Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed new legislation Friday requiring school resource officers to carry guns, despite pushback from local activist groups.
The measure, which passed with overwhelming support in the state’s House and Senate earlier this month, mandates that every school in the state have at least one armed officer on campus, the Courier-Journal reported. Beshear, a Democrat, said while he understood opposition to the bill, he couldn’t allow officers to be defenseless in the event of an active shooter.
“I simply cannot ask a school resource officer [to] stop an armed gunman entering a school without them having the ability to not only achieve this mission, but also to protect themselves,” he said at a press conference. “We must be able to stop the worst of the worst.”
Senate Education Chairman Max Wise, who sponsored the bill, agreed the measure was “crucial to the General Assembly’s continued efforts to protect Kentucky’s children, teachers and staff by improving the safety of schools.”
Activist groups like Black Lives Matter–Louisville beg to differ, however, and argue that the new law would actually prove dangerous for students — particularly students of color. Truman Harris, a co-organizer with the local BLM chapter, likened the mandate for armed officers to “adding a match to a powder keg.”
“You cannot end the violence by adding violent measures to something,” Harris told Atlanta Black Star via telephone. “Police officers across the nation have murdered unarmed Black youth [and] … it seems we’ve just increased the probability of that happening at our schools by supplying guns to school resource officers.”
“When you take the trauma that many of these students are already walking in with and the violent measures that SROs are trained in, it just kind of evokes fear for our youth,” he added.
Racial disparities in school discipline have also been cause for concern in recent years. Studies have shown that while all children behave similarly, Black students are more likely to be punished, suspended or arrested at school compared to their peers.
Instead funding for armed cops in schools, Harris said he’d rather the state invest in the mental health needs of students and additional resources for its teachers. The Boston Teachers Union called for similar changes earlier this month when it participated in Black Lives Matter at School week — a decision that drew a swift rebuke from the city’s police union
School board members with Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky’s largest district, had also cautioned against the legislation and were among the voices urging Beshear to veto it. The governor had until Friday to sign the measure, strike it, or let it become law without his signature.
Considering the large majority voting for the bill in the General Assembly, state lawmakers would have been very likely to override any veto by Beshear.
Per the new law, school resource officers in Jefferson County and across the Sooner State will be armed with handguns that will remain concealed. Also, instead of wearing police uniforms, SROs will be outfitted with suit jackets, khaki pants and breakaway ties, according to the Courier-Journal.
Beshear, 42, said his office will work to train officers in hopes of addressing concerns that some students may feel unsafe due to their distrust of police. In Jefferson County specifically, school officers will be required to undergo additional training, including courses on implicit bias and de-escalation techniques.
Though the bill is now law, BLM-Lousville said it will continue to fight and hold state leaders accountable.
“We’ll definitely continue to lobby against things like this,” said Harris. “As far as our next steps, we’re still planning that out.”
BLM Louisville also laid out a list of demands provided to ABS. It reads, in part:
“We demand police-free schools. No change of uniform will make them other than police in schools policing schools. We demand robust restorative justice practices to deter bullying and to service the ENTIRE school community. We believe in rebuilding relations and people. “
“We demand robust restorative justice practices to deter bullying and to service the ENTIRE school community. We believe in rebuilding relations and people. We demand fully implemented trauma informed care & rapid response. As movement organizers, we are trained to use the least amount of harm in an emergency situation like school fights or triggering situations.”
“We demand that Black and Brown history be taught throughout the school year and not just certain months. Our children deserve to learn about their history and not to the discretion of white children.”