The Learning Curve: Defund Police Movement Comes to San Diego Schools - Voice of San Diego

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The Learning Curve: Defund Police Movement Comes to San Diego Schools

Growing pressure from all corners of the state and within San Diego Unified is forcing a conversation about whether money the district spends on its police force might be better spent elsewhere.

Students marched outside San Diego Unified School District’s headquarters to demand that police officers be removed from local schools. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

San Diego Unified – like some other California school districts – has its own police force. But growing pressure from all corners of the state, and also within the district, is forcing a conversation about whether that money for cops might be better spent elsewhere.

The district has roughly 49 officers and other police employees and spends at least $6 million per year on salaries alone.

On Thursday, more than 200 students and supporters gathered on the grassy, palm tree-lined lawn of San Diego Unified’s headquarters to demand school leaders defund the police and use the savings on education.

Two young Black activists – one wearing a BLM armband and a bucket hat – stood on the edge of the lawn taking questions from local TV crews.

One cameraman asked how schools would be protected from mass shootings with no police on campus.

“They’re not making us feel safe,” said one of the activists. “They’re making us feel unsafe and creating a toxic environment. In a shooting situation, they’re still only a phone call away.”

In a split vote, Los Angeles Unified cut its police budget by $25 million earlier this week. The school police chief resigned less than 24 hours later. And Oakland Unified voted to entirely remove its police force from schools the prior week.

San Diego Unified’s board of trustees has made no indication it will move to defund police. Board vice president Richard Barrera told KPBS he supports the spirit of the movement, but not actually defunding the police.

“I can guarantee that the process we go through in our district is not a process that’s intended to delay change,” Barrera said. “It’s a process that’s intended to make sure the change is the right change.”

That message was not in line with protesters’ demands Thursday.

“Welcome to the motherfuckin’ revolution!!” shouted one student activist into a bullhorn to kick off the demonstration. The atmosphere was loud and joyous as the activists led a march around district headquarters for more than an hour.

After the march, the crowd gathered back on the lawn to listen to speakers. One talked about disparities in discipline for Black students.

“We have seen disgusting, inhumane videos of young Black girls and Black boys in kindergarten who threw tantrums and were handcuffed to desks. That is disgusting!” she said.

Earlier this week, I wrote about deep disparities in suspensions across San Diego County. No other racial group is more likely to be suspended than Black students – only Native American students come close. Several parents spoke of kindergarten suspensions that stuck with their children for years.

KPBS also detailed how Black youth are four times more likely to be detained by school police than White students.

“There’s no reason for me to walk into school and see Black bodies being thrown on the ground by police forces,” said Nyaduoth Gatkuoth, a 2019 Morse High graduate.

Nyaduoth Gatkuoth, center, marches with other activists to demand that police officers be removed from local schools. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

“There is no reason for me to have to put on my White voice,” she said, switching into a Valley girl accent. “Hey guys. Hey officer, don’t hit him. Hey officer, don’t kill him. … Fuck that.”

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