In Minneapolis, Cops Were Kicked Out of Schools. Cities in 7 Other States Could Soon Follow Suit.

Activists around the country are rallying for #PoliceFreeSchools.

Indigo Olivier June 5, 2020

A police officer watches children walk home from Laura Ward Elementary School on Chicago's west side, Aug. 28, 2013. Following Minneapolis' successful divestment from the police department in June 2020, various organizations in Chicago are calling on Chicago Public Schools to trade school resource officers for nurses, guidance counselors and social workers. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Activists around the coun­try have inten­si­fied calls for police-free schools fol­low­ing the Min­neapo­lis Board of Education’s deci­sion on June 2 to ter­mi­nate its con­tract with the city’s police depart­ment. The school board­’s announce­ment came in the midst of the nation­wide protests in response to the mur­der of George Floyd by Min­neapo­lis police. The move was cel­e­brat­ed wide­ly on social media, with orga­niz­ers point­ing to the vic­to­ry as a mod­el for oth­er school dis­tricts to follow.

National groups like the Movement for Black Lives and Scholars for Black Lives have launched campaigns to get schools, colleges and universities to cut ties with the police.

45% of Amer­i­can schools report hav­ing school resource offi­cers” nation­wide, and there are 52,000 of them nation­wide, accord­ing to Edu­ca­tion Week. Inci­dents of police bru­tal­i­ty for minor offens­es like refus­ing to get up from a desk or using phones in class have sparked out­rage in recent years, but insti­tu­tion­al reform has been slow. Law enforcement’s pres­ence on school cam­pus­es increas­es the like­li­hood of stu­dent arrests and facil­i­tates a school-to-prison pipeline, with par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­as­trous con­se­quences for Black stu­dents. It also drains hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars from school bud­gets across the coun­try. Though the move­ment to decarcer­ate schools is decades old, efforts to end rela­tion­ships with police depart­ments have grown in force in recent years. Now, that move­ment is gain­ing new urgency.

There is a vis­i­ble rip­ple effect tak­ing place. The hash­tag #Police­FreeSchools has been trend­ing on social media, with a num­ber of activists, orga­ni­za­tions, stu­dents and edu­ca­tors demand­ing that their cities fol­low Min­neapo­lis’ lead. And nation­al groups like the Move­ment for Black Lives (M4BL) and Schol­ars for Black Lives have launched cam­paigns to get schools, col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to cut ties with the police. Now more than ever, as we envi­sion anew schools, col­leges, and uni­ver­si­ties in what will fol­low the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, we believe the dis­con­tin­u­a­tion of con­trac­tu­al rela­tion­ships between local police orga­ni­za­tions and edu­ca­tion­al insti­tu­tions is a moral imper­a­tive,” an open let­ter on Wednes­day from Schol­ars For Black Lives said. 

But the real action has been on the local lev­el. Ahead of the Min­neapo­lis vote, school board mem­ber Josh Pauly told the Huff­in­g­ton Post that school dis­trict rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Ari­zona, North Car­oli­na, Min­neso­ta, Wis­con­sin, Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon, New York and Illi­nois” reached out to ask for sup­port on draft­ing sim­i­lar pro­pos­als. This is already yield­ing results; on Thurs­day, for instance, the super­in­ten­dent of the Port­land, Ore., pub­lic schools announced that he was dis­con­tin­u­ing the reg­u­lar pres­ence of school resource offi­cers,” adding, we need to re-exam­ine our rela­tion­ship with the [Port­land Police Bureau].”

Activists want to make sure this momen­tum con­tin­ues. Short­ly after Min­neapo­lis’ deci­sion, the Urban Youth Col­lab­o­ra­tive, a youth orga­ni­za­tion that has been work­ing on end­ing the school-to-prison pipeline in New York for over a decade, called on May­or Bill de Bla­sio to fol­low Min­neapo­lis’ lead. Now is the time for New York City to take the same action, along with oth­er schools around the coun­try,” the group said in a press state­ment. Over the past four days, Inte­grateNYC, a youth group work­ing to inte­grate New York City class­rooms, has col­lect­ed 16,000 sig­na­tures in a peti­tion call­ing on Gov­er­nor Andrew Cuo­mo and the New York City Board of Edu­ca­tion to defund the police and remove them from pub­lic schools. 

Sim­i­lar dri­ves have been launched in Phoenix, Seat­tle and Oak­land, while mem­bers of the Den­ver school board and the super­in­ten­dent of the Den­ver Pub­lic Schools announced on Tues­day that they would begin a crit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion around schools and police. 

In addi­tion, the Chica­go Teach­ers Union, stu­dents, and a num­ber of com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions start­ed a cam­paign on Wednes­day demand­ing that the Board of Edu­ca­tion and Chica­go Pub­lic Schools (CPS) end its $33 mil­lion-a-year con­tract with the Chica­go Police Depart­ment and rein­vest in school resources. (The con­tract was approved in 2019; in com­par­i­son, the over­all 2019 CPS bud­get allo­cat­ed $2.5 mil­lion to hire 30 school nurs­es and $3.5 mil­lion to hire 35 social work­ers in a school dis­trict that serves over 355,000 stu­dents, mak­ing it the third-largest in the Unit­ed States.)

Point­ing to the prece­dent Min­neapo­lis just set, the coali­tion wrote, What we’re ask­ing for is not just rea­son­able and respon­si­ble, but entire­ly pos­si­ble.” The cam­paign has been endorsed by a num­ber of orga­ni­za­tions includ­ing Stu­dents Strike Back, Assata’s Daugh­ters and the Brighton Park Neigh­bor­hood Council.

Der­ri­an­na Ford, 16, spoke in front of the Chica­go Board of Edu­ca­tion in the sum­mer of 2019 to oppose the police con­tract but said stu­dents’ con­cerns weren’t heard. We were call­ing on this mon­ey to be spent on nurs­es because we are so under­staffed. We were ask­ing for coun­selors,” she said in an inter­view this week. 

Der­ri­an­na, who just fin­ished her junior year at Math­er High School in Chicago’s North Side, said her school is over­crowd­ed and under-resourced, with one nurse com­ing in on Tues­day and Thurs­day morn­ings to serve near­ly 1,500 stu­dents. I’m going into senior year next year and I’ve nev­er met my coun­selor. Nev­er,” she said. 

Der­ri­an­na described an envi­ron­ment of fear among the stu­dent body when it comes to school resource offi­cers,” whom, she said, teach­ers will call upon to han­dle minor trans­gres­sions like stu­dents refus­ing to do their work or putting their heads on their desks.“It’s like [teach­ers] use them as a weapon or some­thing,” she said. 

Der­ri­an­na start­ed orga­niz­ing with Voic­es of Youth in Chica­go Edu­ca­tion (VOYCE), a youth-led orga­niz­ing alliance for edu­ca­tion and racial jus­tice, about two years ago, though the group has been orga­niz­ing to dis­man­tle the school-to-prison pipeline in Chica­go schools for much longer.

VOYCE has been work­ing on this from the start and we are not quite where [Min­neapo­lis is] at, but we will keep push­ing and keep fight­ing until we’re there,” Der­ri­an­na said. She’s been out protest­ing peace­ful­ly every day and men­tioned that VOYCE is con­tin­u­ing to orga­nize around safe learn­ing envi­ron­ments. The Min­neapo­lis school board’s deci­sion, she believes, has put more pres­sure on Chica­go Pub­lic Schools to con­sid­er stu­dents’ demand to rid the city’s cam­pus­es of its police pres­ence in the future. Min­neapo­lis real­ly showed that it’s pos­si­ble. All we have to do is keep fight­ing,” she said. They see it coming.”

Indi­go Olivi­er is an In These Times Good­man Inves­tiga­tive Fellow.

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