Since the late 1990s, police have roamed the halls shoulder-to-shoulder with students in the United States. This became a more recognizable approach to dealing with students’ unhealthy behaviors. Social justice organizations want this norm to come to an end. This year, a campaign was launched by the Police Free LAUSD Coalition to remove school police officers from all 782 Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools.
Police were initially integrated into LAUSD schools to help mitigate fights between racial groups. Within the LAUSD, 90% of the student population is part of minority groups, including 8% African Americans and 74% of Latinos. Both groups are being targeted the most by LA police outside of schools. With the fear of police for both groups being infiltrated in an escape that is supposed to be deemed a “safe space for students,” the call for the removal of police has been made.
The Police Free LAUSD Coalition released a report in 2023 titled “From Criminalization to Education: A Community Vision for Safe Schools in LAUSD.” The information is being used to urgeLAUSD to redirect all funding from the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) to invest in the holistic well-being of all students instead.
The report includes points showcasing the organization’s demands for their students and communities. One is a demand for “safe schools that support holistic academic achievement.” They are demanding that the district provide classes that provide life skills, such as financial literacy and budgeting courses, so that the students feel ready for life after high school, as well as “high-quality non-academic programming.” This would include activities such as entrepreneurship, sonic and visual arts, activism and more. The recommended investment and commitment the report mentions is $651 million annually for principals to develop partnerships with community-based organizations and partners.
Another point is that “a safe school partners with and supports parents and the local community,” demanding the assurance that school programs and services are open at times that work for parents and communities, where services and information are made accessible and easily understandable. The report states that the recommended investment for this is $20 million annually for school climate coaches to come onto the campuses to ensure that school security is eliminated. The school climate coaches are individuals equipped and supported to help schools transform that climate and eliminate school-based racial bias. The goal is to reimagine students’ safety by investing rather than criminalizing them.
Students stand outside of the LAUSD building demanding change and the removal of police from their schools. Courtesy: Students Deserve
STUDENTS and LASPD RELATIONSHIP
In 1950, the first police officer to be part of a school campus was in Flint, Michigan. The ideaof having a police officer on a school campus was to help create a better relationship between law enforcement and the youth. Iin recent years, that idea and possibility have been rejected.
In 2015, a report stated that the Department of Education found that 260,000 students were referred to law enforcement and 92,000 were subject to school-based arrests in the 2011–2012 school year.
In 2018, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that 7,395 students across LA County came into contact with LASPD officers at school. 76% of the recorded students were boys of color and 3,389 were arrested.
WHY CHANGE NEEDS TO HAPPEN
The Police-free LAUSD movement has called to remove all police officers from schools to protect the students most targeted by police departments. Joseph Williams, 30, director of Students Deserve, believes police officers should not be on school campuses because of the treatment given to youth of color. “Black students in LAUSD have been disproportionately criminalized, have been disproportionately targeted and have been disproportionately arrested by Los Angeles School Police Department,” Williams said. Students Deserve a youth-led organization that works towards making the livelihood of Black students matter in schools. The organization has 30 chapters across LAUSD. Their mission is to make the school system invest in the lives and education of Black, Muslim, undocumented, indigenous and queer youth.
One of the reasons to want to remove police from LAUSD schools is students’ mental health. “The students need to be seen as humans rather than criminals,” said Miguel Dominguez, Director of Education and Youth Policy at Community Coalition. “We are striving for more Orange Success, which is more restorative justice counselors, social workers, psychiatric counselors.”
Both Dominguez and Williams believe that if the students are viewed for who they are and educators can better understand their background and where they come from, they may have a better chance at avoiding incarceration and the life-altering label of “criminal.” Dominguez uses the example of youths raised in neighborhoods of high crime. If they are introduced to the help of counselors, their behaviors can be spotted and helped appropriately, rather than the fighting at schools and the intervention of campus police.
“We can focus more on prevention and being able to offer those types of services to young people in crisis,” says Dominguez. “We can focus more on prevention and being able to offer those types of services to young people who are in crisis.”
“We know many of our students have been impacted by police, murder, and violence,” says Williams. “So when they see police at their schools and police who are there to view them as a criminal, to view them as something to keep the school safe from, to keep adults safe from, it has a negative psychological impact.”
Joseph Williams stands in front of a group of students with the Students Deserve organization to demand change and remove police in schools. Courtesy: Students Deserve
HISTORY – EAST LA WALKOUTS
The Latino community has a long history of interactions with police, the most significant being the 1968 East LA Walkouts. Young Latino students were fighting for equal educational rights like their upper-class peers. Because the individual schools and the school district did not meet their demands,, the students decided to host walkouts. The reaction to the plan was to police them rather than listen to them. “You have images, videos and history of those interactions with the police and students. Where students and young people were beaten and incarcerated, but that has been ongoing ever since,” Dominguez said.
A few years ago, Students Deserve was able to ban pepper spray from LAUSD schools. There was an incident at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School where a campus police officer used pepper spray on students to break up a fight. Within the argument, there were Black students. Black students make up a minority population at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School at 0.7% and Hispanics make up the highest population at 98.1%.
“I think all students will be safer when we move to invest in the kind of resources that they need, that address the needs that they have instead of cops,” Williams said. “An armed cop can’t help a kid with mental health issues. They can’t help a kid dealing with substance abuse disorder because of the trauma they’re dealing with at home.”