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US public schools cancel contracts with police amid Floyd protests

By SCOTT REEVES in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-06-16 11:47
Nathan Hale High School seniors and other local graduates sit for eight minutes and forty six seconds of silence to remember George Floyd as they protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of Floyd on their graduation day in Seattle, Washington, US, June 15, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Public school districts throughout the United States — including New York, Chicago, Phoenix, Denver, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Oakland, California — have either canceled or plan to cancel contracts with local police departments to guard their schools.

The cancellations have been prompted by the Minneapolis school board voting unanimously to end its contract with the city's police department about a week after demonstrations that followed George Floyd's death on May 25.

A white police officer, Derek Chauvin, responding to a report that Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, had tried to pass a fake $20 bill, held him down by lodging a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd died shortly after losing consciousness.

Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, and three former Minneapolis police officers have been charged with aiding and abetting murder in connection with Floyd's death.

Some have long advocated that police officers should be removed from US public schools, arguing that they pose a greater risk to minority students than the mass killers they are intended to guard against.

"We must take all actions within our power to stop systems of oppression," Kim Ellison, chairwoman of the Minneapolis Board of Education, said in a statement. "For the Minneapolis Public School Board, that means discontinuing our contractual relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department."

The police department quietly stepped aside.

"The Minneapolis Police Department appreciated the opportunity to provide years of service to the Minneapolis Public Schools through the School Resource Officer program," Deputy Chief Erick Fors said in a statement.

"We will continue to work in cooperation with the Minneapolis Public Schools regarding safety and security issues."

"Research and the experiences of young people of color have taught us that the police in schools create a toxic school climate and fuel the school-to-prison pipeline," Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project National office in Washington, said in a statement. "This move by the Minneapolis Public Schools is bold, big and gets us one step closer to re-imagining justice for our young people of color."

About 30 percent of US public primary schools and 70 percent of public secondary schools employ armed law enforcement officers, according to 2016-2017 data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics.

That means there are about 20,000 armed officers in American schools, the National School Resource Officers Association in Hoover, Alabama, said.

But the exact number isn't known because the officers aren't required to register with a national data base, and local police aren't required to disclose how many officers are assigned to schools.

Senior class president Hemani Kalia speaks to the group as they stop on the street to talk as Nathan Hale High School seniors join with others to protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd on their graduation day in Seattle, Washington, US, June 15, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

The number of officers at schools grew rapidly following the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that left 15 dead, then the worst school shooting in the US.

The Justice Department devoted millions of dollars to fund police at schools to thwart outside threats and to curb crime among students.

Efforts to increase police presence at schools intensified after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 people died.

But critics argue that the increased police presence in schools takes money away from needed educational and social programs.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a New York-based non-profit organization founded in 1920 to defend individual rights, reviewed data compiled by the US government and found that 1.7 million students are enrolled in schools that employ law enforcement officers, but not guidance counselors.

An additional 3 million students are enrolled in schools that employ police, but not nurses, while 6 million students attend schools with police present, but not a psychologist. Ten million students attend schools with an officer on campus, but lack social workers, the ACLU said.

In Oakland, schools Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel said a majority of school board members support a plan to eliminate 12 officers who patrol the district's 118 schools on a rotating basis.

"The Oakland Unified School District has a long record of disproportionately punishing and arresting black students, forcing them into the criminal justice system," Nikki Fortunato Bas, a member of the Oakland City Council, said in a statement.

Derrianna Ford, a 16-year-old student at Chicago's Mather High School, said officers at her school didn't make her feel safer.

"If you hurt yourself, they're calling the student resource officer," she told The Washington Post. "The first thing you should call is a nurse, but our nurses are in only Tuesday. If you're not hurt on Tuesday, it's your loss."

But Paul Kelly, principal of Elk Grove High School near Chicago, said police on campus increase security by guarding against outside threats.

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