Tens of thousands of people continued to march all across Chicagoland to demand an end to police violence and increased accountability over the weekend, including a group of a few hundred on Chicago’s Southwest side on Saturday morning who marched to demand the Chicago Public Schools cancel its contract with the Chicago Police Department.
Hundreds of teachers, students, and members of several neighborhood activist groups met at two neighborhood schools – Kelly High School in Brighton Park and Harper High School in Englewood for rallies before marches that converged on Gage Park High School in Gage Park.
Demonstrators chanted things like “backup backup we want freedom, freedom, all these racist officers we don’t need ‘em, need ‘em,” “counselors not cops,” and “no justice, no peace, defund the police.”
— Aaron Cynic (@aaroncynic) June 6, 2020
Organizers of the actions say that the $33 million the District spends to have officers in Chicago’s schools would be better spent on resources like nurses, counselors, trauma supports and restorative justice programs.
“We demand that the Chicago Board of Education does not renew the $33 million a year contract with the Chicago Police Department, said Diana Guzman, a senior at John Hancock Prep and member of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and Police Free Schools Coalition. Guzman appeared with other students, teachers, and community members in a press conference broadcast over Zoom as people were assembling in the streets. She said that the call to have police free schools from some groups began in 2017 when activists say they noticed “the way police officers were causing harm to students,” along with drastic cuts to other programs, and an air of fear in reporting incidents.
“We noticed students and teachers were afraid to share their stories and report the officers in their schools,” said Guzman. “We also noticed abrupt cuts to major essential resources that our schools needed – art programs, librarians, full time nurses, counselors, etc. Rather than investing in critical components that make up a school there was an overwhelming leap in the amount of money the city invested in police. When discussing police in schools it’s vital to understand that the cops placed in our hallways are the same police officers that are violently patrolling our streets and racially profiling harassing and killing black and brown youth.”
Ling Young, a senior at Hyde Park Academy, talked about the differences between CPS and the middle school she attended in a more rural area of Illinois prior to moving to Chicago.
“I’ve never seen a police officer in our school. I never interacted with the police in Urbana. They never came to our school,” Young said. “I’ve never seen them but once I started my first four years in high school I started to see police officers more often. We had four police officers stationed in our school, 13 around our school. I felt like everytime I went to school I did something.”
In addition to Chicago Police officers, Young said her school also has 17 security guards.
The Chicago Teachers Union has also thrown its support behind the effort.
“Last year, CPS took $33 million from classrooms to pay for police in schools. Those funds should have been invested in school nurses, social workers, counselors and trauma supports in school communities suffering from trauma and economic hardship,” said CTU President Jesse Sharkey in a statement emailed to the press on Friday. “Instead, CPS continues to channel resources into policing, making students feel even less safe and undermining their education. This must end. Our students need adequately resourced public schools that provide education, nurturing and support.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said however that there are no plans to cancel that contract. “Unfortunately, we need security in our schools,” Lightfoot said at a press conference on Friday. “We spent a lot of time a year ago working through challenges we had seen with police officers in our schools.”
All photos by Aaron Cynic.
Officials with CPS say that the District “values the feedback” they’re receiving from the community and committed to a continuing dialogue about School Resource Officers. Both the District and CPD say they have feedback sessions planned for the next school year.
“Moving forward we will continue to create forums for formal feedback and engagement so that we can respond to the needs of each school community,” CPS Chief of Safety and Security Jadine Chou said in a statement to WTTW.