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Oakland is one step closer to disbanding its school police force next school year, partly in response to nationwide protests against police brutality and racism, and following similar decisions by school districts in Minneapolis and Portland.
Oakland Unified School District currently spends more than $6 million each year on its police department, which includes ten sworn officers and more than 50 unarmed campus security officers. It’s the only school district in Alameda County with its own police force.
A resolution written by school board members Shanthi Gonzales and Roseann Torres called The George Floyd Resolution to Eliminate the Oakland Schools Police Department — named for the man who was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer last month — would disband the school police before the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Introduced at Wednesday night’s school board meeting, the legislation also calls for a “community-driven process” including students, teachers, principals, other district staff and community members to work together to develop a new safety plan for schools. The board will vote on this resolution at its June 24 meeting.
Also at Wednesday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell shared an outline for how OUSD could transition to police-free schools by December 2020 and redirect funding to social workers and restorative justice coordinators instead.
Several school board members have shifted their thinking in recent weeks about the issue. Board president Jody London and Director Gary Yee, who both voted against a measure in March to eliminate three OUSD police officers, both signaled their support for the superintendent’s plan, all but ensuring it will pass in two weeks with a majority.
“My own initial instinct around the safety plan and defunding of police is really to look at physical safety,” Yee said. “Thanks to the Black Organizing Project and hundreds of thousands of emails and phone calls I’ve had, [and] the demonstration at my house on Friday, I’ve come to realize how short-sighted I was, and the blindness I had focusing on physical safety. I blocked out the importance of social-emotional and trauma-informed safety.”
“I’m prepared to reimagine that system,” Yee added.
As we reported last week, Oakland activists have been pressuring the district for years to eliminate its police department and focus on peace-keeping instead of security.
During the meeting, which was held on Zoom, dozens of community members and teachers provided comments, with the vast majority in support of the resolution. Few students spoke, but among them was Xiomara Mendoza Najera, a third-grader at Think College Now elementary school.
“I am tired of black and brown people getting killed by the police. I am brown and my skin is beautiful,” Najera said. “I don’t need police in my school. I need my teachers, my coaches and my principals.”
School board director Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, who has been the most outspoken opponent of the renewed push to remove the OUSD police force, did not voice her opinion on the resolution during the meeting. In an interview with The Oaklandside, Hinton-Hodge stressed that removing police from schools won’t stop teachers from calling the police on students in lieu of other options, and won’t fix racial disparities regarding who is referred to police.
“Let this resolution be the beginning of a dedication to harder work around anti-racism,” she said. “I do believe for the safety of our kids, I think we have to build some skill to do this kind of work around race and violence in our community.”
Hinton-Hodge said she believes the Oakland school officers are specially equipped to handle youth. If school police were eliminated and regular Oakland Police Department officers begin responding to school calls, as would happen if the resolution passes, Hinton-Hodge worries that those officers may not have adequate training to respond to youth in crisis.
“I think that it is disingenuous to sit here and think that OPD is going to show up with the same kind of compassion and the same kind of understanding about what is happening with our teachers and what is happening with our systems,” Hinton-Hodge said at the March 4 school board meeting.
Of the dozens of public comments shared at Wednesday’s meeting, just one person was not in support of the resolution. They also raised concerns about whether OPD could handle the influx of calls from Oakland schools.
Between June 2019 and January 2020, Oakland school police received just over 1,000 calls, mainly from campus administrators like principals. A couple hundred of those were “priority calls,” which include violent crime, property crime and crimes against children. During that six-month period, OUSD police arrested three students in separate incidents for carrying a concealed weapon, rape, and battery.
At Wednesday night’s meeting, Superintendent Johnson-Trammell emphasized that the creation of the safety plan would also have to involve the labor unions that represent the officers. Janell Hampton, a representative for the California School Employees Association, which represents the seven sworn non-managerial school officers, underscored the importance of involving the officers in conversations about revised safety plans. OUSD officers see themselves as a valuable part of the district and want to continue serving, Hampton said.
“OUSD students cannot be left in the lurch with sweeping changes that try to happen overnight based on a plan that doesn’t exist,” she said.
The Black Organizing Project, an activist organization of Black Oaklanders working towards racial justice, has been pressuring the district for years to eliminate its police department. The campaign, which has received support from students, parents, community members and the teachers union, began in 2011, following the killing of Raheim Brown by an Oakland schools police sergeant. Two sergeants patrolling near Skyline High School approached Brown, then 20, and a friend sitting in a car near the school. An altercation ensued and a sergeant fired several rounds into the car, killing Brown.
In the years since, activists have challenged the necessity of the department, pointing to other controversies involving Oakland school police. In the fall of 2011, the police chief, Pete Sarna, resigned after making racist remarks, including slurs, towards other officers.
In a 2016 incident at Fremont High School, school security officers choked and dragged 15-year-old Jonathan Rodriguez, a special education student, during an altercation caught on video.
And in October 2019, 30 sworn police and security officers monitored a school board meeting they anticipated would be disrupted by teachers and parents speaking out against school closures. During the demonstration, the officers drew batons against the crowd and arrested six people.
During the next regular school board meeting, board directors will debate and vote on the resolution, including any amendments other members may propose. That meeting, at 4 p.m. on June 24, will be live-streamed online.