School safety without police: Kaziah’s story

I want to tell you a story that came up at a monthly meeting of folks from different Madison-area groups who get together to talk about how to build support for police-free schools. You may recall that last year there was a big fight at East High where police were called and used pepper spray on students, sending some students to the hospital with injuries from the pepper spray. Believing in non-police responses to student conflicts, a group of volunteers calling themselves Moms on a Mission started showing up outside the school at lunch time to help de-escalate conflict by providing a friendly adult presence and handing out snacks–because a lot of the kids are hungry. Kaziah Anderson, one of the founders of Moms on a Mission, told us about something that happened recently. We did not record her story as she told it, so these are not the exact words when she told it, but Kaziah has read and corrected the story to make sure it says what happened. I also include some comments that were from our discussion about the story.

Kaziah’s story, part 1, what de-escalation looks like in practice

I could see that a fight was starting, a crowd was gathering around two girls who were going to fight. I went over and asked one girl, “Do you want to fight?” The girl said no. So I said, “would you like to get in my car?” The girl said yes, so I walked the girl over to over to my car, where my son was sitting having lunch with his friends, because that is what he does during lunch hour. I told the girl, “You’ll be safe here.” Then I went back over to the other girl and said, “Hey look, I know you’re upset but did you have lunch yet?” The girl said no, so I said: “Come with me over to Milio’s, and I’ll buy you a sandwich. You can get something to eat, get a chance to calm down.” The girl agreed to go with me and I bought her a sandwich.

Our group was impressed with this practical example of de-escalation. As the group talked about the case, Kaziah added: “Part of the reason it was easy to just take the girl off with me to buy a sandwich was that there were other volunteers around who could keep handing out the snacks. Although I don’t think the students would steal all the snacks anyway, because I have a good relationship with them, and they wouldn’t do that.”

Part 2 of Kaziah’s story, why call the police?

Later, I learned from my son that the police had been called to check on him and the others who were sitting in the car, and that it was the principal who had called the police. The next day, I talked to the principal about this. The principal said she thought the girl had been brought in to fight and wasn’t a student. I asked the principal, “You didn’t recognize the students? You didn’t recognize my son?” The principal apologized for calling the police on my son. But why would calling the police be the first thing you would do? People need more resources and more alternatives to calling police.

Even though the principal is Black, it seemed to us talking about the incident that it being all students of color in the car probably played some part in the principal’s thinking that the situation was suspicious, and the police should be called. We talked more about the importance of having alternatives to calling the police when there is a problem.

For more information about Mom’s on a Mission, including a place to donate for snacks or volunteer your time, see this page. JustDane is the fiscal agent for Moms On a Mission.

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