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 Photo: Courtesy Wade Kyle

Photo: Courtesy Wade Kyle

Tuesday marked the first day of summer vacation and I took to the streets to march for student rights. I drove to Miguel Contras Learning Center in Los Angeles, expecting to hear UTLA’s new president, Cecily Myart Cruz, speak on defunding the police. Something entirely different took place.

I saw people of all ages in the crowd—Whites, Blacks, LatinX, old and young, crowding the downtown streets on a muggy Tuesday. Many came with homemade signs calling for social change. A sea of homemade art flooded the street with progressive messages: “Defund the Police,” “Black Lives Matter,” “End Systematic Racism.” UTLA president Cecily Myart Cruz and former UTLA president Alex Caputo Perl, both great public speakers in their own rights, were in attendance; however, it was Sarah who stole the show. (UTLA is the United Teachers of Los Angeles, an increasingly progressive and powerful teachers union.)

While many adults with fancy job titles and credentials argue over how to defund police programs in schools, these students and the stories they had to tell most clearly articulated the issue.

Sarah Djato is a 16-year-old Dorsey High graduate. Let me say it again: Sarah Daito is a 16-year-old high school graduate. She and many other students came from LA’s Crenshaw district—the heart of Black LA—to speak about their experiences in high school. While many adults with fancy job titles and credentials argue over how to defund police programs in schools, these students and the stories they had to tell most clearly articulated the issue.

Sarah spoke about a time when a fight broke out on her campus last year. The school police responded with pepper spray that hit her friends on their way to class. She said the police sprayed everyone in the area, regardless of who was actually fighting. In fact, the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) confirmed the incident in a report to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). A LAUSD spokesperson said there were 34 documented uses of pepper spray out of 188 total use-of-force incidents over the last three years. This overly aggressive approach demonstrates why we cannot trust police to shape the lives of our youth.

Sarah stated, “There are many other ways to take care of situations like fights that happen on our campuses—like restorative justice, or giving students opportunities to talk about what they’re going through rather than policing them.” However, “policing” is what police are trained and funded to do.

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Recently, the UTLA board of directors agreed with student activists like Sarah by announcing a 35-2 vote to eliminate the LASPD budget and redirect those funds to support community schools. UTLA’s goal is to redirect those funds to support students by focusing on preventative care, funding social programs like mental health workers and counselors.

Teachers in Los Angeles have long struggled with the presence of police at school sites. Some argue police presence is positive, while others feel it makes students and families feel unsafe. UTLA’s efforts to join educational leaders across the U.S. to cut ties with law enforcement is a step towards getting more support for students and less policing of students.

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As a teacher, I support cutting ties with law enforcement because I feel a school is a safe place your children go for their education. It is not a place to be policed. Students are watching the news and social media. Teachers should want to be a part of what their students’ are experiencing. Teachers like Noah Lipp-Kien, seen in green Doresy tshirt, who not only cares but shows it by empowering his students to make a change. As a parent, teacher, or school district if you don’t show you care, you will lose students' trust. How can they learn from you, if they don’t trust you? Investing around $70 million in school police and weapons shows a lack of trust. Sarah ended it best: “Weapons just shouldn’t be used on children.”

Tuesday’s march shows she is not the only one who feels that way.

wade kyle

Wade Kyle
LA Progressive, Community Editor

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