The Milwaukee School Board unanimously voted Thursday night to end contracts with the Milwaukee Police Department. Board members said they've repeatedly heard from students who say they feel criminalized by the presence of police at schools.
MPS Board Member Sequanna Taylor was a co-author of the resolution. She listed the names of people of color who were killed by police and said she worries about her 14-year-old black son.
“He could easily be one of these young men that were mistaken because of his size or because of his color,” Taylor said. “I could have been planning his funeral instead of his future.”
The move to cut ties with police was somewhat symbolic because according to MPS Chief Financial Officer Martha Kreitzman, less than $200,000 was left for those contracts in the upcoming school year. The board had already significantly reduced police spending in recent years.
But advocates say taking this step is still important. Cendi Tena is with Leaders Igniting Transformation, a youth advocacy group that has pushed MPS to divest from police for more than two years.
“This is more than about money,” Tena said. “This is about black and brown students, and them being able to go to school without fearing that the police is going to be called on them.”
MPS received nearly 1,000 comments on the issue of police divestment. Most supported ending the contracts. Former teacher Samantha Tess testified about watching a student get arrested at school – and the impact on other students.
“I have never, before or since, seen a room full of more terrified children,” Tess said. "Faces of pain and literal shaking, weeping terror."
The contracts affected by this vote pay for after-school police patrols and so-called “school resource officers.” The officers are not stationed inside schools day-to-day. Instead, they serve as a response team when there is a police call on school grounds.
No one spoke in defense of the police contracts at Thursday’s meeting. Even the MPD released a statement making no argument but saying it will support MPS no matter the decision.
"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," the MPD statement said.
MPD will continue to support MPS and MPS students pic.twitter.com/CSfQXZaRVE
— Milwaukee Police (@MilwaukeePolice) June 18, 2020
Thursday’s board action doesn’t completely sever ties with MPD. There is one state-mandated contract in which MPS pays $400,000 for “truancy abatement” officers. The school board intends to get legal advice on whether it can pull out of that contract.
The board also plans to keep talking about the use of metal detectors at schools. The resolution approved Thursday stops the district from purchasing any new equipment, but board members are split on whether to stop using the security measures altogether.
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