Fight over weapons in LAUSD not over, group says
Mike Szymanski | March 11, 2016
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A civic group protesting the military-style weapons once held by LA Unified police said they will continue to disrupt meetings and hold demonstrations until they get answers and action.
The group, Fight for the Soul of the Cities, took over a committee meeting at the LA Unified school board headquarters last month, and this week held a loud protest of about 50 students, parents and teachers outside Tuesday’s board meeting shouting chants and banging drums.
“We do not believe that the district has taken away all the weapons, and we are asking for more,” said the group’s director of organizing, Manuel Criollo. “We will not stop the protests and disruptions.”
The group is protesting the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which allowed surplus military equipment to be used by the schools. It was a solution for unused equipment by President Obama’s administration to help small police agencies.
“We do not believe that they sneaked the guns away in the middle of the night, we need proof of that,” said Criollo, who doesn’t believe the district’s answer that they are no longer involved with the program.
At one point, under Superintendent John Deasy, the school police force had a small tank (more accurately, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) and automatic weapons as well as three grenade launchers.
LA Unified Police Chief Steven Zipperman stated that on Feb. 5, “the last remaining ‘1033’ equipment items within the LASPD inventory (rifles) were returned to the inventory of the Defense Distribution Depot.”
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, P.J. Webb, president of the Los Angeles School Police Management Association, said, “Your police department is completely out of the Department of Justice’s 1033 program, the chief has returned the last of the equipment, and we are done with this.”
Webb said the rifles and other equipment were old and worn out and weren’t usable anyway, and they became a distraction for the board because of the protests. “It caused such a disruption for this board.” He noted the positive programs the police force has been involved in around restorative justice, a reduction in arrests and suspensions and confiscating hundreds of weapons on or near campus each year preventing possible tragedies.
“Let’s focus on providing quality education and put this to rest,” Webb said.
Alex Caputo-Pearl , president of the UTLA teachers’ union, asked the school board to take a national leadership role on the issue and said, “Positive work can be done with the students and community organizations.”
He wrote a letter in support to the school board and superintendent stating, “At a time when the national political debate is poisoned with explicit attacks on communities of color and tremendously dangerous racialized language and policy proposals, LAUSD could make a powerful statement that we need more support for our students and our communities, rather than investments in chilling programs like the 1033 program.”
Criollo said he asked the school board members to suspend their meeting at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday to come out to meet with the students and talk to them at a nearby grassy area. (The school board meeting lasted until after 8 p.m.)
“They are always telling young people to take responsibility for themselves, and the board is not taking their own responsibility by refusing to meet here with us,” said Criollo said, who pointed out that the students at the protest were from all across the district, from the west side to South Central. “We are not finished, we want a public apology.”
The group is also asking for the school police force to be reduced be half, reparations by cutting all school police weapons by 50 percent, and a response from President Obama that the 1033 program will be terminated.
Eric Mann, the executive director of the group, which is sponsored by the Labor/Community Strategy Center, led the disruption at the Committee of the Whole last month, challenging school board member George McKenna, who was advised of the planned protest.
“If they want to come to protest, that is their right, we will hear them,” McKenna told LA School Report before the meeting. But later he said, “They were rude and disruptive, so I suspended the meeting, and we went away until I let them have their say. I may agree with them on a lot of what they’re saying, but the way they went about it is all wrong.”
School board president Steve Zimmer praised McKenna’s handling of the situation, and school police watched the protest for more than half an hour in the board room.
At this point, the school district considers the matter settled, but Fight for the Soul of the Cities said it is not over for them.