SROs are used to threaten students when they’re misbehaving. Whether or not a minor behavioral issue leads to a referral to a guidance counselor or an arrest frequently comes down to race and ethnicity.
Black students especially are overrepresented in arrest data. From 2016-2020, Black students made up 30% of all arrests despite making up only 16% of the student population, a trend common in arrest data across the nation.
Students of color know the realities of police violence which is ever so persistent in the current day, even in “liberal” Providence. But the Governor seems to be ignorant of this reality, during the meeting referencing “the incident in Minneapolis,” presumably meaning the execution of George Floyd or Daunte Wright. It’s like he thinks these were the last incidents of police violence. The truth is that in the last year the Rhode Island community has been bombarded by incidents of police brutality.
We saw this brutality when Jhamal Gonsalves was struck by a Providence police cruiser despite driving a street legal moped, when Germaine Bruce was surrounded and beaten by Providence officers after stopping to help his friend jump their car, and when Rishod Gore was beaten during a traffic stop with a knee on his neck immediatley before the murder of George Floyd in April 2020.
This violence extends into our schools because of SROs. In 2018, Narragansett High School Junior Michael Blanchette was assaulted by SRO Kyle Rooney. Blanchette is autistic, which puts him in a demographic at increased risk for police violence, especially in schools.
SROs enforce a system of violence that criminalizes Black and brown youth, and perpetuates the school to prison pipeline. The bottom line is, no matter his experience as an educator, Governor McKee cannot understand the lived experiences of students of color, who face harassment and assault at the hands of police in their communities, and—as long as the city continues to employ SROs—in their schools too. How many times must youth be brutalized at the hands of SROs before McKee realizes that police officers have no place in our schools?