Police Hierarchy,” Brick 101

June 12, 2020; Washington Post

As school districts all across the country struggle with the complications of reopening in the wake of the coronavirus, there is one facet of school life that increasing numbers of school districts will eliminate—the in-school police presence.

In Minneapolis, where George Floyd died by police violence, a unanimous vote by the school board ended the district’s contract with the police. Portland, Oregon, followed suit, as did Denver and Oakland, even after the police were set loose on a peaceful youth-led march a few weeks ago.

The Washington Post reports others are also moving in the direction of contract suspensions and phase-out plans. In New York, Chicago, and Phoenix, students, themselves, are demanding police-free learning environments.

Nathaniel Genene is a rising high school senior and the student representative for the Minneapolis School Board. He said he watched, over and over, the video of Floyd’s arrest, which captures the 46-year-old black man yelling and gasping for air while an officer kneels on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. The video kept him up at night. Later, he heard stories of his classmates getting tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed by police during protests.

“Would we invest in an institution that is currently being investigated…for human rights abuses when 60 percent of our students are students of color?” Genene said in an interview. “I could not imagine a positive school climate in any school with an MPD officer walking through the hall.”

Of course, as we pointed out last week when discussing the movement to defund the police, the fact that many localities and their school districts will be facing constrained budgets may speed the process of divesting the schools of law enforcement presence. Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky rid themselves of the line item last year for budgetary reasons, and this year’s school budgets may be more challenging than usual due to the special conditions left behind by COVID-19. Maybe after all these years of active organizing against police presence in our schools, this will be the moment when the issue moves decisively.—Ruth McCambridge