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LAUSD’s Failed Metal Detector Policy

The Random Metal Detector Search Policy is rife with abuse, racial profiling, and other problematic outcomes.

White People for Black Lives stands in solidarity with the students of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Schools LA Students Deserve, Youth Justice Coalition, Black Lives Matter, United Teachers of Los Angeles, American Civil Liberties Union, Public Counsel, and numerous other organizations and individuals in opposing LAUSD’s Random Metal Detector Search Policy outlined in Bulletin 5424.2.

Public awareness of gun violence in schools grew exponentially with the Columbine shootings and subsequent similar events. In the aftermath of these tragic occurrences, cities and school districts throughout the nation implemented measures with the goal of increasing student safety. Many of these measures enforced similar strategies to that of the LAUSD’s Random Metal Detector Search Policy. However, after years of trying these methods, results have shown the opposite effect. Far from achieving a safer and more disciplined learning environment, these policies instead have instilled fear and distrust of the educators; the LAUSD’s Random Metal Detector Search Policy creates distractions, interferes with the students’ ability to focus on their studies and learn, and erodes their sense of dignity and personal safety at school.

California and Los Angeles have painted an image of a progressive diverse culture. Yet people of color living in Los Angeles consistently experience a different reality from that which is presented through the media, especially in terms of their disproportionate contact with the demoralizing and inhumane criminal justice system. California and Los Angeles have been leaders in this area as well, with the largest prison population amongst the states. This policy presents a continuation of the “school to prison pipeline” that undermines Los Angeles’ progressive image as well as presents an existential threat to the wellbeing of citizens of color of all ages.

The Random Metal Detector Search Policy is rife with abuse, racial profiling, and other problematic outcomes, like students’ psychological distress and increased incarceration rates. There is growing evidence that these intrusive and punitive measures are ineffective. In this situation, these measures can damage trust between students and school personnel and can undermine teaching and learning activities. Yet, Los Angeles continues to be one of the very few districts left in the nation that upholds such policies in their schools. The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education recommend against such punitive approaches to school security in favor of creating schools “where students and staff are empowered to demonstrate positive, caring, and restorative approaches to improving school climate and discipline.”

The implementation of the Random Metal Detector Search Policy perpetuates a feeling of hopelessness for students. The schools tell students that the staff are there to help them learn, become the best people they can be, and achieve their personal goals, which we hope are aligned with improving the world around us. However, when staff are forced to treat students like potential suspects in criminal activity, this denigrates and demoralize them in front of their peers. It creates fear within the entire student body which becomes a distraction and impediment to positive and peaceful learning goals.

In addition, random metal detector searches normalize the LAPD’s “stop and frisk” policy; initiating and continuing a parallel policy in the schools tacitly endorses this practice on the streets and neighborhoods. It is worth noting that in New York City, the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy similarly targeted people of color in an effort to “prevent” crime. Not only did the courts rule this unconstitutional, but it was also shown to have no impact on reducing crime. It only served as a mechanism to detain and harass people of color and confiscate their belongings. In the same way, random school searches infringe on the rights of students and result in confiscation of their property. Ipods, hair brushes, sandwiches, highlighters, and nail polish are examples of items deemed a threat by school police.

This issue is a concern for the community at-large who are committed to a healthy educational environment for students in LAUSD. In the words of activist and actor Matt McGorry:

Over the last year, I have had the great honor of getting to know a number of the students involved in fighting against these racist and ineffective policies. These intelligent and courageous youth are the leaders that will continue to work for and create a better city, state, and country as they continue to grow. How, in good conscience, can we call this City a beacon of progress, if we refuse to treat the lives and minds of these brave leaders with basic dignity? How would we feel if it was our own children that were being harassed and deterred from learning and feelings of safety in their schools? In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” That time has passed. Please do the right thing and eliminate this ineffective and discriminatory policy once and for all.

We call on LAUSD to unequivocally reject and discontinue the Random Metal Detector Search Policy.

Steps you can take to support the Students Not Suspects campaign:

  1. Please read and share widely this article about the #StudentsNotSuspects movement: http://www.laweekly.com/news/should-lausd-students-be-subjected-to-random-searches-8795135
  2. Please sign the petition to end random searches in LAUSD schools: https://action.aclu.org/secure/students-not-suspects
  3. Please donate to the Students Not Suspects campaign and help to expand organizing efforts to other schools: storyproject.org
  4. Follow Students Not Suspects on Instagram: @studentsnotsuspects

White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL) is a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA) and operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). WP4BL is rooted in acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.awarela.org