The school board in Oakland, California, unanimously voted on Wednesday to dismantle the school district’s police department — making the district the latest to cut ties with law enforcement amid nationwide anti-racism protests.
At a school board meeting on Wednesday night, all seven board members voted in favor of the “George Floyd Resolution to Eliminate the Oakland School Police Department.” The resolution needed a simple majority to pass.
Oakland Unified School District has its own police department, with over 120 officers and other personnel working in the district, which serves over 35,000 students, most of whom are Black and brown. Nineteen California school districts have their own police forces, including in Los Angeles.
Since nationwide protests against racism and police brutality began in late May after the police killing of George Floyd, several school systems have cut ties with police, including in Portland, Oregon, and in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed. In San Francisco, across the bay from Oakland, the school board unanimously voted to remove police from its schools on Tuesday.
However, the campaign to remove police from Oakland schools started long before the recent protests. Organizers, parents and students have been pushing for years for police-free schools. The Black Organizing Project started its campaign in 2011 after an Oakland school police officer fatally shot 20-year-old Raheim Brown outside a school dance.
“What happens in terms of policing in schools is interconnected to the same issues we see in policing in our cities,” Black Organizing Project’s executive director, Jackie Byers, told HuffPost on Monday ahead of the school board vote. “There is a different approach a lot of law enforcement have in dealing with Black and brown children, and even seeing them as children.”
While Black students make up about one-quarter of OUSD students, they represent nearly three-quarters of those arrested, per a 2018 report from the Black Organizing Project. The group and other community members marched on Tuesday in Oakland in support of removing police from schools.
The problem of racist policing in schools is certainly not restricted to Oakland. Black children, who only made up 16% of enrolled students nationwide in 2012, experienced 31% of arrests in schools, according to a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Education.
Research has shown that school cops can exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline, a phenomenon in which students ― often students of color ― are pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.
Byers said that dismantling OUSD’s police department is only the first step. Next, activists want to see the district invest in more school support staff, like social workers and mental health counselors.
Byers noted that a police presence “doesn’t make Black communities feel safer,” adding, “Whether you’re in your house or walking down the street or they approach you because they suspect you’ve done something — that encounter, no matter how you act, could result in your murder.”