Lessons Learned from School Site Fights to Defund Police

Editor's Note:

Since 2015 parents from SOMOS Mayfair have been leading the movement to Defund School Resource Officers - this past July they successfully defunded the police in the Alum Rock Union School District. Here are the lessons learned and how they make space for new leaders in this moment of uprising.

The George Floyd public assassination has propelled our nation into a wave of activism and many organizers have welcomed “new leaders” into our movements because our role is to empower each other and support each other and organize. The horrific assassination of George Floyd along with the San Jose based police assassinations (Anthony Nuñez, Jessica Vasquez, Antonio Lopez Guzman, Phillip Watkins and many more) has propelled BIPOC and white teachers, parents, community activists to increase the call to defund Police officers/SRO’s in our schools’ districts. On July 9th, 2020, SOMOS Mayfair organizers, parents, teachers, college professors and former ARUSD students successfully defunded Police officers/SROs.

This victory for ARUSD families and the greater East San Jose community was possible through the years of community organizing by organizations like Debug, the historical contributions of all East Side organizing groups and the legacy of community safety in our movements. As someone who has worked at SOMOS Mayfair for over 6 years, this is also a victory by dedicated parent organizers throughout our collective. These are mainly Spanish speaking mothers, fathers and students who have put in the work to organize to yearly cut the Police officers/SROs since 2015 and advocated for restorative justice and other alternative solutions. In the process we have learned about the school system, its budgets, its strengths and weakness and how to organize as part of larger movement for justice. 

In 2014, our organizing became involved in a school budget process called the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). LCFF is a funding mechanism that is supposed to empower parents and student decision making and ensure school districts with large populations of low income, foster care, and English learners receive additional funds to offset the years of racist funding by the state of California. At the time we struggled with LCFF and we saw many of our peer organizations give up on organizing around a “boring” budget process. However, over the years we developed an understanding of the importance of learning how to manage, prioritize and redistribute resources through budgets. We have seen how centering race and economic justice we can redistribute resources so our students could be on a path for success. We also learned about districts using innovative approaches where programs like restorative justice, ethnic studies and entire departments have been funded to the success of Black, Chicano and Asian-American students through LCFF funds. And at the same time, we learned that many school districts used LFCC funds in their budgets to hire and even arm police departments, increase cameras and prison like security systems, and pad their administrator salaries.

Despite the purpose our school budgets being explicitly focused on improving the educational outcomes of Black, Indigenous-Chicano Students of Color, many school boards misuse our student funds to sustain the status quo, push forward with false solutions and sustain the oppression we face. While our school boards are facing drastic budget downfalls cutting teacher positions, defunding libraries services, cutting student services, closing down school boards has been a priority while at the same time police officer contracts have remained intact. It should make everyone angry to know that the San Jose city budget allocates $449 million dollars per year to the police department, yet police officers charge schools for a public service. It should make you wonder why our school boards are complicit to pay police department with our school budgets. Why are they using solutions that have been proven to hurt our communities? Why are they focused on punishment and treating our children like criminals? Why are they so invested in funding police while our parents and teachers selling food and chocolates so our students can have simple fieldtrip? Why are they trying to sustain police contracts despite the nation-wide murders by police officers?

In the next couple of months, we will see more school districts move away from funding Police officers/SRO’s in their school districts. Parents, students, teachers and community organizations should demand that there are community lead oversight committees for safety and other programs. And we should continue to show solidarity to destroy the relationship between policing, schools and prisons. We must expand our analysis to see the connection between policing, truancy offices, military recruiters, juvenile detention centers, prisons, ICE and the overall military complex. We cannot continue to glorify or encourage our students to enlist in these forces, in fact we must boycott enlisting in these forces.

We must take our lessons learn from the school site fights and apply them to our cities and counties struggles and pressure politicians create equity budgets focused on the People’s needs. We need racial and economic justice centered budgets that fund community control of public housing, counseling services, art programs, restorative justice, education, cooperative early education, free childcare, direct income stipend, free public transportation, a cancellation of due rent, a publicly owned internet corporation, cooperative medical clinics and increase funding to cover all emergencies.

We, as organizers, must continue to walk along with The People, move at the speed of trust of the masses, support the leadership of others, and take on struggles that we can win and build momentum. Collectively we can uphold this moment of local and national uprising locally and push for world where new possibilities are being imagined, were our resources are used for the common good, and where our institutions serve the needs, liberation, hopes and dreams of our students and families and not the interest of corporations, oppressive forces, and false solutions.

Related Media:
Stop Criminalizing & Start Helping: Remove School Resource Officers & Law Enforcement from San Jose Schools, Invest In Our Future
What Public Safety Is & What Public Safety Is Not
A Hunger Strike, A Deficit, and Santa Clara County's Moment of Decarceration