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“No matter how you look at it, an armed presence in the schools is just the beginning in teaching conditioned acceptance to the occupation of whole communities.” — Emily Harris, “The Story of the SLA,” New Times, April 16, 1975.

In the last 20 years we’ve seen our schools change. When I graduated from high school in 1993, schools didn’t have metal detectors, we didn’t have a police liaison (though I think we had a D.A.R.E. officer), and we didn’t have secure entries. Visitors were supposed to check in at the main office, but there was no way to verify they actually did.

The Columbine school shooting in 1999 changed all of that. In many schools today, there’s going to be someone patrolling who has a gun. Now there’s talk of arming teachers.

Any time I hear about guns in schools I think back to the Symbionese Liberation Army and the first crime they committed, the murder of Marcus Foster. Foster was African-American, so this was such a strange action coming from a group that purported to support racial harmony and equality.


But they didn’t target Foster because of his race. They targeted him because of his plan to have students carry identification cards and his ideas to have a police presence in schools — two things which are ubiquitous today.

According to Emily Harris:

“Marcus Foster and Robert Blackburn [the deputy superintendent] were chosen as targets because they were the main proponents of a Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) pilot program to link up educational institutions with police agencies. It involved police units patrolling the Oakland schools with shotguns; a photo ID program where students would be required to present their IDs on request and could be detained for questioning if they refused; and a biographical-dossier program where information on students could be fed into national computer banks in an attempt to predict, categorize and remove any ‘troublemakers.'” (“The Story of the SLA,” New Times, April 16, 1975).

So as we can see, the conversation about this extends further back than Columbine.

For more information on Marcus Foster’s approach to education, check out In the Crossfire: Marcus Foster and the Troubled History of American School Reform.