COVID-19 is a Social Issue as Much as It is a Health Issue
by Roz Edward
When communities are hurting, oftentimes our children hurt the most, and members of the community become more reliant on the assistance of health and police agencies for relief from some of that hurt. But in the aftermath of the slate of police shootings and use of force atrocities across the nation coupled with calls for defunding police departments, police and first responders find themselves in a precarious position. Essentially they are performing triage, prioritizing which emergencies to address first.
The spread of COVID-19 and the resulting stay-at-home orders issued by the governments across the country prompted many police agencies to adjust how, what, and whom they police according to a study by the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University.
In Wayne County Michigan, the Detroit Public Schools Community District – which predominantly serves Black and Brown students – is the only public school district in the state with its own police department.
But as anti-mask protesters continue to pound government and school officials some community members have also demanded that DPSCD eliminate its police department. But at what cost to students and faculty as the COVID-19 and the Delta variant surge in Wayne County and vehement sometimes violent challenges to a mask mandate spill over into school board meetings and potentially the classrooms?
“We’re being asked by the public to do a lot. We’re being asked to enforce the governor’s stay-home order. We’ve been asked about evictions and foreclosures. We’ve been asked to do or not do a lot of stuff and all the while our people are trying to take care of their own families and their own health,” said Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth.
Currently, Michigan is allowing individual school districts and county health departments to make their own policies. However, local health leaders are keeping the mandate door open, saying it’s possible that counties could mandate their own mask policies if there is a wave of COVID when the 2021-22 school year starts on Sept. 6.
In the interim, while the mask policies, DPSCD students continue to face escalating violence in schools and concerns about their personal safety.
“I was scared to enter the school building, I’m not even the kind of person that likes to fight! So I felt like I didn’t want to go to school. And I was like no. My cousin gets bullied by the students at that school. He’s got a disability. He brought a knife to school to protect himself,” explained Malacah Mason, a Black student. Mason’s experience represents just a small fraction of the incidents of students in Detroit schools.
While policing in schools has its pros and cons, with a number of students continuing to express concern about interactions with the police and confusion over the role of police officers in the hallways, they admit their biggest fear is not having protection as they return to in-person learning.
Police officers and first responders work a 24/7 operation, so they don’t get to walk away or shirk their responsibilies, not for Covid, not for summer vacations and certainly not as Detroit students return to school following the Labor Day holiday.