Processing the deaths of people who look like us and those we love has been difficult for Black people across the country, especially students with limited agency. But our power is growing. Young people across the country have taken to the streets demanding to live in an America that values their lives, their ambitions, and their hopes.
For many of us who are students, re-imagining what it means to be Black in this country starts at our local schools where many of us have our most meaningful interactions with the outside world. Who we have in our classrooms matters— whether we are met with armed police or mental health professionals during our most formative years matters.
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and so many other innocent Black Americans have brought the mainstream up to pace: police officers do not keep communities safe. Citing a legacy of anti-blackness, gross abuse of power, and evidence that despite growing budgets and increased arrests communities are not safer, public and university officials in Minnesota and across the country have divested from police. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) must not be an exception.
During my time as the 2018-19 student member of the LAUSD Board, I learned an incredible amount about the needs of L.A. students and how district leaders strategize, plan, and act to meet those needs.
For too long, LAUSD has not met a need of mental health professionals, counselors, and social workers and has rather shown up with a 400-person police department that boasts a budget of $70 million. Police will no longer suffice in filling in the gaps left by severe underinvestment in generative social infrastructure. I join students, teachers, families, and the global movement for divestment from police and prisons in calling for police-free schools.
No amount of training and pedagogy shifts at the Los Angeles School Police Department can make sense of the fact that L.A. students have broader access to armed officers than critical mental health resources. In considering what should be cut in light of a COVID-19 impacted funding stream, school police should be the first to go. I call on district leaders—Superintendent Austin Buetner and the Board of Education—to divest from L.A. School Police with due speed and work with families, students, organizers, and policy professionals to create a generative framework for school safety and student success in Los Angeles.
Students deserve care, not cops.
Tyler Okeke is a student at the University of Chicago (’23). Okeke was the 2018-19 LAUSD student member of the board, where he represented the policy interests of the district's more than 600,000 students.