My mother is a Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) sanitation worker. She works from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, plus overtime late at night at least once a week. My father works even longer hours as a correctional officer at Rikers Island.
Like many essential workers, they are risking their lives, yet their pay does not reflect that risk. Even though my parents make decent wages in unionized jobs, in New York City they still struggle to support my family, which includes my brother, my sister, and me.
Working at the MTA was always an easy place for my mom to get sick because of how many people she comes in contact with, and all the surfaces people have touched that she also touches. But now because of coronavirus, it’s even easier for her to get sick.
MTA workers have suffered more than most. In the beginning the only protective equipment my mom was given was one N95 mask a week. (Now they give her one every day.) The Chicago Tribune reports that so far, 131 transit workers have died from the virus and over 4,000 have tested positive, “making the Metropolitan Transportation Authority one of the hardest-hit government agencies in New York.”
I worried about my father’s safety even before COVID-19. Now that the coronavirus is widespread, I’ve become even more worried for him. He works closely with inmates and in his words, “There’s no such thing as social distancing in jail.” In the beginning, there were no masks or shields given out for COVID protection, so even if an inmate had COVID, my father still had to perform his job without safeguards.
Police Can Make Students Feel Less Safe
My parents, like everyone who works in hospitals, or picks up our garbage, or works in a supermarket, help society, and they are at great risk for getting the coronavirus. We need to pay these essential workers more.
One way to do this is by defunding the use of police officers in schools. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the New York School Safety Division is larger than the entire police forces of several major cities. The New York Post reports there are 5,500 school safety agents in New York City’s public schools.
Another reason to remove police from schools is students’ well-being; I don’t think the presence of law enforcement in schools makes kids feel any safer. In fact, they make kids of color feel less safe and intimidated. “In order to get to school every day, approximately 100,000 New York City school children must pass through a gauntlet of metal detectors, bag searches and pat downs administered by police personnel who are inadequately trained, insufficiently supervised, and often belligerent, aggressive and disrespectful,” according to the NYCLU.
I go to Scholars Academy, a predominantly White school where there are no police. We have security guards. But right across the street is Channelview High School, which has predominantly Black kids and other kids of color. It is heavily policed, and I have observed fights between cops and students.
I have friends who have spoken to some of the students at Channelview and they talk about how negative the environment is and how they feel like they are in prison. That upsets me.
An Empath to Fellow Black People
In a sense, for me, being Black is like being an empath to fellow Black people. I feel their pain when they go through struggles caused because of our race. It’s scary hearing about racist incidents because you know that it could have been you if you were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
That’s the reaction I had hearing about the conditions at Channelview. It pains me to know that because another school has mostly students of color, some of those kids feel like they are policed and treated like inmates, constantly monitored by security cameras, and having to pass through metal detectors every day.
Also, there are too many accidental shootings of African-American boys by police in the streets; so there’s a fear among many of us that this could happen at schools too. According to The Urban Institute, an organization that does economic and social policy research, police officers are disproportionately placed in schools with predominantly Black and brown students compared to schools with predominantly White students.
It feels like every week I hear about an African-American boy getting shot down the block or in the next neighborhood or in the next city.
Even playing with toys is dangerous for a Black child. On November 22, 2014, Tamir Rice, a 12-year old Black boy, was killed in Cleveland, Ohio by Timothy Loehmann, a 26-year-old White police officer. Rice was carrying a replica toy gun; Loehmann shot him almost immediately after arriving on the scene.
If police are also in schools, what is stopping shootings like these to happen there? I feel like any interaction with a police officer is dangerous for boys like us.
Police officers’ main role is to serve and protect the community, not to make Black kids feel like criminals. By removing police from schools, we can use the money they were paid to give higher wages to blue-collar workers like my parents. That way we can both reduce the negative effects of policing in schools and give back to those same people protecting our community.