Annysa Johnson and Rory Linnane, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Milwaukee Public Schools would end the use of school resource officers outside its buildings under a proposal to be taken up Thursday, becoming the latest district to consider severing contracts with local police in the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody last month.
On Wednesday,hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the district's north side administrative offices to voice their support for the plan during a rally organized by the youth advocacy group Leaders Igniting Transformation.
"Our voices need to be heard, and this movement needs to bring change," said Roshonti Smith, a 16-year-old student and member of LIT.
Posting police officers outside schools "is not making us feel safe or protected. It's adding tension and aggression to the situation," she said. "The tension between police and students is very bad. On the streets, you're killing us and now you're (at) our schools, which is supposed to be our safe haven."
|Demonstrators gather outside Milwaukee Public Schools administrative offices Wednesday to support a resolution ending district contracts with the Milwaukee Police Department for resource officers. (Photo: Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)|
The resolution, which will be taken up by the school board, calls for MPS to terminate all contracts with the Milwaukee Police Department for school resource officers. It would also end the buying and maintaining of "criminalizing equipment," such as metal detectors, and facial recognition and social media monitoring software.
Those funds, nearly $500,000 a year for the police contracts alone, would be invested in such things as training in restorative practices and Violence Free Zone programming and mentors.
"It's come to the point with demands across the country that policing has to be approached in a different way," MPS School Board President Larry Miller, who has endorsed the proposal, said Wednesday.
"Saving this funding will help the district head in the right direction," Miller said. "It doesn't come close to giving us the investment our children deserve in these areas. But it's a step."
MPS is the state's largest district, serving almost 75,000 mostly low-income children of color.
Unlike many districts that employ school resource officers, MPS does not post them inside its buildings. It ended that practice in 2016 in response to complaints about police unnecessarily citing and arresting students for incidents that could have been handled by the district.
Today, it funds the salaries and benefits of several officers — the Milwaukee Police Department funds others — who patrol the neighborhoods around some schools, respond quickly if called and stand watch outside buildings at the end of the school day.
Those officers are supposed to have specialized training in de-escalation and restorative practice techniques and working with young people, according to Miller.