OP-ED | Do Our Black Students Matter?: A Call to End Drug Sniffing Dogs at Schools

"By repeatedly targeting Black and Brown students on the false pretense that they may carry drugs, it effectively enables the idea that they are meant to be kept under a close watch"

InterquestK9 | Detection Canines of Los Angeles

By Jayden Eden 

I still remember the cool air of a spring afternoon. In a small apartment building, I sat in my brown chair with a white desk doing homework when my dad burst into the door. I’ll never forget the day the first time I saw my dad cry and the first time in life when the bubble of protection and immunity to the cruel realities of the outside world popped into mine in the 4th grade. Trayvon Martin was dead, killed by a man who would eventually be deemed not-guilty, and I felt the color of my skin change in its meaning. Transforming from just a color to what felt like an essential difference between me and my white peers, knowing I was judged as a human being before anyone spoke to me: a feeling and a reality still felt and experienced by myself and my Black friends till this day.

I am 17 now and although I haven’t felt the worst of what racism has to offer in this country like Martin did at his age, I can still say without a doubt nothing has changed for us since 2012. The constant profiling and killing of Black Americans in this country has skyrocketed and police brutality being filmed instead of taken at face value is opening the eyes of people across the globe. Despite mainstream America’s attempts at portraying the fight for racial equality as settled, we are fighting the same battles in the same war for equality, even now, as Reverend King.

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The worst news seems to come in spades during the times when you least expect it and for us in the African-American community it came in the back-to-back deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor respectively: deaths in which the system proves its crude and spectacular failure in protecting the Black community. In the wake of these deaths, we have seen protests from Washington state to Korea, however, in the midst of this global conversation about police brutality which presupposes guilt onto Black people, we must not allow our city to be left out of this reckoning. South Pasadena is a place where we vote blue, we stick signs in our lawns that proudly proclaim that Black lives matter, but South Pas is a tale of two cities.

In one, students, who are mostly white and Asian, gather in Advanced Placement or honors classes without interruption. While, in the secondary is welcomed to interference, as the regular classes, filled disproportionately with our Latinx and Black students, are taken outside to let police officers and their four legged partner search and sniff for something that isn’t there. Even going as far as opening parts of bags previously left unopened, a thin line of trust casually overstepped routinely every few months. Not only is the ​efficacy of drug dogs​ under fierce debate as some detection dogs have a false positive rate of over 50 percent, the presence of these detection dogs in schools is ​not effective in lowering​ the amount of students who are using illicit substances.

I am a rising high school senior at South Pasadena High School, and when talking about the abundant memories I have in this district, I can’t help but remember these random searches and the specific classes I got them in. For instance, out of the entirety of my junior year I can recall several periods in which my regular classes had been searched with the pawed animal using its keen sense of smell to complete the officers tasks in our class times. However, not at any point could I recall during the entire year of AP United States History that we’d been taken and formally searched. Even in one of my honors classes, I had only seen the drug dog come out and sniff out bags and school items. A surprising revelation, given that I am one of two

African Americans enrolled and taking each class. However, a disproportionate amount of times had the same visits occurred when most of my Black friends had the same class and class period as me. This form of racial profiling on the institutional level needs to end and as a member of the South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform, we are calling for the South Pasadena Unified School District to end its relationship with the Police Department’s drug sniffing K-9 units.

It seems to me that drug dog searches were never meant to deal with the public health crisis of America’s addiction epidemic, but to humiliate and criminalize my Black and Brown peers. The truth of the matter is simple though, by repeatedly targeting Black and Brown students on the false pretense that they may carry drugs, it effectively enables the idea that they are meant to be kept under a close watch: from their movements at school to their very existence. This manufactured idea becomes weaponized during harmful and fatal conflicts with law enforcement.

In a recent conversation between an SPUSD staff member and the South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform confirmed an open secret for students familiar with the drug dog searches. The classes chosen to be searched are not random. A list of students suspected for holding drugs is kept and then their classes are targeted. Guilt is then assumed on the part of these students, who are too often part of our low income and/or minority communities. If SPUSD wants to be serious about treating Black and Latinx students as equals in our own classrooms, it is long past time to get rid of this discriminatory practice that we know doesn’t work. Instead, it simply starts the criminalization of young kids of color in middle school.

The sad truth however is that hashtags die out. Names become forgotten and the world may move on. However, in the end, as the Reverend Martin Luther King reminded us, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” It is not enough to reactively respond to instances of overt racism and police brutality against our Black siblings, we must deal with the roots of anti-Blackness, even in our schools.

 

4 COMMENTS

  1. Good morning, my name is Scott Edmonds, I own Interquest Detection Canines. Our company provides the canine service to the South Pasadena School District. I wanted to write in and correct a few inaccuracies in the OP-Ed regarding the Drug Dogs in Schools.

    First, we aren’t connected to Law Enforcement in any manner, we are a privately owned company that services more than 175 schools in the Southern California areas. These schools are from all socio-economical groups, including low, middle and upper income areas. We service more than 20 Private Religious schools in the LA area alone.

    Our dogs are all non-aggressive hunting breeds, Labrador and Golden Retrievers as pictured in the photo, not remotely close to a law enforcement breed. Our handlers are all civilians. They don’t carry guns, batons, pepper spray or handcuffs. They wear blue polo shirts and khaki colored pants. In fact, our current School K9 Handler Staff doesn’t include a Caucasian handler. Our VP is a female Hispanic, our handlers include Hispanics, (one female) and Filipino’s. The handler that works with the South Pasadena Schools is Hispanic.

    This handler would immediately report to us if he felt like any race, religious group or sexual orientation was being targeted. Classroom selection in most cases are done by odd versus even numbers or one or two particular buildings ( inspecting each classroom in the buildings, not targeting one or two rooms) Or another tool used to select rooms is upstairs rooms versus downstairs classrooms. Never has a list been presented, referred to or mentioned by South Pasadena Administrators.

    In preparing to write this letter, I checked with our handler that works with the SPUSD and asked if he’d ever seen any form of profiling, selective enforcement or targeting. He told me that SPUSD staff have always been professional, fair and random in their actions. Do some students get inspected more than once? On occasion, yes, and that’s the proof the random works. If we inspected you and the K9 didn’t alert why would we go back and inspect you again? If you’re in two odd numbered classes, or two upstairs classes or two classes in one building or one of the two or three buildings we inspect, you get inspected again. The more rooms we inspect, the higher rate or chance of a second inspection.

    While I cannot speak to the existence or not of a “list of suspected students” I can speak to the fact that our handlers have never once been instructed to target any student, group of students or have they ever seen or experienced any influence on selective enforcement. South Pasadena Unified has worked very hard to remain random with their searches.

    When we enter a classroom the dog is not directed to any particular bag or article, school administrators do not tell our handlers who’s bag to inspect, we inspect all the bags. The dogs have no idea which bag or article belongs to which student. We don’t enter a classroom until the students are away from their desks so there’s no way to identify them even if we wanted to do so. The dogs only know if they find one of their scents, they get to play with their “toy.” Our handlers don’t know one student from another because we don’t interact with students at all unless it’s to say hello if we pass them in the hallways.

    The dogs merely sniff the air around each bag or article until they detect an odor they’re trained to find and they sit. No scratch, no bark, no growl. This is a “passive alert.” Our handlers do not question, interrogate or investigate any student. We detect and deter the presence of contraband on campuses. We are not involved in the discipline process at all.

    And, the program does in fact work. Random and unannounced K9 searches in schools have shown to reduce contraband on campuses. Also it does offer a sense of security to many students, the majority of students who appreciate a learning environment not disrupted by contraband on campus.

    Thank you,

    Scott Edmonds
    Interquest Detection Canines

  2. As a former student at SPHS, my AP classes were interrupted more often than my regular classes. In addition, I do not believe it is wrong for a school to have a watch list of students who have a pattern of drug possession on campus. They are not deliberately being targeted because they’re people of color. They’re being targeted because they’re repeat offenders. In addition, you shouldn’t be blaming the police but the school administration instead because it regulates which classes the drug dogs go to. Regardless, kids aren’t leaving South Pasadena High School and turning to a life of crime or being thrown into the cycle of systemic racism. We are the exception because we are all privileged. Systemic racism, the vast majority of the time, doesn’t apply to us. When people do studies and write scholarly articles about these social issues, they aren’t talking about us.

    • Based on the comments from Anonymous above regarding “watch lists”, it sounds like the AP classes had a bit of a drug problem. Smart, wealthy kids use and sell drugs? Who knew?!

      I also find Anonymous’ comment, “We are the the exception because we are privileged. Systemic racism, the vast majority of the time doesn’t apply to us” to be dismissive and troubling. It sounds like 1) he/she/they shrug off responsibility or accountability because of perceived status and 2) he/she/they is not Black. Here’s the deal – regardless of your skin color, you are responsible for ending the cycle of systemic racism.

      Right now, the sad truth is that if you’re Black in America, it doesn’t matter what affluent town you’re from – you’re not automatically given the same freedom and opportunity as others. This MUST end.

      Finally, the last sentence is hurtful in its ignorance. Social injustice exists everywhere. Ending systemic racial injustice is up to all of us.

      • It seems that you’re blinded by your privilege. You’re someone who wants to impute victimhood onto a privileged town. You want to tackle systemic racism? Start by talking to members of the neighborhoods in which it’s a very real issue including, but not limited to: Compton, Paramount, South Central, and North Long Beach.

        You can find more of these neighborhoods with the following link:
        https://www.google.com/maps