The Milwaukee Police Department has been dismissed.
Thursday night, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors voted to terminate “all contracts with the Milwaukee Police Department for the services of School Resource Officers and other personnel.” The vote came more than three hours into a virtual meeting complete with more than 30 phone-in comments from members of the public—nearly all in support of the termination.
Board directors noted that an additional 790 written public comments had been received, though they didn’t divulge their contents.
The resolution to terminate contracts with MPD, authored by directors Paula Phillips and Sequanna Taylor, passed by a vote of 9-0.
The resolution eliminates a payment of more than $400,000 from Milwaukee Public Schools to the MPD, which provides for “six officers who are specially trained to respond to incidents and special events at schools.” State law requires an additional $400,000 to be spent on the Truancy Abatement Burglary Suppression (TABS) program, which utilizes four officers to deal with truant students. But an amendment from Board President Larry Miller calls for the “hold on execution of the TABS contract until the board can receive legal advisement from the office of the city attorney and hold conversations with city officials.”
An additional amendment from Board Vice President Luis A. (Tony) Báez calls on the district to “strengthen its position against the police use of force on young men of color, girls, members of the LGBTQ community, individuals with disabilities, American Indians, immigrants, and the Latino community.”
Prior to the vote, the Milwaukee Police Department released this statement:
The Milwaukee Police Department fully supports the Milwaukee Public School system if it decides to remove all School Resource Officers from its schools. We agree with the many voices from our community who believe that the funding should be reinvested into our public school system to support social services. Regardless of the vote, MPD will continue to support MPS and MPS students.
Here’s the full “Resolved” portion of the approved resolution—a.k.a. the good stuff:
RESOLVED, That the Milwaukee Board of School Directors terminates immediately all contracts with the Milwaukee Police Department for the services of School Resource Officers and other personnel; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Milwaukee Board of School Directors directs the Superintendent to cease any further negotiations with the Milwaukee Police Department for the services of School Resource Officers and other personnel; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That that the Board of Directors directs the Superintendent to cease any contracts to buy or maintain criminalizing equipment including metal detectors, facial recognition software and social media monitoring software; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Milwaukee Board of School Directors directs the Superintendent to develop recommendations for utilizing money previously allocated for contracts for serving and protecting the safety of the District’s students, with implementation to begin immediately with the 2020-21 school year; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That the district seeks to strengthen its position against the police use of force on young men of color, girls, members of the LGBTQ community, individuals with disabilities, American Indians, immigrants, and the Latino community; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That this plan is to be developed in cooperation with the advisory council established by the Black Lives Matter Resolution, the MPS Restorative Practices team, the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention, community partners such as the Running Rebels Violence Free Zone teams, and any other community-based organizations who may provide valuable input into the process; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Superintendent is to present these recommendations to the Board for its approval by the August 2020 board cycle; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Board directs its Governmental Relations Services to lobby the Wisconsin Legislature and the Governor to repeal Wis. Stat. §119.55; and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED, That the board would direct the administration to hold on execution of the TABS contract until the board can receive legal advisement from the office of the city attorney and hold conversations with city officials
My name is Amanda Merkwae. I am a Board Member of Leaders Igniting Transformation and a former Milwaukee educator who is constantly reckoning with the harm that educators can cause to students—particularly Black students—when they call police or suspend them. I’m currently a lawyer who represents young people in suspension and expulsion hearings and young people charged with crimes.
A child psychologist friend once told me, students’ external behaviors are just a reflection of what’s going on inside. The young people I represent are students with disabilities and mental health diagnoses, young people trapped in the foster care system, those with an incarcerated parent, those living with trauma from witnessing or being victimized by unimaginable violence, those who don’t know exactly where their family is going to sleep from night to night, and Black, Indigenous, and other young people of color who are profoundly affected by the systemic racism woven into the policies and procedures of MPS…they’re all still required to go to school each day. Their layers of oppression don’t exempt them from compulsory education laws. These are the students facing suspension, expulsion, and referrals to police at the highest rates.
When Black students make up only 53% of the total student enrollment in MPS but almost 90% of the students expelled—that’s a problem. These are expulsion decisions issued by an “independent” hearing officer that this Board rubber stamps each month. I have represented countless young people facing expulsion and are charged with felonies and costly municipal citations for alleged conduct in Milwaukee Public Schools. I’m talking 11, 12, 13-year-olds charged with felonies. I have watched hundreds of hours of body cam footage depicting the MPD school squad responding to calls for service in MPS schools. Escorting students through school hallways in handcuffs, questioning them in classrooms without reading them their rights, and sometimes escalating a student’s behavior after educators have already de-escalated a student in crisis. One client, sitting calmly in an assistant principal’s office started sobbing as a slew of officers stormed in and tried to arrest him, taking him to the ground, using completely unnecessary force as he screamed for help with tears rolling down his cheeks, while his mother stood on the other side of that administrator’s door helpless, and unable to see what was happening to her son.
MPD does not belong in MPS. Listen to young people.
LIT Executive Director Dakota Hall released a statement following Thursday’s vote:
Tonight the Milwaukee Public School Board unanimously passed Resolution 2021R-003 which ends all contracts between the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee Public Schools. Additionally this resolution ceases any contracts to buy or maintain criminalizing equipment including metal detectors, facial recognition software and social media monitoring software.
Tonight’s vote is a victory by and for Black and Brown students. This resolution is the culmination of 2.5 years of work by LIT student leaders to defund police at MPS.
Students, the Milwaukee public, and the Milwaukee School Board Members unanimously are more engaged than ever in reimagining our schools so Black and Brown students can thrive. The hard work starts now to truly transform our Milwaukee Public Schools. Creating safe schools must start with centering the voices and experiences of the young people, providing proper staffing levels for therapists, counselors, and other emotional and mental health support positions, and hiring educators of color who share similar life experiences to the students.
This is not the end of our fight. We will continue to work to hold public institutions and systems accountable for their over policing and racist practices and procedures that have harmed BIPOC communities for centuries. The work does not stop tonight. It’s time we all take our activism for Black and Brown lives to the next level.