Ashland, Wisconsin rallies for student safety, demands end to SRO program
Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, and Philando Castle appear on windows of a school bus during a protest over the death of Floyd, June 6, 2020, in Los Angeles. Protests continue across the U.S., and in Ashland, Wisc., this past weekend, activists turned their attention to the issue of heavily-armed police being placed in schools. | Kirby Lee via AP

ASHLAND, Wisc.—Signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Keep Ashland Safe—Don’t Arrest Our Kids” greeted traffic as scores of Wisconsinites rallied for racial justice this past Saturday. The event was organized by the Communist Party of Chequamegon Bay Area as part of its continuing stand with the people of northern Wisconsin for trust and racial equity amid the nationwide uprising against police violence.

The rally was organized to urge the removal of Ashland High School’s SRO, or “School Resource Officer.” These are heavily armed policemen increasingly deployed in schools, ostensibly in response to the rise of modern school shootings. Rather than apprehending terrorists, however, SROs have mostly intervened to menace, arrest, and assault students of color. Dr. Dani O’Brien, a Northland College professor who wrote a dissertation on racism in school discipline, opened the opened Saturday’s rally with some sobering statistics.

“There is a plethora of research that indicates that when police are used in schools, they do more harm than good,” O’Brien said. “When schools have SROs, students in those schools are more likely to wind up involved in the juvenile justice system. The mere presence of police in schools, regardless of their actions, can create a culture of punishment and fear. It is important to point out that Black, brown, and Indigenous youth are more likely than white youth to experience these harms.” O’Brien expressed hope that the funds spent on the SRO program could produce better results if expanding student access to mental health resources.

Elise Kehle / People’s World

The Ashland City Council is currently debating whether to continue participating in Ashland High’s SRO program after the reassignment of the long-time SRO. A majority of the council, led by Councilman Wahsayah Whitebird, the Communist representative in Ward 6, voted to postpone the final approval vote on Sept. 8. The final vote will now occur on Sept. 29. The new SRO will start his job in October unless the council terminates its share of funding for the program.

Ashland residents are increasingly skeptical of the SRO program after a week in which SROs were responsible for two high profile cases of excessive force. In Glendale, Utah, a 13-year-old autistic boy was repeatedly shot by the SRO who had been sent to his home to apprehend him after he had a meltdown on a remote-learning platform. Days later, a Colorado Springs SRO arrested a 12-year-old Black boy for having a plastic Nerf-style dart gun visible to his webcam during a remote learning session. The first child is fighting life-threatening injuries, and the other now has a criminal record at 12 because school officials sent SROs instead of behavior specialists, school counselors, or other nonviolent educators.

Wahsayah Whitebird, Communist Councilman from Ward 6, says that the removal of the SRO from Ashland High School is one reform among many that need to be taken to dismantle the school to prison pipeline. | via Facebook

“The demand for the removal of the School Resource Officer is one step, among many routes which need to be taken, to work towards stopping the hyper-policing of our communities and putting an end towards the senseless school to prison pipeline,” said Councilman Whitebird. “Other such issues which need to be addressed are the lack of community resources: shelters for the homeless, for victims of domestic violence, transitional housing for inmates getting out of jail and prison, and to hold jailers and officers accountable for their actions… In my school career, I never went to the SRO—it was always the counselors. They’re the ones who are there to help.”

Campaigning for mental health resources in schools reveals the lie at the core of many right-wing stances. When students react to the problem of right-wing white supremacist terrorists committing mass shootings with calls to limit access to weaponry, the far right insists that conservative terrorism is a mental health issue. When communities attempt to provide mental health services, the right insists it’s unnecessary—that the only acceptable course is the mass arrest and incarceration of students of color.

A smear campaign is being conducted against Black and brown youth at every level, from national television to street corner graffiti. Racist forces continue to cheer terrorist Kyle Rittenhouse, the alleged Kenosha shooter. This week, the people of Ashland have declared their intention not to become the next Kenosha and to build a system that treats all students with respect.


Elise Kehle
Elise Kehle

Elise Kehle is an LGBT community historian, autistic, and a transwoman, proud to bear the title Communist. Originally from Missouri, she now lives in Wisconsin.