Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) commends the Minneapolis public school board for its unanimous vote last week to end financial ties with the Minneapolis Police Department after yet another unarmed Black man, George Floyd, was murdered by police. With support of students and the Minneapolis teachers union, the school board said that the Minneapolis Police Department’s recent actions “run directly counter to the values of the District.” This is a victory for the Black students of Minneapolis and a call to action for all other communities to do the same.
LCR urges Massachusetts school districts and universities—particularly those with large minority populations, such as Boston, Worcester, Springfield, Cambridge, and Lowell—to immediately stand up against police brutality by following Minneapolis’ example.
At a minimum, all school districts must immediately begin the process of reviewing and restructuring all their ties and contracts with city police departments to reduce police presence and to limit reliance on law enforcement, all with the goal of urgently dismantling and eradicating racial disparities and inequities. Instead of using scarce taxpayer dollars on police contracts, schools must invest those resources in social-emotional support services both now during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future.
Already, Clark University in Massachusetts has taken the critical step of severing ties with the Worcester Police Department after at least four of its students were arrested during a peaceful protest. Representatives of the school explained, “the police actions we have witnessed are unacceptable and a source of dismay to all within our community. We share the anger and concern over these actions.” LCR applauds Clark University and implores more universities and public school districts to follow suit.
All students deserve to feel safe, and police presence in schools prevents students of color from learning in a positive and secure environment. It is well known that having police in schools contributes to Black students being pushed out of the classroom and into the school-to-prison pipeline. In recent years, students of color have been repeatedly traumatized each time another person who looks like them—or their father, mother, brother, or sister—is senselessly murdered at the hands of the police. When police unions refuse to stand up against the hate and the violence, their silence sends the message that they condone the toxic mix of racism and violence. As a result, students of color do not feel safe or supported by law enforcement, and continued police presence in their schools will only retraumatize already vulnerable youth.
This is especially true in Boston where the Boston Police Department’s (BPD) union, the Boston Police Patrolmen Association (BPPA), has repeatedly taken extreme positions that undermine their responsibility to protect and serve the community. The BPPA’s statements against Black Lives Matter at School Week and against protests sparked by Mr. Floyd’s murder are divisive and dangerous to the community, especially to young students of color. The trust is broken, and there is no other option but to take police out of our schools. BPS spends over $4 million dollars to employ school police officers who must be licensed through BPD—this is unacceptable in the current climate.
Just like Minneapolis and Clark University, school districts across Massachusetts must show their Black students that they matter by ending their ties with police. Across the Commonwealth, school districts and educational institutions have a duty to ensure a positive and safe learning environment for all students. Now is the time to adopt a new model of safety for our schools—and until there is widespread, systematic change, that model cannot include police.