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Policing and Racism

Just why do we have concerns about campus officers (COs), and how does connect with our anti-racist activism? As a follow-up to our earlier post about the history of campus officers in Scotland, this article will discuss issues around racial profiling, racialisation of children, and how they inform concerns around officers being in schools. These different strands of thought come together in deep ways to govern the lives of racialised others in school settings, and are what we need to grapple with to effectively interrogate the presence and potential oppressions brought by COs.

Before discussing the facts around racial profiling, it is useful to look first of all at what we mean by “racism” and just why we bring it up in this campaign around campus officers. Definitions of racism that emphasise interpersonal abuse/violence result in treatment which would involve “educating” the racism out of society (perhaps by focusing on unconscious bias or hate crime). But a structural explanation helps us get to grips with the deep racialised inequalities of daily life in a world where vanishingly few would openly call themselves racist. How does racism persist, and in fact get worse, when many avow that the effects of racism today are less destructive? Looking at a structure allows us to understand that racism is not just what shouts at us in the street, but also that which exists without a face and flows through life often without fanfare or acknowledgement. It is the slippery sense that things benefit those racialised as white (along with the multiple intersections of power that hold privilege in society). Structural or institutional racism is what we focus on here. This idea of racism not simply being name-calling but rather a system for organising and sorting life outcomes according to how one is racialised forces us then to consider how schools fit into this (such is the purpose, after all, of this partnership between The Anti-Racism Educator and Glasgow Prisoner Solidarity).

If schools in Scotland are a productive force (meaning not neutral or just receptive, but actively making material change) when it comes to maintaining structural racism, then how does this force us to examine the presence of campus officers in a number of schools? To understand this we must look at how policing has disproportionate negative impacts on people of colour outside of school, for which we have a great deal of data.

First, some facts on what racial profiling looks like in Scotland. We may speak and have heard about it more in other settings, but it is clear that people of colour are routinely singled out for inspection by law enforcement at a disproportionately high rate. CRER have reported on this and shown how policing acts to add an extra burden upon the shoulders of people of colour. They found that black people are up to five times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, to which the reaction of Police Scotland was less than accepting and grateful. The case of the killing of Sheku Bayoh is a concrete instance of how calls for institutional racism within Scottish police have been routinely pushed back against both public and in private. Stories abound of how people of colour in Scotland are excessively policed. All of this shows how the institution of the police is often one that hampers, rather than protects, the freedoms people of colour have in Scotland.

This understanding must be accompanied by accounting for the role of PREVENT in schools. Whilst reporting on suspicions of radicalisation is not a statutory duty here in Scotland, the logics underpinning the agenda are certainly not absent, and anti-Muslim racism is a firm part of school life right across the country. We should also account for the role migration status plays in structural racist violence, and that people in the asylum system are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to explicit violence and receiving humane treatment when it comes to peers, and the state. Taking in these facts around racial profiling and the general ecosystem of racism in Scotland, we can now turn to what role schools play in all of it.

Taking structural racism to be a given, then we should consider if and how Scottish schools serve to perpetuate and continue to give life to it. As previously mentioned, we should think of schools as not just being receptacles into which racism is poured by the presence and speech of unpleasant individuals (whether they be staff, children, or families), or spaces in which racism only lives to be challenged. This view furthers the cause of a liberal anti-racism which contends that racism is individuals, but not institutions and certainly not cultures, histories, or the hallowed spaces in which our children are taught. Against this liberal conception, schools are a part of the wider culture previously discussed in which racism lives and is a perfectly normal part of our existence. As per critical race theory (CRT), it is almost mundane. It exists and is central to how schools in Scotland work.

In appreciating the varied ways racism presents itself in daily life, for children we need to also consider how the very idea of childhood has from its conception been a racialised one. While childhood is often considered to be a time of freedom, play, and innocence, these apparent facts are not often read on the bodies of racialised minority children, and particularly those who are black. Frederick Douglass spoke of “white children [being] permitted to mature out of servitude” while black children may gain an adult body but be condemned to a childlike mind forever, and therefore need to be policed and controlled as such. More recently Audre Lorde said that “Black children are often preoccupied with survival within a fundamentally anti-Black culture, and therefore ‘never allowed to be children.’” Black children are simultaneously stripped and loaded with autonomy which white children do not have to either lack, or bear the burden of. If black and other children of colour lead lives with racism forever clouding their vision and regulating their speech and movements, how might a campus officer who has moved from the street to the classroom fit into this?

We have embarked upon this campaign to bring together these two well-documented facts. If schools and the police both perpetuate racism in distinct and observable ways, what may the effect of the presence of COs be? What are the experiences of racialised minorities with them? While we can have hypotheses and are certainly guided by the examples set by activists challenging police presence in schools in other countries, we must now investigate it in our settings here in Scotland.


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