Police presence draws fire at Northern Secondary

About 100 high school students gathered across the street from Northern Secondary School at lunch today to protest the police presence in the hallways.

Students carried signs that read “Northern Secondary Jail?” and “This school is not a police state.”

Northern Secondary is located at 851 Mt. Pleasant Rd., near the corner of Eglinton Ave. The school is one of 36 in the Toronto District School Board to host School Resource Officers, known as SROs.

The demonstration comes after video of a 16-year-old student being arrested by Northern’s stationed officer appeared on YouTube two weeks ago.

Police said the boy was arrested for not showing his identification, which all students are required to wear. The student also reportedly called the officer “bacon,” a derogatory term used for police.

The video sparked outrage among students. As a result, Grade 11 students Max Naylor and Willie Wilson organized a Facebook group to protest the police presence in their school.

Naylor said he hoped the protest would open a dialogue between students and the TDSB over the issue of officers in schools. He said the majority of students at Northern are against having police stationed there.

“It makes (us) feel uncomfortable having an armed officer walking around the halls,” Naylor said.

“It creates incidents that weren’t there before. If you look back at the incident that was put on YouTube, that’s a situation that could have been resolved by detention or a trip to the principal’s office if a teacher was dealing with it.”

School board trustee Josh Matlow said an officer was placed at Northern this year after parents voiced their support for the initiative.

But Naylor said students weren’t consulted and should have had an equal say in the decision.

Grade 11 student Natalie Amato is a friend of the teen who was arrested. She said police don’t belong at Northern.

“It makes our school seem like a worse place than it really is,” she said. “It’s a great school. I don’t think having a police officer makes it safer. That’s like using violence to control violence.”

But, Matlow said Northern wasn’t chosen to host an SRO because it’s a dangerous school.

“It’s not a question over whether schools are safe or unsafe,” he said. “It’s really about bridging the gap, building relationships and trying to tear down some of the stereotypes that exist.

“Students need to know that officers aren’t there to run away from, but are there to run to if they’ve got a problem and need help.”

Not all students are against police at the school. Grade 9 student Oren Redinger said he felt good about having the SRO patrolling the hallways.

“It’s much safer,” he said. “I’d much rather have an officer here if something bad were to happen. Then we can have someone who can handle it.”

John Sewell, former Toronto mayor and head of The Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, a group that monitors police policy, also spoke at the rally.

He said a public debate should be held on the wisdom of allowing police into schools. He suggested Northern spearhead the discussion.

“I would urge the administrators of this school to come forward and have some meetings so we can actually begin to talk about this issue and make sense of it,” he said.