Student Anti-Scanning Campaign Spreads

More than 90,000 New York City public high school students including more than a third of the city's high school population, are scanned by metal detectors when they arrive in school each day. At least 193 New York City public high schools have metal detectors. However the metal detectors are assigned to schools very unevenly. Almost two-thirds of Bronx high school students must pass through a metal detector, however no students do on Staten Island. Almost half of Black high school students are scanned every day. So are 43% of English language learners. But only about 14% percent of White students.

According to de Blasio-Farina "roadmap" for changing school discipline procedures in New York City, the police department is mandated to develop guidelines to determine where scanning can be cut back or eliminated. It is supposed to include a requirement that educational staff, not just security guards, be involved in scanning students.

At Alfred E. Smith High School in the South Bronx, students are tired of passing through metal detectors and they take their education seriously, especially two quotes by Frederick Douglass: "If there is no struggle, there is no progress" and "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." That is why they have launched a campaign to get metal detectors out of their school.

Dennis and Ibrahim, students at Smith are real life Hunger Games Mockingjays. Not just symbols of revolt, they are active organizers. Using the internet and lessons from their history classes, they have created a modern day Committee of Correspondence to pull together students from different New York City schools to join their campaign to get metal detectors out of school buildings.

I joined Dennis and Ibrahim, their Participation in Government teacher Pablo Muriel, and their classmates at a forum they organized at Smith on metal detectors in schools. Also participating were students from Grace Cathedral School in Manhattan, school administrators, and a representative from Congressman Serrano's office.

Opening the forum, Dennis explained metal detectors in the building were "ushering us into life as prisoners." He also discussed how students in the class were researching the statistics on metal detectors in New York City schools but found the information almost impossible to find. Ibrahim questioned the entire logic of the school metal detector program. Smith is a vocational school. Students don't have to smuggle weapons into the building. If they wanted to have a weapon, they could find them in the shop classrooms. Ibrahim also complained how administrators did not treat student complaints about the metal detectors seriously.

Dennis, Ibrahim and other speakers talked about the importance of school culture. If a school has a culture of violence, metal detectors might be necessary. But students and teachers at Smith and in other schools have created a climate of caring and concern. They called it a team culture. But the city has no policy in place to remove metal detectors when a school's culture no longer warrants them. Students spoke about the irrationality of the city's metal detector program. Adalberto previously attended a school that did not have metal detectors but had greater problems. But at Smith, without serious problems, students had to pass through metal detectors to enter the building every day. Naphtali complained that the metal detectors stigmatized schools and students making them seem bad when they weren't. Jeruy was annoyed because the morning metal detector routine made everybody late for class and interfered with their education.

Michelle, a teacher from Grace Church School asked whether the issue was really school safety or just that students in schools like Smith are "Black and Brown." The metal detectors are symbols that "Black and Brown" people are somehow dangerous. Jacqueline, a Grace Church student, recounted that at similar "police checks when you exit the subway, Black and Brown people are searched, white people just pass through." This was an important question because the new study by two academics in New York showed that the mere presence of African American students at a school makes it more likely the school will take on security measures, even when controlling for neighborhood crime and school misconduct.

The study also found, among other things, greater racial disparities in student suspensions and arrests in schools where there are cops present or other security measures are taken. Those arrest and suspensions are believed to contribute to the so-called "school-to-prison pipeline." The study was conducted by Tim Servoss, a professor of psychology at Canisius College in New York, and Jeremy Finn, a professor of education at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Servoss and Finn relied on a sample of about 700 high schools, drawing from the data of three national surveys. Three-quarters of those schools employed at least one part-time police officer. Fifty-seven percent of the schools with an officer present had no student arrests, a point Servoss highlighted to show that the "results don't support the notion that all police in schools are bad."

He and Finn found that crime and misconduct within a school played a role in predicting if a school would take security measures, including drug testing, metal detectors, drug surveillance dogs, and the presence of security guards or police.

"However, the proportion of African-American students was a significant predictor of security even when controlling for the same background characteristics and crime and misconduct within the school," the researchers said in their overview. "These results suggest that the implementation of security measures are at least partially based on the perceived threat of the African-American student population rather than any objective dangers within (crime or misconduct), or in the neighborhood (neighborhood crime) surrounding the school."

Amanda Séptimo, the representative from Congressman Serrano's office and Assistant Principal Grecian Harrison, both praised students for conducting a responsible campaign. But Dennis and Ibrahim said they want results, not just praise.

Dennis and Ibrahim invited me to write a letter for their high school yearbook. As Alan Singer, I grew up on Jesup Avenue in the Bronx, not that far from where Smith is, but I decided to write the letter as Reeces Pieces, my alter ego, the rapper from Brooklyn. These words "sample" Bob Marley, an anti-Nazi resistance song, the Civil Rights song "Oh Freedom," and the labor union anthem "Solidarity Forever." Each of these songs is about struggling for a better world.

Reeces Pieces' Rap

Our thoughts freely flower
Our thoughts give us power
No one can map them,
No one can trap them
No man can deny,
Our thoughts make us free.

Yo get up, stand up
Stand up for your rights!
Yo get up, stand up
Don't give up the fight!

Cause it's freedom that we see,
Freedom for you and me,
Before we be their slave,
You bury us in the grave,
Yes it's time to be brave
It's freedoms that we crave.

When freedom's inspiration through the people's blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
What force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
We keep the struggle going till every battle's won.

Yo Solidarity forever,
I say Solidarity forever,
We say Solidarity forever,
For unity makes us strong!