United Teachers Los Angeles as a union, and whose individual members are citizens of our Los Angeles communities, must be explicitly and organizationally anti-racist. UTLA has been a leading voice in the call for social and racial justice, and now we need to deepen that work. The students we teach are more than 88% students of color, and LAUSD serves more Black students than any school district in the state of California, and more than most districts across the country. The recent police violence and murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade have impacted us as educators, our students, and the communities we live and teach in. Seeing these murders has caused trauma, grief, pain, and anger. It is our responsibility as a union, just as some unions stood up during the Civil Rights movement, to denounce the police violence and stand with and in the Black Lives Matter movement. Because we have the power of a large organization, we carry an awesome and special responsibility to build the movement for Black Lives in this moment and in the future to change conditions in our society.
Last week, UTLA joined with more than 20 community, labor, policy, and academic organizations to endorse immediate “first step” demands to combat anti-Black racism and address policing, including stopping the armed occupation of neighborhoods, launching an investigation of excessive use of force by LAPD at peaceful protests, reducing spending on the police, investing money in overpoliced, high-needs communities, and exploring alternatives to policing to keep the public safe.
These demands follow the overwhelming endorsement by our House of Representatives of Black Lives Matter LA’s demands in light of COVID-19 and rates of black death. These demands were developed by a coalition of more than 50 Black Los Angeles-based community leaders. Included are both immediate demands meant for emergency implementation during the coronavirus crisis, and long-term demands, necessary to eradicate the underlying conditions that are at the root of the disproportionate impact of the public health crisis and economic fallout on Black lives. Read the full demands here.
The first step is being willing to have that conversation and recognize that it is not always easy, but that is why we have to have it. You may want to start the conversation by asking how your colleagues think our students experience racism and its impacts on their lives. You could remind them of how much support we received from the community during our strike, because the community understood it as a strike for social justice. The struggle for Black lives is inextricably woven with the struggle for quality public schools. In a school district like LAUSD, with 88% students of color, education is a racial justice issue and our school budgets are one reflection of the amount of racial justice in our society. You may want to remind them that saying Black Lives Matter does not mean that their life matters less — it means that the lives of Black people are under attack and need to be lifted up as equal and important to the lives of non-Black people. When someone’s house is on fire, you have the obligation to help put that fire out. We are an organization of 34,000 educators with real power in this city, and we have an obligation to stand up to anti-Black racism and police violence.
Listen to Black people and listen carefully for what is said and not said. Do not make demands of Black people or tell them what to do or feel; just listen. If you have strong feelings that arise from what you hear, take care of yourself and do not make Black people responsible for your emotional reaction. Do your own ongoing work of healing and personal growth. Organize with others in your family and community. Support and amplify Black voices who call for racial justice and healing.
There are so many ways to be a part of the movement for Black lives. Everyone can contribute toward victory and genuine justice.
Immediate ways to be a part of the movement for Black Lives include:
If you have a resource you think we should share, email firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: Racial Justice Resource.
That is the stated intent of the police department and undoubtedly the intentions of many who go into public service. Some of our members have worked positively with school police officers and have law enforcement in the family. But we have to look at both intentions and impacts, and it’s clear that the institution of policing is failing our most vulnerable communities. This year, American police have already killed more than 500 people. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by the police than White people, and 99% of police killings have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime (2013-2019).
In Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd was killed, the school district has canceled its contract with the police department. Portland Public Schools in Oregon announced it will no longer have police patrol its halls and will increase spending on social workers, counselors, and culturally specific supports for students. Other districts across the country — including in Arizona, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, New York, and Illinois — are exploring similar actions.
This week, the UTLA Board of Directors overwhelmingly endorsed a call to eliminate the LA School Police budget and redirect those funds into the expansion of Community Schools, especially in schools with higher numbers of Black students, and supports for students such as psychiatric social workers, pupil services and attendance counselors, school counselors, nurses, and other crucial direct student services. The UTLA Racial Justice Task Force is developing education pieces to create a dialogue with members at all school sites around these goals, and we are talking with our labor partners, the school district, our chapter leaders, and the House of Representatives about this motion. To become formal UTLA policy, the Board motion must be passed by the UTLA House of Representatives. The House will consider the motion at its June 25 meeting.
If our goal is to educate young people, then we must create an environment of love, trust, and respect. Research shows that having police in schools has a negative impact on student learning and makes kids feel unsafe. Read some of the research here, here, and here and an overview here. The impact of school policing on our students is that it serves to funnel young people, mostly Black and Brown, into the school-to-prison pipeline. Behaviors that should be addressed within the school community are instead outsourced to police, and such infractions create a record that follows a young person throughout their educational career and limits the scope of their opportunities.
We need to think differently about what our students need. Black and Brown kids in more challenging situations do not need police to make them “act right.” Fully funded community schools and educator teams are the answer to keeping our schools safe. Students need smaller class sizes, counselors, social workers, mental health services, conflict resolution support, homeless coordinators, talking circles, restorative justice, peer counseling and mediation, enrichment opportunities, and mentors to help them. For the community, meeting Common Good demands, like expanding affordable housing, job opportunities, and healthcare for Black people, will build stronger neighborhoods.