July 19, 2020
By Luis Alejandro

As demands to ‘defund the police’ grow alongside the Black Lives Matter movement, student activists have increasingly used the mantra in their own efforts. The calls to reallocate funds towards the community are now being applied to the budgets of school districts as their financial priorities are reexamined. Here in California, we’re seeing an outburst of community organizers creating a mass movement of youth that want change in their educational environments. Growing pressure from all corners of the state (specifically in our hometown of San Diego, which we’ll be focusing on) demands administrators to reevaluate the allocation of district funds to policing. Defund School Police SD, a local student run group, has recently worked to highlight the disproportionate punishment and criminalization of Black and Hispanic students accompanying a police presence on campus. Their calls for a complete reinvention of the education system’s approach to discipline have brought such discourse to the forefront of our communities.

Identifying themselves as both police and prison abolitionists, the group is committed to the demilitarization and decolonization of public schools. They have gained traction through social media and the influx of youth political activism that has been sparked by the recent surge in the Black Lives Matter movement. Through their social media presence, they have laid out their demands as the following:

  1. San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) divests completely from SDUSD PD.
  2. Reallocate funds to school-based social workers, psychologists, restorative justice practitioners and other mental or behavior health professionals.
  3. Require that teachers take conflict-resolution and cultural sensitivity training.
  4. Hire more Black, Indigenous and teachers of color.
  5. Create a community driven process for completing a revised District Safety plan.
  6. SDUSD adopts California Assembly Bill 2772 to make ethnic studies a high school graduation requirement.

These young, primarily black and brown revolutionaries have met the moment and are demanding change to better their community. The group has made a change.org petition, currently totaling over 3,000 signatures, that demands the school district break their contract with the San Diego Police Department.

As Defund School Police SD highlights, there are 227 schools in SDUSD but only 250 counselors for the entire district. Directing funding to policing, rather than addressing the lack of staffing in schools and adequately supporting our youth, puts students in danger and reinforces the school to prison pipeline. More counselors, more school psychologists and more people of color must be hired to even begin combating this discrepancy.

Since funding their school police department in 1984, SDUSD has sworn in a total of 37 officers and spent approximately $9.6 million during the 2019-20 school year alone (out of a $1.4 billion budget expected to support over 100,000 students). Defund School Police SD claims that by refusing to reallocate this funding towards the students, the district is hindering their learning environment. Nyadouth Gatkuoth, a student leader of the organization, reminds us in a San Diego ACLU Instagram post that “Black, brown and Indigenous students have some of the highest retention rates when it comes to college admission right out of high school. So if we do defund San Diego Police, we’re able to reallocate those funds back to counseling [where students are] able to utilize those resources.”

Defund School Police SD recently directed their efforts to organize a demonstration on July 2nd, with over 200 people protesting at SDUSD’s headquarters and calling for the complete defunding of the district’s school police force. Many attendees agreed that students should be given the opportunity to focus solely on their education, rather than worrying about whether they could be arrested at school due to racial profiling.

Michael Marquez, police Chief of the SDUSD PD, said that his and his colleagues' job is to keep students safe and out of harm's way, helping them create a more positive perception of policing by building relationships with the students. While officials often claim that school police are used as a means to protect against external threats, several analyses reveal that having police in schools ultimately leads to more arrests and disciplining of students, particularly affecting Black students disproportionately. According to a KPBS analysis of the SDUSD PD arrest data, their research concluded that Black students were four times more likely to be detained than their white counterparts. For students of color, the police force cannot cultivate feelings of security while it statistically discriminates against them.

While this is still the beginning of the movement for SDUSD, recent victories for defunding school police throughout California have shown that resistance is not futile. The Los Angeles Unified School District cut its police budget by $25 million in the last month. Additionally, the school police chief of the Oakland Unified School District resigned less than 24 hours after the board voted to entirely remove its police force from schools. Regardless of criticisms for being ‘too radical’ or ‘unrealistic’, the latest fights to protect students of color are strong and powerful. While SDUSD has not yet responded in a productive way to groups like Defund School Police SD, our community’s demands will only become more difficult to ignore.

To support Defund Police SD, please sign their petition here. Follow their Instagram @defundschoolpolice.sd, where you can find the latest updates on how you can help the cause. Make your voice heard and enact the change you want to see in your communities.

​Edited by Bella Perreira