Satya Zamudio, 15, is urging Oakland's school board to eliminate its police force. (Photo/Rucha Chitnis)
Satya Zamudio, 15, is urging Oakland's school board to eliminate its police force. (Photo/Rucha Chitnis)

Jewish youth urge Oakland school district to eliminate school police

UPDATE: The Oakland school board voted unanimously to eliminate the Oakland Schools Police Department on the evening of June 24.

A large contingent of youth from Temple Beth Abraham, a Conservative synagogue in Oakland, is urging the city’s school board to pass a resolution that would eliminate the school district’s police department.

Dubbed the George Floyd Resolution, the proposition would get rid of the Oakland Unified School District’s police force and reallocate funds to provide social workers, psychologists, restorative justice practitioners and “other mental or behavioral health professionals, as the budget supports, to meet the needs of students,” the proposal reads.

A vote is expected to take place during today’s virtual board meeting, scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m., according to KPIX-TV.

The resolution was created by the Black Organizing Project, an Oakland-based organization that has fought to reform the city’s school district policies around policing. The group has been trying to eliminate the district’s police force since 2011, but protests sparked by Floyd’s death while in police custody, and other black Americans at the hands of police officers, have injected new energy into the effort.

Several dozen teens and adults from Beth Abraham signed a June 14 letter to Jody London, a member of the synagogue and a longtime Oakland school district board member, requesting a meeting and urging her to vote yes on BOP’s resolution.

“When someone dies in the Jewish community, we say, ‘May their memory be for a blessing,’” the letter reads. “In this age of unrest following the murder of George Floyd and countless other Black people by the hands of police, there is heavy demand for not only holding cops accountable, but for defunding and divesting in policing as we know it today.”

London, who is the school board’s president, accepted the offer and met with the synagogue’s youth on Zoom a few days ago. A teen from Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont, Satya Zamudio, 15, was also on the call. Zamudio is a member of Jewish Youth for Community Action or JYCA, a youth-led activism group in the Bay Area.

“We just tried to stress that [the resolution is] very well-researched and there is a plan in place that [BOP] has been trying to do for so long,” said Zamudio, a rising sophomore at Oakland Technical High School. “It was really important to have this conversation with Jody. To just urge her to stand in solidarity with people of color and to really stress the point that Jews should be on the side of racial justice in this moment.”

Maera Klein, 16, a rising junior at Berkeley High School and a JYCA member, said, “I really wanted to bring it to London from a Jewish lens, from within her synagogue, to show her that people from her own Jewish community care a lot about this issue. I would be super proud if my congregation had an influence on passing such a powerful resolution that would really change people’s learning experiences for the better.”

The Oakland Unified School District Police Services Department was created in the 1950s, and out of approximately 1,000 districts in the state, Oakland is one of 23 school districts that has its own police force. The department consists of 20 sworn personnel and 120 school site officers, according to OUSD.org.

While support has been mounting for the district’s police force to be disbanded, there are concerns that it could lead to worse outcomes for students if future situations are dealt with by the Oakland Police Department.

I would be super proud if my congregation had an influence on passing such a powerful resolution that would really change people’s learning experiences for the better.

“I think that it is disingenuous to sit here and think that OPD is going to show up with the same kind of compassion and the same kind of understanding about what is happening with our teachers and what is happening with our systems,” Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, an OUSD board member, said during a March 4 meeting.

Hinton-Hodge also expressed concern that OPD officers don’t go through the same 40-hour training that the school police personnel go through, according to an Oaklandside article.

“I don’t want OPD, untrained, not thinking about young people first, to be the first people I pick up the phone to call [in an emergency],” Hinton-Hodge said at the March meeting.

In an interview with Oaklandside, OUSD police chief Jeff Godown said that his officers have developed relationships with students, teachers and staff, much more than any officer within the city’s force. Moreover, if the OUSD police force is disbanded, schools will be calling on a city police department that itself is facing increased pressure to be defunded.

London’s position on the elimination of the school district’s police force has changed over time.

In March, when the school board voted to make $18.8 million in budget cuts, London voted against cutting any positions from the school district’s police force in a 4-3 decision. Two months after that, BOP members led protests in front of London’s home and those of other board members.

Shortly thereafter, London released a statement that she was planning to support the BOP’s resolution.

“It is critical that the $2.3 million budget of the [Oakland School Police Department] be strategically reinvested in support for the whole child and students with disabilities with an eye to supporting authentic students safety,” she wrote.

She added that she’d prefer a timeline to eliminate the police force by Dec. 31.

Support for the resolution has come from dozens of administrators in schools in the district and Oakland community organizations.

The resolution’s origins, in part, come from data BOP has compiled over the last five years. One of the findings is that while black students make up 26 percent of OUSD enrollment, they represent 73 percent of the school police force’s arrests, a phenomenon that has been documented similarly nationwide.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler is a staff writer at J. You can reach him at gabriel@jweekly.com and follow him on Twitter @ggreschler.