Cities Gain Momentum To Defund Police, Remove Them From Schools
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2020/06/02: A participant holding a Defund The Police sign at the protest. Thousands of protesters filled the streets of Brooklyn in a massive march to demand justice for George Floyd, killed by Officer Derek Chauvin and to make a loud call for the defunding of the police force. Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

On June 3, Derek Chauvin, who pinned down George Floyd and kneeled into his neck for almost nine minutes, had his charges upgraded from third to second degree murder. The three additional Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers involved in Floyd’s death were newly charged with aiding and abetting murder.

That has not stopped the cities across the country from taking to the streets to protest against police killing of George Floyd. This time, charging police involved in the death of a black man will not be enough.

“We need to demolish the entire system,” said Markia Smith, who marched in Baltimore this week. “And rebuild from the top.”

Protesters are calling for fundamental changes in the relationship between law enforcement and communities they serve and large scale changes such as defunding the police to free up resources for schools and social services: “Funding should be going to making people better, not suppressing and oppressing them,” Smith added.

This week, Minneapolis Ward 3 Councilman Steve Fletcher tweeted, “several of us on the council are working on finding out, what it would take to disband the MPD and start fresh with a community-oriented, non-violent public safety and outreach capacity.” The Minneapolis Public School board terminated its $1.1 million contract with the MPD.

“We cannot continue to be in partnership with an organization that has the culture of violence and racism that the Minneapolis police department has historically demonstrated,” school board member Nelson Inz told The Guardian. On Thursday, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero announced via Twitter additional investments in student supports like social workers and counselors and “discontinuing” the use of school police. Districts in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin are reportedly weighing similar moves.

Cities like Los Angeles and New York—whose repression of protests has been especially brutal—have faced calls to reduce their police budgets. After a week of protests, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced cuts of more than $250 million to the Los Angeles Police Department’s $1.86 billion budget to fund schools, jobs and healthcare. New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer requested $1.1 billion in cuts to the New York Police Department’s $6 billion annual budget over four years.

“Breaking down structural racism in New York City will require long-term, lasting change—and that must include reducing the NYPD’s budget.” Stringer said in a press release. “It is unconscionable that services for Black and Brown New Yorkers are on the chopping block while the NYPD’s budget remains almost entirely untouched.” The economic downturn sparked by COVID-19 resulted in the layoffs of 469,000 public school employees in April alone, Reuters reported.

Such disparities are especially stark in Baltimore, which spends the most per capita on police among large cities. For the 2020 fiscal year the city budgeted $536 million for the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) versus $278 million for public education.

Mayor Jack Young—who had a poor showing in preliminary results from Maryland’s June 2 Democratic primary, has yet to indicate whether he will shift funds from the police budget to schools or other social services. While the council can cut spending, only Baltimore’s mayor currently has the power to appropriate funds. A proposed City Charter amendment would give that power to the council.

A Baltimore City High School student among the thousands who took part in Monday’s youth-led protest in Baltimore—who requested not to be named— said the city’s priorities “need to change immediately,” noting many of Baltimore’s aging school buildings lack adequate climate control.

“So many kids don’t have air conditioning in their schools, and we need to fix that. Obviously the police don’t need more funding because they are going to use that to buy more guns and kill Black people,” the student said.

The official statement from organizers of the massive Baltimore protest, identifying themselves collectively as The Youth, called for “a complete decolonization of the state on every level,” and criticized Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has continually denied funding to city schools. On May 8, Hogan vetoed a proposal to increase funding for public schools, formulated by the bipartisan Kirwan Commission. State-commissioned analysis found Baltimore’s schools are underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

High School sophomore Mychaell Farmer, who helped organize Monday’s youth march in Baltimore, said she believes now is the time for schools to reevaluate their relationship with police: “For me personally, I think we should. I wouldn’t want to support a group that targets a group of people,” Farmer said. “If them speaking up will cost them their jobs maybe it the job isn’t meant to be.”

In 2016, two Baltimore officers were charged with assault after a video emerged of them attacking a student. In the wake of the incident, The Real News hosted a debate between the Baltimore police union and members of the Baltimore Algebra Project, a youth-run organization tutoring and advocacy organization that works to end the school to prison pipeline.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Baltimore City Schools declined to say whether the system is considering ending its relationship with law enforcement.

Police presence in schools in Baltimore remains controversial. The school system has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with BPD, and spends $7 million annually on its own police force in Baltimore City Schools.

“All of us should be reevaluating the role of police inside school buildings,” Dana Vickers Shelley, executive director of the ACLU of Maryland, said in an email. “Black children are overpoliced. Of the 14,000 complaints made against youth of color filed from FY 2017-2019, 90% of complaints against Black children are filed by the police (including school police and school resource officers).”

“There must be safe spaces for our children to learn and prepare for success,” the ACLU’s Shelley said. “The school system must focus instead on restorative practices, and securing supports for wraparound services, counselors, social workers, and school psychologists.”

In a statement, Baltimore City Schools did note a recent update to its policies regarding police in schools to prevent the arrest of students for incidents that did not occur on school grounds, “except in exigent circumstances.”

“Through restorative practices and other classroom and in-school strategies that maintain a positive learning environment and afford students opportunities to learn from their mistakes,” the Baltimore City Public Schools statement read.

In 2019, the Baltimore School board rejected a plan to arm police during the school day.

In March of 2020, a Republican lawmaker in Annapolis reintroduced the proposal.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.