El Paso, Texas, correspondence.
In a classroom at Horizon High School, teenagers, overwhelmingly Latino, listen to Sylvia Weaver. This former security force has been teaching for more than ten years in the “criminal justice” club at this high school in El Paso, Texas. She explains to them: “The first year of the law enforcement course focuses on police methods. You learn the basics: how to quickly put handcuffs or take fingerprints, how to carry out a traffic check. You will also learn the use of force. I’m not hiding from you that it will be paramilitary! ”
In over 900 high schools in Texas
A few months later, you have to see these high school students, helmets on their heads, bulletproof vests and guns in hand, cross the corridor of their establishment looking serious and concentrated. These young people – they are between 14 and 18 years old – take part in a program which exists in more than 900 secondary establishments in Texas: the clubs of training in the trades of the “police”. Clubs similar to those for preparation for medical schools, nurses, veterinarians, or chemistry and robotics clubs. During their final years, Sylvia Weaver and three other teachers train them to become police officers, border guards or prison guards.
El Paso, where everything has to do with the border
We are in El Paso, a town scarred by a massacre in a Walmart hypermarket in August 2019, where a white nationalist came from Dallas to kill 23 people there because of “Hispanic invasion and ethnic and cultural replacement”. El Paso, where everything has to do with the border. The economy is based on cross-border trade, it is the second point of entry into the United States from Mexico (behind another Texan city, Laredo), and this generates 76 billion dollars (1).
In El Paso, more than 82% of the population is Hispanic and almost 87% were born outside the United States. Here everyone is just a foot across the border. The twin city of Ciudad Juárez is two beats of wings, on the other side of the Río Grande river. This proximity to Mexico, the constant debate on immigration, on the wall, and the presence of numerous border guards, customs officers or federal security forces lead many young people to imagine that they have a future in the professions of the police. “There is so much work and opportunities”, insists Sylvia Weaver. Fairly proud, she specifies that many of her former students now work in the security forces and, in a few years, we reach a salary of 90,000 dollars (77,610 euros).
The cult of the army, patriotism and veterans
Another detail attracts them. These students who are part of the criminal justice club are entitled to a uniform. In the United States, however, the cult of the army, of patriotism and of the veterans has turned into a fascination with military attire.
They are taught to shout: “ Police, search! ” and react calmly when caught on camera during an altercation.
And it goes quite far: these high school students are indeed entitled to a very realistic reproduction of handguns or assault rifles, in orange, blue or red color to (still) avoid any confusion. They participate as a back-up to the vigils in high school events to manage the crowd and avoid overflows during sports gatherings or concerts. They are taught to shout: “ Police, search! ” and react calmly when caught on camera during an altercation. We also see them in single file, pistols in aim, training in buildings in a search or a fictitious hostage-taking.
“As a policeman you shout, ‘Drop your gun! drop your gun! ” and then you shoot, bang-bang! ””
And the teachers are not giving up on it. At the end of an exercise, a teenager asks : “If someone points a gun at me, do I shoot? ” The professor, Louie Jimenez, who since the Covid-19 left teaching to return to the security forces, looks him in the face: ” Yes ! Every time someone raises a gun at you, you shoot them. He will say: “I did not know they were police officers”. But it will be up to justice to decide. As a policeman, you shout: “Drop your gun! drop your gun! ” and then you shoot, bang-bang! ””
Maisie Crow spent two years following this club from Horizon High School in El Paso, she made the documentary.“ The idea came to me when I went to a video club at a high school in the Rio Grande Valley to tell about my work as a documentary filmmaker. I came across armed young people playing police in the building. ” She can’t believe her eyes. “I then filed a Public Information Request with the Texas Attorney General’s office, and learned that more than 900 high schools in the state offer law enforcement classes or clubs. I was very surprised because I grew up in Texas, I went to high school here, I live here and I had no idea that these programs existed. ”
Same surprise for Hillary Pierce, who co-produced this documentary: “Maisie and I are from the Columbine generation. We were a teenager in 1999 when the Columbine, Colo. High school shooting happened. So we spent the rest of our studies with our bags searched and metal detectors at the entrance to public buildings. So to see guns in the hallway of a high school, it’s terrifying. It is clearly not normal to see this in the United States. “
Inter-high school criminal justice championships in many other states
A point of view put into perspective by Kira Hassler Newsom, president of the Texas Public Safety Association (Tpsa), the organization that brings together law enforcement and forensic courses in this state: “ When given dummy guns, they are told to treat them like real guns and not to target others. They are also taught not to have their finger on the trigger and they are told: “If you do it, you are going to shoot. And you will need to be able to justify why you made that decision. If you take a life, you must be prepared to shoulder the consequences. quences. You can’t just shoot because you want to. ” And she insists: “ It’s positive, we teach students safety around guns and we make them understand that the police are there to defend them, even if, like everywhere, there is a minority of bad seeds. “ If high school students want to pursue a career in policing, they will still have to wait until they turn 21 and enter a police academy. But the club is a springboard for these careers – prison guard, border guard or emergency call dispatcher – where people are recruited from 18 years old.
And in the United States, everything ends in competition. Inter-high school criminal justice championships exist at the local and regional levels in Texas and in many other states (Florida, California, but also Massachusetts, Michigan, or Hawaii for example). Professionals judge which club is the best in categories as diverse as “search and drug research”, “rapid muscular intervention group” (imagine their French equivalent like the Raid, the GIGN or the BRI with 17-year-olds …), including checking vehicles for speeding or running after a suspect.
“Today, kids have active shooter (active shooter) drills, sometimes with people disguised as mad shooters running through the halls of their school.”
“Many of these young people find it very fun and certainly very different from other educational courses, Hillary Pierce reports. I remember the tornado warning drills at school, but today kids have active shooter drills, sometimes with people disguised as mad shooters running through the halls of their school. . And they must learn to fight, hide or flee (sic). I wonder how traumatic it is and also how insensitive it makes them. I think that one can ask the same questions about some of the exercises in the preserve the order. “
2018 Senate Election Day
Kassy, chosen by the teachers as head of the law enforcement club at Horizon high school, wanted to go and work for the Stups (the narcotics brigade). This club quickly became his family, it must be said that the teenager lives alone, her father spends most of the time with his new wife. But Texan and federal policy towards migrants and minorities made him change his mind during his years at the club. “We know that the police are very conservative”, she blurted out, a little disappointed. And her teachers confirm her discovery. On the day of the 2018 senatorial election between Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke, former policeman Andy Guerra told all his students that he had voted for Ted Cruz because “Beto” was against him. wall then under construction by Donald Trump.
“But you know Democrats are against the wall, so what’s your take? ”
In another policing class, the discussion is established between Sylvia Weaver and the students around the then president, who talks about “ invasion that overflows the Texas border ”. While saying that she wants to encourage her students to think for themselves, the teacher places: “But you know Democrats are against the wall, so what’s your take? “Kassy will choose to pass her baccalaureate and she will go to study in San Antonio. There is no official count of the number of high school students who enter the police after participating in these clubs.
(1) 2017 figure, source dallasfed federal reserve.