By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
As sad as a fact as it may be, students at Milwaukee Public Schools were accustomed to seeing officers from the Milwaukee Police Department at their schools. The police’s constant presence was due to a partnership between MPS and MPD, but earlier this week, that partnership came to an end.
On Thursday, June 18, MPS held a meeting to discuss its relationship with the MPD. After hearing from students, the board unanimously agreed that police officers will no longer patrol outside of the school.
This decision is following a nationwide movement in which many organizations and districts are reexamining their relationship with local police following the killing of George Floyd last month by a Minneapolis police officer. The Journal Sentinel reported that over $1 million was spent on police contracts for the 2019-2020 school year. Half of it went towards school resource officers and some went towards a state-mandated truancy and anti-burglary initiative.
The partnership between MPS and MPD was called into the light in large part due to the work of Leaders Igniting Transformation, a local advocacy group comprised of youth. The group, also known as LIT, held a rally on Wednesday, June 17 outside of MPS central offices.
In a Facebook post following the rally the group wrote: “We as an organization know that the relationship between MPS & MPD has a mental, emotion and physical impact on students of color ESPECIALLY our Black students. To reimagine an education system that values compassion and resilience over criminalization and policing takes community power and we saw that tonight.”
The meeting, which took place virtually, was livestreamed on YouTube on the Milwaukee Public School’s YouTube page.
Board members Sequanna Taylor and Paula Phillips put forth the resolution.
This is a conversation that has been brought up before, Taylor said, citing the school to prison pipeline. There can be a relationship with the police, but it can take place in the community not in schools, she said. She added that students have asked that funding be directed towards other measures such as counseling or mental health services.
“If we’re going to address and have our students ready for success then we need to have them in an environment that is successful,” Taylor said. “I’ve heard from many students that having police inside the schools does not present a positive effect.”
Adding, “While I understand the need for the Milwaukee Police Department, I do not understand the need for them to be directly inside of our schools.”
Phillips likewise noted that this conversation has been going on for a while. While in the past options such as having the police come in civilian clothing was suggested, the students made their voices clear: no police.
“There’s only so many times we can try to make an old system work,” she said.
The board has continually divested from this contract over the past three years, Phillips noted.
“After receiving hundreds of people tell us that they don’t want their tax dollars that they’re allocating for schools to go towards police officers we have to respond and say ‘Yes, we understand that,’” she said.
“We all have complicated relationships [with the police] based on where we live, the way that we look, the way that we’re treated in society,” she said.
The board then heard testimony.
According to the Journal Sentinel, over two dozen speakers registered to share their testimony during Thursday’s meeting and over 700 more shared their thoughts through email and letters.
MPD released a statement titled “MPD will continue to support MPS and MPS students” and read as follows:
“The Milwaukee Police Department fully supports the Milwaukee Public School system if it decides to remove all School Resource Officers from its schools. We agree with the many voices from our community who believe that the funding should be reinvested into our public-school system to support social services. Regardless of the vote, MPD will continue to support MPS and MPS students.”
Following MPS’s decision, LIT went to Facebook and wrote, “Tonight they passed a resolution that calls for the termination of police contracts and cease contracts to buy criminalizing equipment like metal detectors. This is the BEGINNING of setting a new standard of how we invest in students’ futures and putting an END to the school-to-prison-to-deportation pipeline!”