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The Struggle for No Police in the Los Angeles Schools: a Great Leap Forward and Victory is in Sight

On Tuesday, June 23, in Los Angeles, the decade’s long struggle for No Police in the Schools had a major breakthrough. Los Angeles School Board member Monica Garcia introduced the most structural and hopeful motion to make “defund the police” a reality. Her motion, expressing gratitude to the national Black uprising, called for cutting the $70 million budget of the Los Angeles School Police Department—with 350 armed officers—by 50% in 2021, 75% in 2022, and 90% in 2023—essentially phasing out the entire department. We think “50%, 75%, 90%” is a model for the “Defund the Police” movement nationally. Any movement that gets to 100% first wins. Her Civil Rights motion did not pass but neither did any of the toxic compromises. That “50/75/90%” motion is still the centerpiece of our movement going forward and we have every intention of bringing it into reality.

Outside the LAUSD building it was the Black-led movement that was the driving force in history. There were more than 3,000 of us encircling the entire block. There was a great sound truck led by Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and Students Deserve—a Black led student organization in the LAUSD schools. The program was a celebration of rage, creativity, rap, music, and the spoken word. Dr. Melina Abdullah, co-chair of Black Lives Matter L.A. spoke of how all three of her children suffered police abuse in the schools while her son’s first incident of anti-Black police brutality was at the age of six. She described in painful detail how every aspect of a Black child’s life is criminalized and why the demand for No Police in the Schools was a life and death issue for the Black community.

Niyah Henry from Westchester High School Students Deserve brought the crowd to their feet and me to tears when she read her poem that made it clear that for Black students, going to a school filled with police is not just a blow to student achievement, it makes you not want to go to school at all.

Channing Martinez of the Strategy Center said that when he went to Crenshaw High School 15 years ago to the present we have fought against racist truancy tickets, anti-Black racial profiling, and even tanks in the school. The only way to end the school to prison pipeline is to get the police out of the schools altogether.

David Turner of Brothers Son Selves roused the already fired up crowd with his forceful oratory in the traditions of Freedom Now! No Police in the LAUSD Schools Now! Now! Now! Every speaker and every group made it clear. “The only motion we support is the Garcia motion for 50, 75, and 90%.”

The machinations and gyrations inside the board room.

Inside the board room that was under strict social distancing rules, only 50 people were allowed and many seats were filled with LASPD members who showed their true colors. Only Ms. Garcia showed up in person while all other board members deliberated and voted “remotely” in all senses of the word. Community organizers including Maria Brenes from Inner City Struggle stayed inside the board room for 14 hours from the time it opened to the final vote to offer support for Ms. Garcia and our movement’s motion.

Anyone who has attended the meetings of elected officials knows that the gap between life in the streets and their life of delusion, illusion, and self-importance is as clear as Black and white. Thankfully, Ms. Garcia was the exception that proved the rule.

The board entertained 3 motions on the school police. The first by Board Member George McKenna proposed to do virtually nothing. For context, when the Strategy Center was demanding that the LAUSD return one tank, 3 grenade launchers, and 61 M-16s back to the Department of Defense, Mr. McKenna said, “I would get a drone if I could get one.” In spite of him, and with courageous leadership of Monica Garcia, the Strategy Center won that historic campaign. (See my article “How We Got the Tanks and M-16s Out of the LA Schools” in counterpunch.org May 20, 2016). Mr. McKenna is a revered figure in some segments of the Black community but in our view, does not grasp the urgency of the time. His motion did not pass.

The next motion was introduced by board member Jackie Goldberg, who had served on the board many years ago but came back to be elected again in 2017. Ms. Goldberg, once a civil and human rights movement person has for decades been a member of the Democratic Party liberal establishment.

Her motion said, as I paraphrase it—The LASPD should temporarily suspend pepper spray, K-9 dogs, but let’s set up a committee to discuss it. I will not cut police spending but let’s study it and maybe I will or perhaps not. So when you say, No Police in the Schools I have a great idea. Lets’ station them outside the schools. Oh, you say they harass and attack you even worse out there. So let’s have them wear khakis, like the British did when they occupied India and Africa. But do not vote for Monica Garcia’s motion. She actually wants to do something for Black students, for Latinx students, god, she wants to cut the LASPD by 50% then 75% then 90% As I have said many times, I believe in the LASPD but maybe I don’t but you know…

If her motion was deceptive and reprehensible her maneuvers at the board meeting were even worse. Ms. Goldberg’s motion made no cuts in the LAPD budget. But, with the Black movement and the Garcia motion shaping the debate Ms. Goldberg realized she could not get four votes for her motion. So, she was forced to accept amendments by board members Nick Melvoin and Kelley Gonez to cut the LASPD budget by $20 million this fiscal year. While this was well meaning, the forces supporting Ms. Garcia and of course Ms. Garcia herself would not vote for it. For if this lesser measure passed that would end the debate and Ms. Garcia’s more far reaching motion would not even be voted upon. Worse, for so many young people, so many Black youth, so angry at the system but still wanting to believe change was possible, this would have been a devastating blow. There was no way Ms. Garcia would vote for anything less than what they demanded. Yes, some people asked her to consider dropping her motion. But no, absolutely no, she stood firm as did her friends who had her back.

Ms. Goldberg, who had not introduced any cuts, accepted the amendments on the grounds that she had always wanted to help Black students. But then, as thousands of us watched remotely, Ms. Goldberg, seeing she could not get a fourth vote, dropped the proposal for a $20 million cut altogether. She rejected the good faith efforts of Melvoin and Gonez as fast as she had accepted them. That exposed her protestations of deep caring about Black students as cynical and hollow.

She then turned on a dime and reached out to those who supported no cuts in the police. But then she failed again to get four votes. By contrast, as Mr. Melvoin spoke with great passion about trying to better understand his white privilege, and proposed to cut $20 million from the LASPD budget, (and eventually voted in favor of the “50/75/90 motion” it was with a sense of tragedy to watch Ms. Goldberg, as a white board member, act in objective opposition to the interests of Black students, parents, and community members.

So, now the pendulum finally moved to Ms. Garcia. There she was wearing a mask to be there in person with the people. She spoke about how the Black movement had moved her to take the most resolute action. This was a time to fight for what history and the community truly deserved. Here was a Black/Latinx/human rights movement in action. And then the vote.

Mr. Melvoin said that Monica had said it all and voted for her motion. I felt he should have spoken out in support of her after having seen such cynical manipulation. Still, his vote was a critical second vote for the motion. Mr. Gonez voted to abstain. Obviously that was not what we had hoped, but in the context, I took it as a sign of respect for Monica’s leadership. While she could not vote for it, she did not want to vote against it. All other board members voted “No!” —so it did not pass. The final vote was 2 in favor, four against, with one abstention. In a moving development, Frances Suavillo, a student member of the LAUSD who had a vote that would be recorded but would not impact the decision (classic LAUSD theory) courageously voted for Ms. Garcia’s motion in solidarity with Black students.

The day before the vote, we were so happy that the United Teachers of Los Angeles responded to the cries of the Black community and their own students. Their public statement was bold and forceful.

Monica Garcia’s motion to remove 90% of school police by 2024 most closely aligns with what the UTLA Board of Directors overwhelmingly supported — 100% elimination of the budget for school police. Garcia’s motion should be the motion of the day on Tuesday — and all other motions regarding public safety and police reform should be withdrawn. We want to have more conversations about how the money divested from policing would be transparently re-allocated – but, it must unambiguously go towards supporting Black students. We are encouraged by Monica Garcia’s motion, and we urge all LAUSD school board members to vote for it.”

And yet on the day of the vote, all four Board members endorsed by the UTLA—George McKenna, Scott Schmerelson, Richard Vladovic, and Jackie Goldberg—voted against Ms. Garcia’s motion. Not only that, they voted against ANY cuts in the LASPD budget. The profound gap between the union’s statements and the results on the ground has to be deeply interrogated by the UTLA leadership and membership. They must find a way to align their statements with actual votes We need the UTLA to aggressively fight to get 2, 3, and 4 more votes to support the only No Police in the Schools motion.

We also look to School Superintendent Austin Beutner to provide leadership to make “defund the police” the best and only policy for the district.

The anger, pain, and determination of the Black community, the Latinx community, and all people of goodwill cannot be denied. There will be other votes and our movement is on the case. Victory is closer every day. No Police in the LAUSD Schools Now.

I end with a poem I saw reprinted in my friend Sam Anderson’s ED News You Can Use. It says “Anonymous Black Person” but if anyone knows their name please give us a shout out. This endless heartbreak of police murder is driving the national and international Black liberation struggle and gives us the rage and strength to win No Police in the LAUSD Schools, Now!

By: Anonymous Black Person

We can’t go jogging (#AmaudArbery).

We can’t relax in the comfort of our own homes (#BothemJean and #AtatianaJefferson).

We can’t ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride).

We can’t have a cellphone (#StephonClark).

We can’t leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).

We can’t play loud music (#JordanDavis).

We can’t sell CD’s (#AltonSterling).

We can’t sleep (#AiyanaJones)

We can’t walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).

We can’t play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).

We can’t go to church (#Charleston9).

We can’t walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).

We can’t hold a hair brush while leaving our own bachelor party (#SeanBell).

We can’t party on New Years (#OscarGrant).

We can’t get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).

We can’t lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).

We can’t break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).

We can’t shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .

We can’t have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).

We can’t read a book in our own car (#KeithScott).

We can’t be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).

We can’t decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).

We can’t ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).

We can’t cash our check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).

We can’t take out our wallet (#AmadouDiallo).

We can’t run (#WalterScott).

We can’t live (#FreddieGray).

We can’t breathe (#EricGarner,George Floyd).

We’re tired

Tired of making hashtags.

Tired of trying to convince you that our #BlackLivesMatter too.

Tired of dying.

Tired.

Tired.

Tired.

So very tired.

“We are Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired”—FreedomFighter Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977). Live Like Her. Fight Like Her!

 

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Eric Mann is a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality and the Newark Community Union Project where he worked closely with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. He is honored to be among the many hundreds who tell their stories on the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website (crmvet.org). He is presently director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center working in South Central Los Angeles at the Strategy and Soul Movement Center. He and Channing Martinez co-host Voices from the Frontlines—Your National Movement Building Show on KPFK Pacifica in Los Angeles. He welcomes comments at eric@voicesfromthefrontlines.com

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