On June 7, the Minneapolis City Council announced its plan to disband the police force, setting off a wave of national coverage and support, with some cities, like Seattle, launching efforts to do the same, while others began taking steps to redirect money set aside for police into community resources.
The movement to defund the police has had unprecedented support across the country, as citizens in several states call for abolishing or diminishing the police presence rather than reforming the police. And while the city of Minneapolis is now considered a vanguard in this national effort, less acknowledged is its public school system, which has been several steps ahead.
Schools in Minneapolis had already made the decision to cut ties with the Minnesota Police Department (MPD) in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. On May 27, the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities announced that it would be severely limiting its contact with the MPD and would no longer have police work security at football games and concerts. On June 2, the city’s public school board unanimously approved a resolution to end the district’s contract with the MPD that allowed officers on campus as school security.
Both decisions were largely driven by student pressure and were the result of several years of student activism.
According to Kim Ellison, the chair of the Minneapolis board of education for Minneapolis public schools, the Minneapolis school board was already hesitant to renew its three-year contract with the MPD in August after several complaints from students and staff about the police presence on campus. After George Floyd was killed by Minnesota police, however, the board knew it could no longer allow police on campus.
“We will no longer be funding the Minnesota police and there will no longer be police presence on campus, as the MPD does not share our values,” Ellison told The Nation. “Our budget to the police was $1.3 million last year alone. We’re now hoping to redirect those funds into our schools and our community.”
According to Ellison, several other school districts both in Minneapolis and outside the state have reached out to the Minneapolis school board saying they are also interested in removing police from their campus.
In K-12 schools, increased police presence on campus has been linked to the school-to-prison-pipeline, a disturbing trend where children in low-income and heavily policed public schools that use a “zero-tolerance” punitive policy are funneled into juvenile detention centers at rapid rates. For this reason, many educational experts believe that reducing the police presence on campus will also reduce crime.
“In recent years the school-to-prison pipeline has been expanding because schools are installing things like metal detectors and broadening relationships with cops,” K Agbebiyi, a social worker and abolitionist organizer based in New York, told The Nation. “This leads to kids being funneled into the system a lot more rapidly, and affects black and low income students the most.”
In Minneapolis, many students feel that removing police from the campus will make them feel more safe. Nathaniel Greene, a black junior at Washburn High School and a student representative on the Minneapolis Board of Education, told The Nation that students in the city have been advocating the removal of police for many years and were instrumental in the district’s recent successes. Greene said he’s very glad that his school will be removing Student Resource Officers (SROs), sworn law enforcement officers that act as security guards on campus.
“I just can’t imagine a positive school climate with SROs in it at any school in the district, but especially in Minneapolis,” Greene said. “In the three months we’ve been out of school, students have been pepper-sprayed and teargassed by the police or have seen the National Guard or the KKK rolling down their neighborhood. Police presence doesn’t make any of us feel safer, and I’m glad we no longer have to deal with it in school.”
Students at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities (UMN) feel similarly. After George Floyd was killed by Minnesota police officers, UMN student body president Jael Kerandi e-mailed the president of her university demanding that the school cut ties with the Minnesota police. The letter received more than 2,000 signatures within 24 hours, and the university eventually agreed to the demand by severing several ties with UMPD.
“The trend and history of the MPD is not in line with values and ethics of a land grant institution such as the University of Minnesota,” Kerandi explained to The Nation. “All too often black students have felt uncomfortable with police presence. The catalyst was the murder of George Floyd and the countless lives that have been lost senselessly and needlessly at the murderous hands of police officers. Enough is enough.”
“I feel this was a wise decision from our current student body president, Jael Kerandi, a black woman who understands the magnitude of their increased presence on a campus this large,” Angela Twumasi, a sophomore at UMN, said of the university’s decision to cut ties with local police. “There is a long history of harassment and police brutality on campus especially toward black students, and allowing them to carry firearms, when the school doesn’t allow anyone who steps foot on campus property to possess a weapon or firearm is quite counterintuitive to the school’s policy. By erasing ties between the MPD and UMPD on campus, students of color, especially black students, can feel a little safer on campus.”
Though many students in Minnesota seem to view the defunding or removal of police from campus as a success, some administrators feel there are still some hurdles ahead. “As a board, we’ve definitely been wondering what to do next year if a fight breaks out or a student brings a weapon to school, for example,” Ellison said. “Part of our resolution mandates that the superintendent comes up with a plan to reallocate funds so that we can find ways to handle these situations without the police as a community.”
Across the board, students have largely driven conversations about removing police from schools. In the wake of the Minneapolis school board’s decision to defund the police, Portland public schools also decided to remove police from campus on June 4. This decision was the culmination of an 18-month, largely student-driven campaign. At Princeton University, students similarly organized to convince the administration to cut several ties with on-campus police officers. And on June 16, Columbus City Schools announced that it will be holding off on renewing its contract with police after demands from students and families.
As this wave continues, community groups who have long demanded cutting schools’ ties with police have found their demands gaining renewed strength. Meyiya Coleman, a Chicago youth organizer, told Chalkbeat Chicago that Minneapolis Public School’s decision created the perfect moment to reassert their demands. “Now is the time,” she said.