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Gregory McKelvey looked out his window and saw the cops in riot gear marching up the street toward his home. He thought to himself that’s really weird what’s going on he told me and scared for what was about to happen next he did what a lot of teenagers might do he he ran upstairs and hid under his bed. Maybe if no one answers the door they’ll go away he thought.
Instead his grandmother went to the door and just as she arrived they forced their way in with guns drawn.
“I actually think most of those officers thought they were doing something different because it’s hard for me to imagine eight cops were really riled up to do that,” he said.
One of them thought he might have stolen a calculator at school.
The officer who had taken to harassing McKelvey of late rifled through his things. The dog was freaking out and his grandmother didn’t understand what was going on. They took his computer his family’s computer and his cell phone and then they kept them for a year all while trying to crack the case of the missing calculators but in fairness it was a TI84 which at the time about ten years ago would have gone for around $60 so you can understand the urgency of the mission.
I spoke with McKelvey after reading a thread he posted on Twitter this week about his experience having police officers stationed in schools. In Portland near where he grew up the school board voted this week to pay police $1.2 million a year to be stationed at schools around the city five days a week despite protests from students and activists who say the board hadn’t allowed enough time for the community to voice their thoughts on the issue. The school board chair Rita Moore who had previously pledged to oppose such a measure was not in attendance for the vote this week.
Previously school resource officers would be on hand at schools around the city for a handful of days at no cost to the district.
Vice chair Julie Esparza Brown the only board member of color was the lone no vote.
She explained that “she'd been unfairly targeted as a person of color and that she was worried about how this decision would adversely affect children of color in schools,” as Oregon Live reported. She said she’d also been against having armed police at Portland State University where she is a professor and where officers shot a man to death this summer. Jason Washington a forty five year old postal worker and Navy veteran was shot at seventeen times and hit nine times by the school officers roughly thirty seconds after they got our of their vehicles. Witnesses said Washington was trying to break up a bar fight at the time but a jury later declined to bring any charges against them for killing him because juries love to believe in the good intentions of police.
People tend to think about the presence of police officers in school as offering a measure of safety in the case of a school shooting which may or may not be true but they don’t tend to think about what the police are supposed to be doing during all the downtime when schools aren’t under assault. It may not seem like it but schools in America aren’t actually being shot up all day every day year round. So cops, given nothing else to do, will always revert to being cops. If they’re stationed at an otherwise relatively peaceful school they’ll often go looking for people to harass or for exciting crimes to solve to make themselves feel like they’re not wasting their time. And it’s no surprise what types of students end up being the recipient of their attention.
A while after the time his home had been raided McKelvey was arrested again by the same officer at track practice.
“After that the coaches would not let me become captain, again impacting my college options. It also impacted which kids would risk associating with me. For some kids this means hanging out with kids who are actually committing crimes and falling into that life,” he tweeted.
“I was expected to go to school the next day with him there. I had to hold it all in. I had nightmares about it for years. I couldn’t focus in class, I was always terrified. The white kids were getting stickers from him as I feared for my life.”
I called McKelvey this morning to hear more about his story and to learn more about the situation in Portland schools. The twenty five year old recently relocated to Atlanta where he works now for a non-profit focused on issues around homelessness is a board member of the local DSA chapter.
I’ve read the news reports on the police in schools issue but can you explain it from your perspective?
There’s been a movement toward getting rid of cops in schools at the high school level in Portland but also at the college Portland State University. Recently cops killed two people within the last year there, so there’s a lot of momentum toward removing cops from schools. The last thing people really expected was to get the opposite where they’re adding police in schools. Especially when the person who is the board chair now was asked specifically about this in debates and said they would support removing officers from schools. The board chair was conveniently not at the vote but it’s hard to imagine a vote would have happened with the strong opposition of the chair.
Portland is the whitest major city in America so I think for a lot of the students and especially the parents officers in schools do make them feel more safe. So I think it’s important to tell the stories of the people who do not feel more safe.
Is the school board Republican? Is is this like Trumpian we’ve got to harden the schools rhetoric?
No, it’s so much worse than that because they’re all what across the country I guess would be called pretty liberal Democrats. It just goes beyond party. I think their idea of it is they don’t think about what the officers spend most of their time doing. Rather they think about school shootings. So they’re trying to protect the school from a possible shooting, but it’s funny because these are the same people that would laugh at the notion of a “good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun” unless that good guy is a cop.
Where were you in school when your encounters with the police happened?
I went to a school called Southridge High School in the suburbs of Portland like ten minutes away. The demographics would’ve been identical to most Portland schools. As soon as I started high school where there was an officer there, it was like constantly bing afraid of being arrested for stuff I either didn’t do, that my friends did, or that every white kid was doing also, like smoking pot. White kids are running around smoking pot all over high school and their biggest fear is that their parents are going to find out and it doesn’t even cross their mind that they’re going to be arrested for it.
You were hassled by one in particular?
This officer thought that I was a part of stealing a specific calculator. There was a cart of calculators that was stolen earlier in the year and he thought whoever did that was probably responsible for any stolen calculators. It was a TI84 at that time I think they were like $60.
I would get called into the office whenever anything went missing. I had no reason to steal I wasn’t poor or anything. But all of my black friends would get called into the office, and when you do it’s not like just the vice principal’s office it’s a police officer and the vice principle.
You could say something like I’m not answering that I want my parents here I want a lawyer or something, but then the vice principle takes over and says if you don’t answer this you’re going to get suspended. But the cops going to be here when you’re answering. So they’re working together the whole time.
I denied it said I didn’t do it. Most of the time I would have a good idea of who was taking the calculators or who happened to have $60 at the time, but it wasn’t me. I think they knew I knew and I was also kind of a smart ass kid, and not in a good way, so he took it really personal.
What happened when they came to your house?
One day I wasn’t looking out my window and I see these cops with riot shields walking down the street. I was like that’s really weird what’s going on. I hear the knock on the door and that’s when I run upstairs and go under the bed thinking like if nobody answers the door it’s going to be ok. My grandma lived downstairs and she’s walking upstairs to open the door when they kick the door in and storm in. All of them with guns.
I actually think most of those officers thought they were doing something different because it’s hard for me to imagine eight cops were really riled up to do that.
Yeah to come get a calculator.
Yeah! I think the original officer told them it was something different. They come in guns drawn, my dog is freaking out, and they take me and my grandma, guns still out, and the officer from my school goes through my room. We can hear it the whole time. It felt like a long time. He takes my computer and my family’s computer, my cell phone, and trashes my room. So I just didn’t have those things for a year.
Eventually I got to go pick them up and there were no charges. But within that year he would question me about it a lot.
And then he arrested you at track practice?
After he returned my stuff was when he arrested me at track practice, or I thought I was being arrested. He handcuffed me with another officer and took me to jail. I waited there for hours and he was like you’re going to have to wait for your parents to pick you up but they were on vacation. I had to call some other relative to pick me up and he told them I wasn’t under arrest and there’s no charges or anything but he wanted to teach me a lesson about how serious this stuff was.
He was still focused on the calculator?
It was still the calculator! I think more were being stolen, there were like 3,000 kids so every few days one would go missing. I assume more stuff was happening but not more stuff with me. I would skip class and smoke pot and stuff like that that a lot of kids were doing. They knew that but they never questioned me about that.
Did your family ever get a lawyer or anything?
My mom is actually a lawyer so she was pissed off at the whole time. They fought it. They tried to get my stuff back and they said because it was an investigation they couldn’t give it back until they had gone through everything. There wasn’t much we could do because he had a warrant.
My grandma who was home at the time was a super conservative Republican. Not like Trump Republican but like Mitt Romney or John McCain Republican. She was like what in the world. She could never imagine that something like this would be happening.
Being arrested in front of your team like that is it embarrassing? Were you crying?
I was not crying, it’s like hard because once you have this officer taking you out of class all the time or arresting you at practice it’s a chicken or the egg thing because now everybody thinks you’re bad. It’s like you sort of take on this bad persona, not like a criminal, but like a tough guy that doesn’t care about anything as a defense mechanism. It’s that or you cry.
Then it’s like parents don’t want their kids hanging out with me, girls don’t want to talk to me because I’m in trouble, track coaches are like we can’t make this guy the captain. Teachers are already annoyed you’re getting pulled out of class because it distracts the whole class. It makes it harder to learn or get good grades at all when that’s the stuff that’s on your mind.
When I went to high school, I grew up in a super white suburb, we never had cops. But just the presence of a cop kind of changes the feeling of a space. If I walk in somewhere now and there’s a cop it changes the energy. What does it do at a school.
Absolutely. Having a gun in school it puts your mind on that. The worst part is how friendly most of the white kids and the cop are. It never even crosses their mind that he would be there for anything other than protecting them. That’s the most frustrating part people you’re friends with will just never get it.
And later on the cop quit?
Yeah. He went to high school with one of my teachers. He wasn’t very old he was probably like 30 when this was all happening. That teacher is still one of my good friends. They would get into arguments about me because I would get pulled out of his class. The cop would tell him it’s not his choice when he has a lead he has to follow up on it. Later, I stayed in contact with the teacher, he said the cop had quit and he had quit because of me. He was like why would I want to spend my life continuing doing this to kids?
I only say that because I think that a lot of people will be like oh well not all cops in schools are like that, but he didn’t even want to be like that according to him. I don’t know if there’s even an opportunity for there to be a good cop in a school.
I also taught at a school that has similar demographics a year ago. I taught StreetLaw. They had a cop in the school and because it’s StreetLaw we would have the cop speak to the class. Kids would ask him basically what are you here for? He said when a person comes in for a school shooting you guys are all going to run away and I’m going to run toward the shooter. They were like OK, what do you do… most days?
He said well since I’m here I have to solve crimes that are happening.
That can be fights, but fights just happen in high school. Or kids smoke pot. Sometimes it’s even worse than that, but do we really want to criminalize these kids forever?
Getting arrested for some stupid shit as a kid, maybe you won’t get into as good a college as you would have otherwise, maybe you don’t get a job out of high school?
Exactly. People say well they can expunge their record it’s just going to be a youth record but it’s so much more than that it’s what opportunities they have after high school, what they learned in high school, and the peers they were able to have in high school.
Do you think most white people don’t think about that part?
I think so. Why would you. There’s no reason for you to think about it. Even if you happen to see it at school it starts happening so much that you justify it in your mind. Oh yeah that’s the bad kid. But you think he’s the bad kid because the cop is always talking to him, reinforcing what you already thought.
I think a large part of society they do feel safer with a cop in school, especially the parents. But there are also white kids who are getting criminalized in school too.
What’s going on up there in Portland anyway with all these motherfuckers marching around?
It’s because it’s so white! It’s easy to present yourself as progressive when you don’t have to be pressed on any progressive issues because your whole place is white.
It’s basically all I think a façade. I think it’s the same with most… We have a mayor who’s a millionaire. It costs a million dollars to become mayor of Portland in funds. When you have these barriers to leadership your leadership is obviously going to be of immense privilege and sort of biased in what they care about.
Really I think a lot of it has to do with the demographics of Portland. I think when you’re allowed to just call yourself liberal and progressive people think it absolves them of any of the work they would have to do on race because they view it as the other people’s problem. But if Donald Trump was the mayor of Portland the response to protests there would be pretty similar.